The Chevrolet Trax is a small crossover sport-utility launched in late 2012 in Mexico and Canada as a 2013 model, and for 2015 Chevrolet Trax has been introduced to the U.S. Based on the subcompact Chevrolet Sonic’s architecture, it’s a more affordable Chevy version of the Buick Encore sharing the 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and 6-speed automatic transmission.
Trax is in the same class as Kia Soul, Mini Countryman, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Nissan Juke, Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, and Mazda CX-3. We think this pleasant-driving blend of small-car agility and efficiency with CUV utility (up to 48.4 cu. ft. of easy-access cargo space) will more than hold its own.
It offers a high level of connectivity and some class-exclusive features, including standard Chevy MyLink with a seven-inch color touch screen, available OnStar 4G LTE with a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, and even (for iPhone iOS 6 and iOS 7 users) Siri Eyes Free. Remote keyless entry, electric power steering, a 60/40 split fold-flat rear seat, a fold-down front passenger seat (to extend the cargo floor), USB and auxiliary ports and a plethora of handy storage spaces are standard, while remote start, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, a BringGo navigation app and all-wheel drive is available. It also boasts 10 standard air bags, a standard rearview camera and available rear park assist.
While the 2015 Trax boasts attractive 26-mpg city and 34 highway EPA fuel economy ratings, its Ecotec 1.4-liter turbocharged I-4 engine delivers a modest (SAE-certified) 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. This is sufficient around town but barely adequate for highway trips with more than one or two passengers and cargo. The six-speed automatic transmission, with TAPShift manual control on the floor-mounted gear lever, has a low first gear for good low-end response and a tall overdrive top gear to enhance fuel efficiency and reduce engine noise at highway speeds.
Given the Trax’s small size, its relatively long 100.6-inch wheelbase, wide stance (60.6-inch front and rear tracks) and strong structure contribute to a confident, tied-down handling feel and a pleasingly smooth, quiet ride in most conditions. Its suspension is MacPherson struts with coil springs, and a large stabilizer bar in front and a compound-crank (torsion beam) linkage with gas-charged twin-tube shocks in back, and its efficiency-enhancing column-mounted, variable-effort electric power steering delivers fairly precise feel. Standard wheels are 16-inch steel on base LS models, 16-inch aluminum on mid-range LTs and 18-inch aluminum on range-topping LTZs.
Standard active (accident-avoidance) safety features include StabiliTrak electronic stability control with traction control and rollover mitigation, ABS braking with electronic brake force distribution, cornering brake control and brake assist and a rearview camera. The 10 standard air bags are driver and front-passenger frontal, driver and front-passenger knee and both thorax and side curtain bags for front and rear occupants. On top of all this is GM’s exclusive OnStar technology with Advanced Crash Response System, emergency assistance and more. Importantly, both Trax and platform-mate Buick Encore recently earned Good scores in all categories of Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) testing, including the very tough small overlap test that simulates a collision with another vehicle or object (like a utility pole or tree) in which a narrow section of the frontal area is impacted.
We’ll report on other new entries in this suddenly-hot segment as we drive them, but despite needing a bit more power in some situations, this 2015 Chevy Trax will likely be a strong contender.
When we first saw the same-size Buick Encore a couple years ago, we thought it looked a little mal-proportioned, like someone had squeezed a compact car in a vice until its front and back ends smushed closer together and its roof popped up. But that look has grown on us, and the Encore has proven popular with the buying public. So this Chevrolet version, with its signature dual-port grille, prominent bowtie emblem, swept-back headlamps, taught body lines, pronounced wheel arches and vertical tail lamps flanking its tailgate, made a much better initial impression. Enhancing its sporty CUV visual credibility despite its modest size are available front fog lamps and simulated skid plates front and rear, while top-of-the-line LTZ models fill those wheel arches with 18-inch alloy wheels.
The Chevy Trax cabin is a couple levels less luxurious than its platform-mate Buick Encore’s. Its dual-cockpit dash houses a seven-inch, high-resolution central color display for its standard MyLink voice-activated infotainment system with a standard rearview camera and available SiriusXM satellite radio. Base LS models have cloth seating, while mid-range LTs get deluxe cloth or available cloth/leatherette, and top-of-the-line LTZs offer full leatherette trim. The small-diameter, thick-rimmed steering wheel is leather-wrapped on LTZ models and on LTs with an optional LT Plus Package.
There is ample storage in all four doors, plus pockets in the seatbacks, bins under the rear load floor and a hidden storage drawer under the front passenger seat. The large glovebox is supplemented by a pop-open bin above it (which houses the USB and Aux. ports), another above the central vent and a fourth small compartment left of the steering wheel. The center console contains no fewer than four cup holders, the center two connected by a small bin, but there’s no storage box. Cargo capacity is 18.7 cu. ft. behind the 60/40 flat-folding rear seat (which has a fold-down armrest with its own two cup holders) and 48.4 cu. ft. with the rear seat folded flat. Lift-over is conveniently low, and the front passenger seat also folds flat to accommodate items up to eight feet long.
Features and controls are a mixed bag. The very basic instrument cluster contains just a sporty tachometer dial, a digital speedometer, graphic fuel gauge, odometer/trip odometer, compass heading and gear selection. The driver information center toggles through a trip timer, average speed, average fuel economy and distance to empty. There is no available navigation system, but those with smart phones can link with an available BringGo navigation app, then view and control it through the standard MyLink touch screen. The right side of the home page displays time, date and outside temperature, and additional available smartphone apps include Pandora, Stitcher and TuneIn. The audio system has touch buttons for volume and tuning and steering-wheel volume and seek buttons, but no knobs. By contrast, the climate system has nice, large knobs for temperature, fan and mode.
We like the surprisingly nice Buick Encore subcompact crossover, and we generally like this lower-priced Chevy version, too. Just not quite as much. It shares the Encore’s only powertrain, a barely adequate turbocharged 1.4-liter four driving its front wheels through a six-speed automatic gearbox, with the affordable option of all-wheel drive. Lightly loaded around town, or on fairly flat highways, it feels peppy enough despite its unimpressive 9.5-second 0-60 mph acceleration performance, but toting your family and its gear uphill, you’ll wish for more. This willing little engine does fine in the Chevy Sonic subcompact on which the Trax is based, and even better in the tiny Chevy Spark, but given its crossover carrying capability, the Trax really needs at least the option of more power.
We drove a line-topping LTZ in mostly urban driving at the late-2014 media launch, then a mid-level LT for several days at home. We enjoyed their responsive steering, crisp handling, strong, reliable braking and pleasingly smooth, quiet ride (a bit stiffer than the luxury Encore) in all but the roughest road conditions. The Trax drives like a taller, slightly heavier Sonic, which is generally a good thing. There are no steering wheel shift paddles, but the six-speed automatic can be manually shifted with up/down toggle buttons on the shift handle. Our local and hard-test driving averaged just 24 mpg, but most drivers should see about 26 mpg in town and 30 or better in real-world highway driving.
Our test vehicle’s front bucket seats were comfortable and supportive and looked good in their premium cloth and leatherette trim, but the driver-side power adjustments did not include seatback angle (aka rake). Instead, you have to reach way back and down between the seat cushion and belt anchor to find and use the manual lever. We often wonder why, given a choice of one or the other, most automakers offer power fore-aft adjustment but manual rake, instead of the other way around. Front legroom is good thanks to ample front-seat travel, but rear leg- and knee room can be tight behind long-legged front-seat occupants. Somewhat disappointingly, the only soft-touch materials in even the LTZ cabin is on the armrests. Everything else is attractive, but hard, grained plastic.
Now that Chevrolet’s global subcompact crossover Trax has arrived at U.S. Chevy dealers, it will take on a growing list of strong competitors that includes such established players as the Kia Soul, MINI Countryman, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport and Nissan Juke and such fellow new-for-2015 entries as Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade and Mazda CX-3. Arguably attractive, well-connected, fuel efficient, easy to park and bordering on fun to drive, with available all-wheel drive and ample cargo capacity, it’s essentially a taller, roomier Chevy Sonic, which is mostly a good thing. We think it’s more than competitive and well worth a look and a test drive despite its marginally powerful engine.