The Chevrolet Trax is a five-passenger hatchback with a spacious and versatile interior. The Chevrolet Trax is basically a fewer-frills version of the Buick Encore. Both models are built upon the architecture of the Chevrolet Sonic sedan.
Trax was introduced for 2015 as Chevrolet’s second smallest model, while Canadian dealers had the Trax for two years before its U.S. debut. Except for some new colors, nothing has changed for 2016.
As expected, fuel economy is a prominent benefit, while acceleration falls on the ho-hum side. And speaking of ho-hum, the styling is bland.
Beneath the hood, a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. The 6-speed automatic transmission has a broad range of ratios. This translates to comparatively swift takeoffs, while a deep overdrive sixth gear promises relaxed, thrifty cruising on the open road.
Despite having the footprint of a subcompact car, the Trax measures 66 inches tall. It’s like a tall five-door hatchback, with an arched roofline, tall hood, and attractively sculpted bodysides that don’t convey a slab-sided look. Lower body elements look like rubber, hinting at inherent ruggedness. That’s something of an illusion, as the Trax is hardly ready for wilderness trekking, even with all-wheel drive.
Despite its official five-passenger capacity, Trax, like many smaller vehicles, seats no more than four adults comfortably.
Controlled handling and a comfortable ride are appealing, and responsive electric power steering yields good maneuverability, but there’s nothing particularly sporty about a Trax.
Safety features include a rearview camera and 10 airbags, but Trax lacks any modern active-safety systems. Both the driver and front passenger get knee airbags, and all four outboard seating positions are fitted with side thorax airbags. Crash-test scores have been excellent, led by a five-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Trax was deemed Good by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, its highest compliment.
Even though Trax designers borrowed styling cues from Chevy trucks, placing them on a tall hatchback-style body, the general effect is generic. On the whole, Trax appears far less distinguished than Buick’s Encore. Except for front doors, the two share nothing.
Chevrolet appears to have taken the safe route, compared with the look of a Jeep Renegade, MINI Countryman, or Nissan Juke. The end result is inoffensive, but unseasoned. Regardless, we think the Trax’s slightly squarish body lines come off better than the Buick’s collection of curvaceous swoops and metallic frills.
The base Trax LS has black door-mirror pedestals and lacks chrome beltline strips, signaling its low-budget nature. Roof rails are absent, too, which ironically results in a cleaner appearance.
Inside, Trax adapts Chevrolet’s twin cockpit styling theme to a more practical, upright layout, while exhibiting a similar motorcycle influence. The instrument cluster itself is almost identical to the one in the Chevrolet Sonic. The standard 3.5-inch monochrome display screen holds a digital speedometer.
The simplicity and trim in a Trax exude an almost sporty tone, though impaired by abundant hard black plastics. That’s one sign of cost-cutting on lower-end models.
Cargo space expands from 18.7 cubic feet with rear seatbacks up, to 48.4 cubic feet with them folded. In comparison, Honda’s HR-V offers 23.2 and 57.6 cubic feet, respectively. The front passenger seat can fold flat for long items.
The base-model’s black-cloth upholstery has contrasting blue stitching, whereas the LTZ gets better-quality two-tone vinyl upholstery.
From inside, the Trax feels like a larger vehicle. Front and rear occupants get plenty of headroom, and seats are comfortable, but front passengers’ shoulders aren’t very far apart. Seat cushions are long enough to suit most taller drivers. You can count 15 storage spots.
With such a small engine, performance isn’t a strong point. Acceleration is good up to about 50 mph; but then, the Trax begins to lose vigor. When a burst of energy is needed for passing, safety concerns dictate planning ahead. Ordinarily quiet, the engine gets considerably noisier past 3500 rpm. In addition to modest engine power, transmission gearing aims at economical around-town driving.
Handling ranks about average for a small utility vehicle: unremarkable and non-sporty, yet well controlled. Though it feels solid on the highway, and the suspension soaks up bumps reasonably well, a Trax isn’t nearly as much fun to drive as a Mazda CX-3 or Jeep Renegade.
On the plus side, steering weight feels about right at almost any speed, with adequate feedback to the driver. The electric power steering provides good on-center tracking, minimizing variance from the desired path on straightaways. No rattling or squeaking is likely to reach occupants’ ears.
A Trax with all-wheel drive Trax rides half an inch higher and feels a bit heavier than a Trax with front-wheel drive. Expect some body roll, but the relatively wide track helps eliminate any sense of imminent tipover. Intended to improve traction in inclement weather rather than permit off-road treks. AWD includes rear disc brakes in place of drum brakes.
At up to 29 mpg EPA Combined, fuel economy is good, but the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3 are more frugal. With front-wheel drive, the Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA) estimates 26/34 mpg City/Highway. All-wheel drive drops estimates to 24/31 mpg.
Short on sportiness in both appearance and highway performance, Trax scores high in fuel economy and safety features. Qualifying as Chevrolet’s least-expensive model with available all-wheel drive, Trax delivers most of the features of the larger Chevrolet Equinox.
Driving impressions by Kirk Bell, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.