On the Road Review: Chevy Trax LTZ

If you remain unconvinced about the proliferation of crossover wagons, don’t look now, as Chevy adds a subcompact class offering to a suddenly “hot” category.

Based on the same small car platform used for the Buick Encore, the new Chevy Trax is available in front- or all-wheel drive ($1,500). It will have one powertrain — a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine married to a six-speed automatic transmission. EPA ratings for our front-drive, LTZ-trimmed wagon were 26/34/29 mpg. The Trax effectively replaces the Captiva Sport in Chevy’s SUV lineup.

The subcompact class of crossovers had dabbled along with modest sales of items like the Nissan Juke. Two recent introductions showed how much pent-up demand there is for sensibly priced, feature-rich small wagons — the Buick Encore and the Subaru XV Crosstrek. The Buick debuted two years ago and right out of the gate, sold over 30,000 units. Then last year, Buick dealers sold almost 50,000 Encores. At Buick!

So far this year, the Crosstrek is leading the category, the Encore is in second, and the Trax is now third in sales with over 24,000 sold in just a few months. Other rivals on sale now, or coming as you read this: the highly anticipated Honda HR-V, the overhyped Jeep Renegade, the Euro-inspired Fiat 500X (same platform as the Renegade), plus Mazda’s respected CX3 offering.

All of these wagons share fairly similar proportions to the Trax: 169 inches long, 101-inch wheelbase, 70 inches wide and 66 inches tall. The Trax weighs around 3,050 pounds in front drive trim — 160 pounds more with optional AWD.

Over the course of several vacation week days we learned that the Trax’s turbo-motor provides eager power for everyday driving, both the front and rear seats easily accommodate two adults comfortably, the rear cargohold cannot swallow a set of men’s golf clubs, however, the rear seat splits to fold and the front passenger seatback also folds to improve cargo flexibility.

Handling is quick and the Chevy’s ride suppleness is equivalent to small cars — agile, “sporty,” but not too firm. With 138 peak horsepower, the Ecotec turbo-four is responsive enough for any traffic situations; however, a full load of people and gear might dull some of that perception. The Honda and Mazda rivals will have similar power, while the heavier Renegade will be the class powerhouse. Key to the Trax — and to this class: AWD is optional. No subcompact sedans offer that kind of foul-weather traction capability or the interior flexibility.

Consumer surveys list enhanced versatility, improved visibility and friendly driving attributes as all strong reasons that they are gravitating to small crossovers instead of small sedans. The Trax easily meets this list of wants.

Controls are simple and efficient. The Sonic-like dash has several digital displays behind the standard tilt-and-telescoping steering column, while the center panel has a 7-inch color screen for information, audio and navigation. Chevy will pack the Trax with lots of new technology: Chevy’s MyLink connectivity, XM radio, standard rear back-up camera, 4G LTE connectivity and mobile Wi-Fi hot spot. There are also 10 airbags, remote vehicle starting functionality, plus Siri Eyes Free for hands-free iPhone operation.

Ingress and egress proved to be very convenient, while the Trax’s driving position afforded good visibility and excellent access to controls. There is a hidden bin atop the dash, another under the passenger seat, plus two gloveboxes. Beverage slots are numerous as well, providing excellent storage pockets for less fluid articles. The toggle action on the dash’s touch panel for audio selections is not conducive to quick changes, but you quickly learn to use the steering wheel controls for presets and volume.

On the brilliantly painted (Orange Rock Metallic) Chevy’s last day, we left home at 0-dark-30 for a hyperactive trip to Brookline, Mass., for NEMPA’s annual Ragtop Ramble. Cruising at a leading highway pace did not trouble the small Chevy — it remained stoic, handling the speed and crowded traffic with aplomb. LTZ trim adds leatherette upholstery — such as VW and BMW — and the four-plus-hour drive proved pleasantly uneventful; no numb-butt, no leg pain and no complaints. The Trax’s trip computer reported a steady 31 mpg.

Pricing begins at $20,000 for base LS trim. Our LTZ sample, with front drive, stickered for $25,905 with destination fees and no additional features.

Currently, Chevy’s five-year old Equinox crossover is enjoying record sales. Honda’s CR-V compact crossover is outselling both Civic and Accord. In two months, Honda sold over 14,000 HR-Vs. The Encore is Buick’s best-selling nameplate. Chevy expects to sell over 50,000 Traxes this year.

These small crossovers are going to be “big.”

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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