America is going absolutely ape-shit over the "small crossover" segment (yes, that'd be "lifted hatchbacks"). The Nissan Juke started the fad with tuner-car flavor. Jeep's Renegade is putting a three-day beard on it. And the 2015 Chevy Trax does the same work without putting a lampshade on its head.
In a segment leaning hard on loud styling to appeal to The Youths, Chevy's foray into the market is actually pretty easy to lose track of in traffic.
Trax is not fast, particularly luxurious, or "off-road ready." But make no mistake; it's got loads of room inside, a great human-machine interface, pleasant ride, and good fuel economy. If you're one of the thousands (and thousands) of Americans who insist on driving a micro-SUV, Trax is a solid and refreshingly discreet option.
(Full Disclosure: Chevrolet wanted me to drive the Trax so bad they sent me to San Diego, fed me, gave me a lovely hotel room, and put me through a PowerPoint about why you #youths are so dang hard to sell cars to.)
Trax has been running around in 66 countries since 2013, selling about 180,000 units a year. For 2015 it's been tweaked for North America to be stiffer and quieter. At the risk of sounding like a complete idiot; it is reasonably stiff and very quiet.
2015 Chevrolet Trax LS, LTZ, FWD & AWD
- Quiet ride
- Featherlight steering
- Abundance of storage and cupholders
- Great gauges and infotainment
- Solid engine and transmission pairing
- Rear seat room more abundant than you'd reckon
- Lethargic acceleration on AWD
- Rear drum brakes on FWD
- Something tells me I wouldn't love these seats after a few hours
- Value seems to diminish in higher trims
The Chevy Trax Is All About Hookin' You Early
Chevrolet pins the quintessential Trax buyer as college-educated 25 to 34-year-old woman making $55,000 a year. They're betting that same smart young lady will love it so much she'll trade up for a Traverse or Equinox when the first baby comes along, then maybe a low-spec Tahoe to fit the twins and dog, and eventually spend her alimony on an LTZ Suburban after the kids are off to college and that jackass of a husband finally signs those divorce papers.
Don't worry, our society is crapping out an infinite assembly line of such people according to Chevy's market research. They're convinced "small SUV" sales will be up 80 percent by 2016. Holy crap, that's a lot of market share to fight over.
Or as one Chevy flak less crudely put it; "the Trax is designed to get younger customers into Chevy showroom," after pausing to sprout horns and light his PowerPoint screen on fire, he bellowed; "for eternity*."
*That may have only happened in my imagination.
You Can Drive It With A Phone In One Hand And A Latte In The Other
I mean, you certainly shouldn't try to multitask at the wheel. But the Trax's wheel is surprisingly light. Electronic-assisted power steering dialed up to 11 makes low-speed maneuvering a cinch (along with the 36.7' turning circle). The car isn't squirrely on the highway though, and you won't have to exert much effort keeping it in-lane.
I didn't notice much of a difference in suspension between the AWD and FWD models, though the four-wheeler rides just a little bit higher.
FWD Feels Faster
No Chevy Trax conducts itself with anything resembling "haste." Mashing the throttle off the stoplight seems to produce the same result as dipping the gas pedal gently. At least, as far as your emotions are concerned. "Yep, we're traveling forward!" you'll exclaim, as the car does nothing more and nothing less.
The FWD will produce the tiniest of chirps when booted; being relieved of 400 pounds and two drive wheels makes the EcoTec 1.4 turbo's job a lot easier without AWD.
The engine's got enough just juice though: 138 horsepower and 148 ft-lbs of torque that peaks at just 1,850 RPM. Fuel economy is 26/34 and 29 combined in the FWD, 24/31 and 27 combined in the AWD. We didn't get to drive it enough to get our own reading. Okay, fine, I forgot to reset the counter but a few hours in San Diego traffic isn't really a fair benchmark of a car's economy.
The six-speed automatic in both drivetrain configurations is smooth enough to make you forget it's there. No, really, some of my fellow journalists thought the car might have been CVT before reading the spec sheet. The Trax didn't flounder for gears at awkward moderate-traffic side street speeds, and it didn't hesitate much when I demanded downshifts for passing.
We didn't get into any rough weather or deep sand (ha!) but we were able to get the Trax teetering on three wheels. The differential accepted the challenge; it didn't waste any power spinning the airborne tire as we extracted ourselves.
As for ground clearance... I wouldn't bank on the extra millimeters you get with AWD to get you over much more than a snowy gravel driveway. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
A Surprisingly Nice Ride For A $21,000 Car
The throttle is more of a suggestion and brakes are acceptable (fade is obviously more apparent in the FWDs with rear drums after a number of panic stops.), but the suspension setup gives the car genuinely pleasant attitude and an upright driving posture that affords more in-traffic visibility than most cars this size. Not sure why we Americans so love being high up in our vehicles, but I can't deny I follow the herd there.
Visibility is good out front, but the heavy slope of Trax's nose makes it tough to judge where exactly the car ends, and the pillars abutting the rear window are large enough to swell your blind spot a bit.
Interior's Functional And Solid Enough For The Price
The Trax has 15 storage compartments, four cup holders just in the front (two more fold down in the rear seat divider), eight seating configurations (including a flat-folding front passenger seat) and a maximum of 48.1 cubic feet of cargo space. As my driving buddy eloquently put it; "If you fold this shit down, you can fit a fuckload of shit in here!"
He was right; the front seat folding all-the-way-flat is a neat trick giving the small vehicle extra-long item lugging capacity. Four cup holders within easy reach to the front just rocks; two water bottles and two coffees, baby!
Even with the seats in place, space in the trunk is big enough for a grown golden retriever and the rear seats have plenty of leg room. That's with the driver's seat in a tall guy's pilot position.
The materials aren't exactly elegant even in the range-topping LTZ (and the signal stalks feel solid as Cheese-Stix), but the plastics you actually touch are robust enough to keep you from feeling like you're in a McDonald's ball crawl.
A dumpster-load of extra sound deadening the same "acoustic-laminated" windshield their 2015 full sized luxury trucks have comprises what makes the American model "quieter." Seems to have worked; from inside you can barely tell the engine's running. Until you go to pass somebody, when the 1.4 finally whimpers above the wind noise.
Solid Value In Base Trims
$20,120 MSRP gets you into the LS. That means steel wheels, black plastic trim (it's actually pretty subtle, see "the silver car" in these photos) and a rental-car issue cloth interior. The pattern on the seats might look like it belongs on a Swedish subway, but the buckets are really just as comfortable whatever animals skin's stretched over the $26,530 LTZ.
AWD is a $1,500 option; making it the cheapest four-wheel option in Chevy's lineup (obviously).
All trim levels get the cool motorcycle-style gauge cluster, seven inch touchscreen with Chevy's MyLink infotainment kit, phone connectivity, and USB charging in the glovebox (neat). Hill-start assist, StabiliTrak traction control (which does not care for burnouts), and ten airbags are standard too.
After driving the cheapest Trax (LS FWD: $20,995 with destination charge) and most expensive (LTZ AWD: $28,305 with a $900 sunroof and destination charge) I was happier with the cost-to-product ratio of the base.
The clean five-spoke wheels and power inverter were most welcome features on the upper-end LTZ. But all the car's best qualities were there in the cheap version, I didn't really see $8,000 worth of "better" in the top-of-the-range model. Then again, I also don't see any Trax drivers actually going anyplace AWD is truly necessary... both cars come on decidedly decent Continental tires that should get city dwellers by just fine for at least 360 days a year.
Even More Competitors Are About To Step On The Scene
Chevrolet sees the Nissan Juke as the Trax's primary target, but pictures of the Kia Soul and Mitsubishi Outlander Sport are hanging dartboards at GM headquarters as well. On top of that, the 2015 Jeep Renegade and 2015 Honda HR-V are two big depth charges about to drop in an already tidal-waving small SUV segment... Trax is going to have to hustle hard or undercut those if it wants to conquest.
A "Cadillac Version" Not Dismissed
Chief Engineer Al Manzor chuckled when I asked if a luxury variant of the Trax would ever be a possibility for GM, but he's not categorically against the idea. "BMW and Mercedes are doing some downsizing on luxury SUVs... while Cadillac's sort of going the opposite direction right now, I would say it [a Cadillac mini-SUV] wouldn't be ruled out."
Any interest in an "American" (Trax is built in Korea and Mexico) GLA, X1 competitor?
Tentative Verdict: It's Low-Key Juke Alternative And A Cheap, Useful, Okay Car!
Based on a few hours of driving, the 2015 Chevy Trax seems like a fine way to venture between your reasonable house, job, gym, preferred drive-thru, and even make the occasional trip to your parent's place upstate.
Could you get a sweet used luxury car for the same price? Sure, but not everybody wants the headaches and middle fingers you attract in a used BMW. There are also a few Korean sedans you could have with more equipment at a similar price, but then you're going to have to give up the ride height.
Trax going up against some fierce competition in a rapidly exploding market. I wouldn't buy anything in the segment until you can visit a Renegade and HR-V at dealerships, but GM's entry seems pretty strong so far.
Images by the author