2013 Chevrolet Trax: A bright northern light
Chevy’s youth-oriented crossover holds its own in ice-covered nation’s capital
There used to be a “market.” Then there were “segments.” Then there were “niches.”
Now we have “slivers,” ever-narrowing slices of product offering as carmakers try to hone in on ever-tightening demographic groupings of potential customers.
Perfect example — with the debut of the little Trax crossover/SUV (call it what you will, it’s a tall compact station wagon), Chevrolet will have no fewer than six two-box vehicles ranging between 4,280 and 5,649 mm overall length, and between the high-teens and mid-fifties in price, with Trax, Orlando, Equinox, Traverse, Tahoe and Suburban.
And the Trax twin, Buick Encore, joins the party soon too.
Trax, built in Mexico for Canada, started drifting into Chevy stores at the end of this past year, starting at $18,495.
Trax is based on GM’s “Global Small SUV architecture,” which shares some underpinnings with the Sonic compact hatchback/sedan.
Trax is a four-door, five-seater (four realistically), offered in front- or four-wheel drive.
Harry Ng, product manager of crossovers for GM Canada, noted that size-wise, Trax is pretty close to the late, mostly lamented Pontiac Vibe.
Vincent Boillot, GM Canada’s marketing manager for crossovers, says Trax is an “urban SUV.” He feels the typical customer — 25-35 years old, 55 per cent female, 70 per cent single, child-free tech-savvy urban-dweller — is looking for a vehicle with room, fuel economy, reasonable price, high value, manoeuvrability and parkability for tight city streets, plus an element of style.
He says Hyundai Tucson is the direct target, although Suzuki SX4, Kia Sportage and Soul, and Nissan Juke are also on the dart board.
Height is the free dimension, so Trax, taller than Orlando, offers decent room for four adults and a bunch of baggage. The rear seats split-fold more-or-less flat, and even the front passenger seat back folds forward to accommodate longer objects.
Critically, the rear seat headrests can be flipped down to improve rearward visibility when no-one is sitting back there: which, of course, is nearly all the time.
Only one engine is offered, the 1.4 L turbocharged four-cylinder used here in Cruze and Sonic, and elsewhere in all sorts of GM vehicles: 138 horsepower, 148 lb.-ft. of torque, and a combined fuel consumption rating of 6.9 L/100 km are competitive numbers.
Three trim levels are offered — base LS will account for about 35 per cent of Trax sales, the one-up LT 40 per cent and range-topping LTZ 25 per cent.
Only LS will be offered with a six-speed manual transmission, and Boillot expects fewer than 10 per cent of those will be so equipped, most opting for the six-speed autobox ($1,450) with manual override capability.
Even the base car is pretty well equipped, with OnStar, 10 airbags, tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, four-speaker sound system with USB and AuxIn, and Bluetooth.
All cars must have Electronic Stability Control (StabiliTrak in GM speak) these days; Trax also has hill-start assist on manual cars, making rollaway easier for the less talented.
Part-time automatically-engaged four-wheel drive is a $1,950 option on all trim levels but LS. Boillot expects only 30 per cent of customers will choose this, but I’m guessing he might be low there — it seems a small price to pay for the added security.
The system is designed to always provide four-wheel grip on launch, switch to front-drive for reduced fuel consumption at speeds above 5 km/h, then revert to four-wheel drive if front-wheel slip is detected.
The key to any of these systems is how fast it reacts. Trax does a good job here.
Up-level models get the “MyLink” radio, which throws in yet another infernal touchscreen — it is just as impossible to operate on the go as all of their ilk. These things have no place in any automobile.
It isn’t often we look forward to snow during a press preview, but when you’re evaluating a four-wheel drive vehicle, it’s not a bad thing. We grabbed what we felt would be the best available colour to photograph on a grey snowy day; our light-blue car happened to be as all-singing, all-dancing as Trax gets, an LTZ with four-wheel drive.
It is a modern, pleasant place to spend time, with comfortable seats and tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel making a proper driving position easy to attain. It is a bit narrow; if either front seat rider is on the wider side.
Four cup holders in the centre console are augmented by two more in the back seat.
The LTZ comes with that horrible touchscreen. The wonder of it all is that just below the 7-inch screen is the HVAC control panel, with three round knobs. You can adjust anything you want without taking your eyes off the road.
Just a few more centimetres away, there are a couple of tiny, impossible-to-find-by-touch buttons to turn the radio up or down. So GM knows how to do this stuff; they just don’t.
Downtown Ottawa streets were ice-covered; it’s hard to remember when cars didn’t have Traction Control, ABS brakes or ESC. How did any of us survive? Trax’s four-wheel drive certainly gave the car a major advantage under these conditions.
Attempts to get a photo of the car in front of our Parliament Buildings were thwarted by legions of Mounties, so we literally headed for the hills north and west from Gatineau. Again, snow- and slush-covered paved and dirt roads were tackled with confidence. Trax owners aren’t likely to take on anything more rugged than this, and it handled it all with aplomb.
As we have noted in Cruze, the little engine displays very little in the way of “turbo-ness” — just a smooth, linear and decently quiet flow of motivation. It’s no fire-breather, but it provides more than adequate performance. The autobox shifts well.
As does its pass-car sibling Sonic, Trax rides and handles decently. You wouldn’t be taking it out for hot laps on a track day, but the steering is light and as communicative as this driver will need, and the car doesn’t lean alarmingly in corners, despite its tall stance. In all, a nice package at a reasonable price.
Damning with faint praise? Not really. GM got where it is by being as many things to as many people as it can be — a product for everyone.
A couple of years ago, those young, tech-savvy, prospective small car/crossover customers never went to GM stores because there was nothing there worth looking at for them. Now, there are choices galore.
The challenge for GM Canada will be getting those customers to come take a look.
2013 Chevrolet Trax
PRICE: LS — $18,495; LT — $23,205; LTZ — $27,380.
ENGINE: 1.4 L inline four, dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing, turbocharged.
POWER/TORQUE, (horsepower / lb.-ft.): 138/148
FUEL CONSUMPTION: Transport Canada, City/Highway, (litres per 100 km): 7.8/5.7.
COMPETITION: Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Kia Soul, Nissan Juke, Suzuki SX4.
WHAT’S BEST: Cute styling; well-designed and -executed interior; excellent (if optional) four-wheel drive system; nice balance of features, capabilities and price.
WHAT’S WORST: Once again, the touchscreen on up-level models is don’t-even-think-about-it hopeless; on non-touch-screen cars, radio controls are likewise; interior tight compared to most rivals
WHAT’S INTERESTING: Owners of the old Pontiac Vibe finally have a GM car they can move over to.
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