Chevrolet Trax — Urban crossover runabout

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The subcompact Chevrolet Trax was a bit late to the game of the exploding crossover segment, delayed over concerns regarding sales. It had been sold in other parts of the world for several years, and by not arriving here until the 2015 model year the Trax had the advantage of gaining some of the mid-cycle updates— including structural advancements — accorded its upscale platform mate, the Buick Encore.

So what changed the minds of Chevy’s brain trust? The first was the success of the Buick, which proved that Americans were not only ready for a small crossover, they were accepting of a small luxury crossover. Next was the realization that, by 2018, competing automakers had plans to introduce 12 new small crossovers into the market.

Luckily for Chevrolet, the Encore was scheduled for a mid-cycle update meant to keep the vehicle fresh, and give it the structural changes it needed to pass the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s shallow offset front crash test. Since the Trax and Encore are the same under the skin, it was a simple case of updating the structure for the Encore and transferring that result to the Trax.

This Chevy may be just the ticket for people seeking a small, maneuverable high-riding vehicle that offers good visibility giving the driver a commanding view of the road with reasonably comfortable accommodations for four adults. And it comes with a generous warranty with two years of free scheduled maintenance.

The Trax, which looks rather small on the outside, is amazingly spacious on the inside. Large doors make getting in and out easy. Head room is in abundance because of the high roof. And the Buick's solid structure and quiet interior is carried over into the Chevrolet. Cargo space with the rear seats folded is a useable 48.4 cubic feet. Luggage space behind the seats measures 18.7 cubic feet.

The Trax has only one available engine, a turbocharged 1.4-liter four cylinder making 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The engine works well for running around town, providing quick and nimble acceleration in stop-and-go urban traffic. But the crossover can quickly run out of steam merging into Interstate traffic or attempting to pass a slower-moving vehicle at highway speeds; and if you need to climb a mountain or even a hill, you’ll need a pedal to the floor running start. And therein is the weakness of the Trax. On the plus side, gas mileage is excellent measured at 26 mpg city, 34 highway and 29 overall for front-wheel drive and 24/31/27 all-wheel drive.

Even though the Trax is one of the slowest vehicles currently on the market (9.4 seconds from 0-to-60 as measured by one major auto publication), it is sprightly on takeoff. It stayed well planted above the speed limit on our usual winding "back road" test track with quick, accurate steering, and that surprised us considering its rather high stance.

The interior of the Trax is attractive with useful space, but interior materials are not up to current standards with scads of hard plastic throughout. And the lack of a center console takes away from storage space. The motorcycle-inspired instrument cluster is unique and features a huge digital speedometer, something we have come to appreciate with our old, tired eyes. Cruise controls and redundant audio controls are conveniently located on the steering wheel.

The Trax comes in three trim levels — LS, LT and LTZ — with all-wheel drive available across the lineup. Pricing starts at $20,995 including $895 destination charge for the base model, which comes with such standard features as 16-inch wheels, automatic headlights, keyless entry, full power accessories, air conditioning, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Chevrolet MyLink with a seven-inch touchscreen and integrated smartphone apps, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a built-in WiFi hotspot, audio system with six speakers, and a rearview camera.

Standard safety is comprised of traction and stability control, side curtain airbags, and a backup camera. In government crash tests, the Trax received a top five-star rating for total impact and side-crash safety. Every Trax comes with a six-month OnStar emergency communications subscription. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Trax its highest possible rating of Good in its small-overlap frontal offset test making it one of the safest vehicles in its class.

The LT trim starts at $23,340 and the LTZ at $25,925. All-wheel drive adds $1,500 to the price. Our LT front-wheel drive test car came with a $670 convenience package including leatherette seat trim, leather wrapped steering wheel and rear park assist, bringing the bottom line to $24,035.

Base price: $21,195; as driven, $24,035
Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 138 @ 4,900 rpm
Torque: 148 foot-pounds @ 1,850 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 100.6 inches
Length: 167.2 inches
Curb weight: 2,805 pounds
Turning circle: 36.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 18.7 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 48.4 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 14 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 34 highway, 26 city, 29 combined
0-60: 9.4 seconds
Also consider: Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Subaru XV Crosstrek

The good
• Easy to maneuver in city traffic
• Decent cargo space
• Excellent gas mileage

The Bad
• Below average interior materials

The Ugly
• Lazy performance