Diminutive; it takes ambition to squeeze an SUV into a 1775mm (69.9 inch) x 4280mm (168.5 inch) footprint – or for human minds about 82 square feet. That’s 255mm shorter than a Toyota RAV4 or a Ford Escape and narrower than a Kia Sportage. This is a miracle of compression penned by Chevrolet designers who looked at the Sonic sub-compact platform and built it up for functionality and city driving, instead of bloating it out, to create the 2013 Chevy Trax.
Inside the Trax, proportions translate to upright comfort within a city-car taffy-stretched into SUV form. The Trax has a comfortable and tall driver’s seat height and ample headroom, even for my 6’2” frame. With low-cut windowsills, the broad, raked windscreen almost flushes into a short stubby hood. In the back seating is kid friendly and adult punishing. The sightlines and the ability to gauge where the track’s corners combine with its twee 2,555 mm wheelbase make parking a breeze.
The exterior slides to the awkwardly adorable end of design’s spectrum, but that doesn’t translate to the interior, which feels budget. Inside this tiny box are acres of cheap hard plastic of the “Mommy! I cut myself on the cup holder variety.” Much of it press formed into a profusion of storage cubbies and cup holders, you may need a label gun to keep track of the 19 reported.
Proportional to the Trax scale, 532.4 liters (18.8 cubic feet) of cargo storage is available behind the rear seats. Fold those down and the Trax offers 1,371 liters (48.4 cubic feet) of available storage. Need more? Make your partner walk, and the front passenger seat folds flat accommodating longer items. Think a ski-machine for one.
Up front, the dash is refreshingly straightforward, even if the “motorcycle-esque” gauges are feeling a little blue-LED dated. The Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity worked like a charm though the audio quality on calls was a bit tinny sounding. Chevrolet has made a smart move with Mylink, its entertainment and navigation touchscreen system, which is straightforward and friendly to operate. The bow-tie brand has also retained a number of buttons giving swift and direct access to core entertainment and climate control functions – so the touchscreen doesn’t get in the way of more traditional user actions.
The actual driving experience behind the wheel? Yes, there is one.
GM’s ubiquitous 1.4-liter Ecotec turbocharged four-cylinder engine churns out 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet and is mated to a utilitarian six-speed automatic transmission. The drivetrain is functional enough, and the Trax quick enough in traffic, but the groan and vibe out of the drivetrain won’t be winning awards for refinement.
The quick steering ratio is a boon in a city of tight corners and u-turns, but the assist feels like the entire system has been soaked in astroglide. Beyond the results of the act of steering, there is no feel to be had here. The MacPherson strut front/torsion beam rear suspension kept the Trax composed through high and low speed turns, but the ride is firm, giving the Trax a jittery road feel. LTZ AWD provides composed road holding though, thanks in part to more purposeful 18-inch wheels, while lower badged Trax run on 16-inch rubber.
Skip that previous two paragraphs of exposition? The short version; the Trax is an appliance to drive, beyond its easy-fit traffic dodging dimensions.
The good news for those of us in temperate climes, or families heading for the ski hills, is the AWD system which provides on-demand torque to the rear wheels in case of front-wheel slip at low speeds. From a stop, the Trax starts in all-wheel drive mode until reaching 3-5kph, then transitions to front wheel drive, to avoid any feeling of AWD kick in. The rest of the time the c-ute is a front wheel drive for fuel efficiency’s sake.
At its base the Trax is a moderate value front-wheel drive small SUV for sub-$19,000 (before taxes). Near fully loaded though, like our LTZ all-wheel drive model, and the value argument falls apart with a sticker of $30,695, putting the Trax in the price range of more premium product like Subaru XV Crosstrek with Sport Package. After all, the point of a small SUV for many is All-wheel Drive. That sticker price then is no small ambition for a budget SUV to support.
2013 Chevy Trax LTZ AWD
As tested before taxes: $30,695
Options on test vehicle: Sunroof ($1,100); cargo pkg. ($165) inc. cargo cover and mat; oil pan heater ($100).
Configuration: front engine/ all-wheel drive
Engines: 1.4L turbo 4-cyl./ 6-spd. auto. with sequential shift
Power/torque: 138 hp/ 148 lb.-ft.
Fuel (capacity): Regular (52L)
Fuel economy ratings:
Manual: 7.8 L/100 km city and 5.7 L/100 km highway
Automatic: 8.1 L/100 km city and 5.9 L/100 km highway
AWD Automatic: 8.7 L/100 km city and 6.5 L/100 km highway.
Warranties: 3 years/ 60,000 km (basic); 5 years/ 160,000 km (powertrain)
Competitors: Nissan Juke; Subaru XV Crosstrek