Alvin Thomas tests a well-groomed SUV that offers value for money with a taste for adventure.
The automotive industry is evolving: there was a time when car manufacturers created cars solely on the basis of their passion and interest in a market segment.
For instance, if a manufacturer only wanted to serve a specific target audience, such as small families, then they would only manufacture sedans. Today, however, if you aren’t on top of your game and serving the needs of a wider audience, then you are as good as dead.
This shift has also given birth to a new segment of car: the sub-compact SUV. As the name suggests, these are small SUVs that are here to bridge the gap between compact sedans and the compact SUV. And what is even better is that you can avail yourself of that extra metal for roughly the price of a small sedan – at least in the current market scenario.
And why would anyone in their right mind purchase a small sedan when they can have a larger, taller and better-equipped SUV for the same price, right? Well, if you agree, and if you feel that sedans are a thing of the past, then you should be happy to welcome to the party the all-new Chevrolet Trax.
Raised ride height: check. Roomy interior: check. Value for money: check. Bragging rights for owning an SUV: well… that is what we’re here to find out.
At first glance, the Chevrolet Trax (which is now in its second generation) seems – at least in this guise – like an off-road ready SUV. Don’t believe me? It has moderately flared wheel arches, a raised chassis, faux skid-plates and a tall almost SUV-like body.
Of course, underneath, the Chevrolet Trax is based on the underpinnings of the Chevrolet Aveo. Despite that, however, the Trax still overshadows the Mazda CX-3 in ride height, and is only a few millimetres shorter than the Jeep Renegade that we tested a while ago. Unlike its predecessor, the new Trax actually looks good. The thin headlights stretch wide to give the car a seemingly wider track, and the 10-spoke alloys blend well with the gawky proportions of the car: it is almost as tall as it is wide.
There’s a dash of chrome on the grille, air intakes and even the door handles for that added bling but it is not at all unattractive to look at like some other SUVs that hail from the “land of the free”. I wouldn’t mind saying that the Trax is actually quite a handsome car.
The tall proportions of the exterior, however, made sense once I stepped inside the cabin. There’s a generous amount of head and leg room up front, and the cabin is very airy. Much of that carries over to the rear, however, the leg room was anything but lavish after I set the seat to my position (I tend to give myself ample space when I drive). Irrespective of that, the Trax will still seat four adults in comfort, and even a fifth passenger without taking away his or her dignity.
The interior is very simple and well laid out: there’s a beautiful 18cm touchscreen in the middle, followed by three knobs to control the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning). The only other buttons on the centre console are the ones for toggling the “traction control”, switching tracks and controlling the volume of the audio.
The touchscreen is extremely simple to use, and also supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The screen itself is receptive to touch, and has to be one of the more responsive head units out there on the market today.
Much of the interior is covered in hard plastic, as with most vehicles in this class. But the Trax definitely scores points for offering soft-touch surfaces on the doors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and – as an added treat – a leatherette-wrapped dashboard with real stitching on the surface.
What is also commendable is that the panels in the SUV are put together very well. There aren’t any panel gaps or protruding plastics anywhere in the cabin. In restrospect, my Nissan Maxima – which cost twice as much as the Trax – has a massive panel gap in the passenger size footwell.
Underneath the hood of the Trax lies a small 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine (carried over from the Chevrolet Cruze) producing a sizeable 138hp and 175Nm of torque. The power is sent only to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission, with manual override.
The acceleration, well… it isn’t what I would call mind-boggling. As a matter of fact, let’s not beat around the bush: the Trax is not a very quick SUV. Its performance is definitely much better than those of its rivals from Detroit and South Korea but those looking for a little more performance will find it in the Mazda CX-3.
Still, there’s plenty of grunt from a standstill. The car hits 60kph effortlessly, in lower gears, but loses steam thereafter as it suffers from longer gear ratios (in fourth, fifth and sixth gears); leading to a slow 0-100kph time. Mind you, the longer gear ratios mean that you will get excellent fuel economy.
But if you’re looking for a quick manoeuvre you can put the gearbox in “S” and shift using the “+” and “-“ buttons mounted on the gear shifter.
The gearshifts are smooth for the most part, making it a very comfortable car for city driving but surprisingly, the Trax is one of those rare SUVs that holds gears at the redline when you take control of the gearshifts yourself.
Where the Trax overshadows its rivals is in ride comfort. The SUV soaks up bumps with ease, making it a very enjoyable experience for passengers. There’s none of that floaty feeling either – a common trait of tall vehicles.
The seating position is elevated but it is as comfortable as driving a hatchback. I also found the steering weight to be moderate (too light) at high speeds, with a decent amount of communication with the driver (something most cars lack today).
During the course of my test, I also took the Trax off-road to click a few pictures. I can safely report that the SUV manages light off-roading very well. Ground clearance is more than adequate to handle moderately rocky and sandy terrain. Of course, I wouldn’t suggest you go on loose sand (because the Trax is only front-wheel drive), but thanks to the light weight footprint, the SUV is pretty nippy on loose surfaces.
Even on the road, the Trax is well-behaved. It takes corners with ease, and only a moderate amount of body-roll. I didn’t push the Chevy to its limits but I can report that understeer only kicks in when you push the throttle hard into the corner. Even then, the power isn’t overwhelming enough to upset the balance of the car.
After a day with the Chevy Trax, I can safely say that it should definitely be worth your consideration if you are looking for a small, affordable and easy-to-drive SUV to take on the daily city runabouts.