2nd Place: 2013 Chevrolet Trax, by Mike Schlee

The Chevrolet Trax was the biggest surprise of the group.  It was the first vehicle we picked up for this comparison test and our first impressions were “yikes, this is one expensive little truck.”  But as we picked up the rest of competitors, it became clear that the Trax is actually competitively priced, optioned, and finished for the class of vehicle; time to readjust our expectations.

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2013 Chevrolet Trax LTZ AWD. Click image to enlarge

On the road, the Trax proved to be the refinement champion of the group.  It received the highest scores in both ride quality and NVH (noise, vibration and harshness).  Not only was the Trax the only vehicle whose ride didn’t border on choppy, but it was also the quietest of the group.  Normally this soft, smooth ride would result in poor vehicle responses, but the Trax actually handles decently – one of the better handlers of the group.  This could partially be attributed to the big 215/55R18 tires equipped on our fully loaded LTZ AWD test vehicle.

Powering the Trax was GM’s 1.4L turbocharged Ecotec engine that seems to be finding its way into more and more vehicles.  As usual, it produced 138 hp, which was lowest amongst our group of five, and a whopping 50 hp less than the Nissan Juke.  But this engine is more about torque, and with 148 lb-ft on tap, the Trax had more grunt than either the XV Crosstrek or the RVR.  This is the real forte of the little turbocharged engine as the 1.4L always felt more powerful than it really was, just as we’ve found in other applications.

The Trax was also the only vehicle besides the Kia Sportage to incorporate a six-speed automatic transmission rather that the increasingly common continuously variable transmission (CVT).  Despite the conventional automatic, the little Chevrolet still achieved the second-best observed fuel economy, which makes sense since – after all, it has the smallest engine; it was still a mile behind the ridiculously frugal XV Crosstrek though.

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2013 Chevrolet Trax LTZ AWD. Click image to enlarge

The biggest knock against the Trax however has to be the cheap interior.  In both look and feel, the two-tone interior in our first Trax was rental car cheap.  I say our first Trax because during the evaluation loops we had a minor mechanical breakdown that forced us to swap into a different Trax.  This actually ended up being good news for Chevrolet as the new Trax had an all-black interior that looked far more upscale than the half-gray one in the original vehicle.  The rest of the interior is well laid out and didn’t rely on any gimmicky tricks to make it look more upscale like the RVR’s tacked-on soft-touch ‘façade’ or the Juke’s funky shapes and screens.

On the outside, the Trax features a conservative design that borders on boring.  It does look a bit like a Volkswagen Tiguan in side profile, but tall, narrow and awkward from behind.  This leads to tall storage area that is very narrow and a bit shallow.  It was rated the second smallest of the group, but cargo carrying capacity isn’t really a key factor in this class of vehicle; if you want more space, why not move a class up to a similarly priced, less equipped CR-V or Forester?

In the end, the Trax is one of those vehicles that does everything well, excels at nothing, but fails at nothing.  In this class, that is good enough for second best.

Pricing: 2013 Chevrolet Trax LTZ AWD
Base price: $29,330
Options: $1,365 (Sunroof – $1,100; Cargo package – $165; oil pan heater – $100)
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,500
Price as tested: $32,295

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