Review and photos by Grant Yoxon

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Ottawa, ON – If you didn’t attend the Paris Motor Show in September you might not know what the Chevrolet Trax is. I will assume that you did not.

GM chose the Paris Motor Show to reveal the new Chevy Trax because it will not be sold in the USA, which explains why we haven’t heard much about it this fall.  The Chevy Trax is a new ultra-compact SUV, or CUV (Crossover) if you prefer, that will be built in Mexico and sold in more the 140 markets worldwide. Think Pontiac Vibe on steroids.

Apparently gas prices in the States haven’t risen enough yet to persuade anyone to contemplate downsizing this much.

Compared to the Chevrolet Equinox, the Chevy Trax is 495 mm (19.5 in.) shorter in overall length and 76 mm (3 in.) narrower, but only 25 mm (1 in.) shorter in height. It is short and tall. It is even shorter and taller than the old Vibe AWD—85 mm (3.3 in) shorter and 58.4 mm (2.3 in.) taller.

2013 CHEVROLET TRAX. Click image to enlarge

Chevrolet marketing has targeted the Hyundai Tucson as a key competitor, but that vehicle is 160 mm longer (more than six inches), 40 mm (1.6 in.) wider and the same height. Simply put, it is bigger. And not surprisingly, 160 mm here and 60 mm there adds up to a whole lot more interior space; the Chevy Trax has a cargo volume with the rear seats folded of 1,371 L (48.4 cu. ft.) while the Tucson has 1,580 L (55.7 cu. ft.), again with the rear seat folded.

Not a very good comparison and not unexpected that the Chevy Trax will have a lower advertised starting price ($18,495) than the Tucson ($19,999). But for $1,500 more that larger base Hyundai Tucson model comes with standard air conditioning, which the Trax does not have.

I wouldn’t harp on the Trax/Tucson comparison except the Chevy marketing people more or less invited us to take a closer look at what they term is their key competitor. The Trax may be one of the smallest SUVs on the market, but with the Tucson in its sights, GM is thinking big, or dreaming big. It is more likely that buyers will cross-shop the all-wheel-drive small/tall wagon category – Toyota Matrix, Suzuki SX4 hatch, Nissan Juke, Subaru XV Crosstrek, Mitsubishi RVR, and even the Mini Countryman. Amongst this group, the Trax compares well on both features and price.

2013 CHEVROLET TRAX. Click image to enlarge

The Trax makes the best of its diminutive size with seating for five passengers and enough cargo space to not embarrass itself. Surprisingly, and again because of its tall and short dimensions, the Trax looks much larger, more substantial, with a wide stance, rising belt line and a GM corporate nose that actually looks like it belongs on the vehicle. Its prominent hood and large front overhang make up for its short 2,555 mm (100.6 in.) wheelbase.

Whereas the old Pontiac Vibe, even with all-wheel drive, looked like a compact car, the Trax has all the physical attributes of today’s popular compact SUVs/CUVs. It belongs in the company of the Tucson and the long list of compact competitors in the segment. If size matters, buyers should take a look at this tiny truckster.

Naturally, one sits up high in the Trax. Although getting into the front seat is more like sliding onto a bar stool than sitting down in a car, the high and upright driving position provides incomparable ease of entry and excellent visibility in all directions. The Trax is high heel–friendly and short skirt–safe, but mobility challenged people will also appreciate the ease of entry.

The power-adjustable driver’s seat in our test vehicle, combined with tilt and telescopic steering, made it easy to find a comfortable driving position. The dash is reminiscent of the digital displays in the Sonic and Spark and interior treatments have been designed to appeal to the young and largely female target buyer.

2013 CHEVROLET TRAX. Click image to enlarge

The passenger compartment feels narrow and, relatively speaking, it is. There is only one barely functional armrest on the driver’s seat. The rear seat will hold three passengers, but if that is your assigned seating, you won’t be happy. Call it a four-plus-one or a five-seater-in-a-pinch, it is couples and singles who will best appreciate the Trax. A convenient rear seat armrest is available when travelling with three or four. And the centre console will hold four one-litre containers – if you ever have the need.

With a base price of $18,495 the Trax will appeal to the budget conscious. For that entry fee, the Trax LS comes with front-wheel drive, a six-speed manual transmission, 16-inch steel wheels, automatic headlamps, power windows with driver express up and down, remote keyless entry, Bluetooth for telephone, steering wheel–mounted audio controls, power lumbar support on both front seats, four-speaker sound system with AM/FM/USB and auxiliary input, and rear cargo organizer.

Upgrading to air conditioning ($1,250) and an automatic transmission ($1,450) will be popular options and are standard on the Trax LT (1LT) which also adds a six-speaker audio system with CD and MP3, cruise control, 110V power outlet, leather wrapped steering wheel, under-seat storage tray, Bluetooth audio streaming, power heated side mirrors, roof rails, and privacy glass for $23,205 with front-wheel drive and $25,155 with all-wheel drive.

2LT models—$25,500 with FWD, $27,450 with AWD—receive 6-way power driver’s seat, cloth and leatherette upholstery, Bose premium 7-speaker sound system, MyLink Touch with 7-inch colour touchscreen, rear-view camera and park assist and remote start.  The fully decked out LTZ trim adds fog lights, 18-inch aluminum wheels, chrome trim, heated front seats and auto-dimming rear-view mirror for $27,380 (FWD) and $29,330 (AWD), which hardly seems worth the extra money.  A sunroof, oil pan heater, cargo mat and cover, and a soon to be available navigation app are standalone options.

2013 CHEVROLET TRAX. Click image to enlarge

Interestingly, neither the base nor premium audio systems have CD players. Like cassette players before them, CD players are disappearing now as well. The USB and auxiliary input jack are located in a small upper glove box, perfect for placing and forgetting about your mobile device.

Standard safety features include ten airbags, anti-lock brakes (ABS), Stabilitrak stability control, traction control and available all-wheel drive.

The Trax is powered by the 1.4L turbocharged engine that is optionally available with the Sonic and Cruze. It produces 138 horsepower at 4,900 rpm and 148 lb-ft of torque at a low 1,850 rpm. With such strong torque down low, the Trax feels much more powerful than it is, providing good acceleration from a standing start. But it also runs out of steam at a relatively low rpm, making passing maneuvers an exercise in planning. Almost any kind of an incline seemed to induce a downshift from the six-speed automatic transmission. One can only assume that the six-speed manual would keep your right arm busy.

Fuel consumption is rated at 7.8 L/100 km city and 5.7 L/100 km highway.

The majority of the vehicles available to journalists for this press launch were equipped with automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. While a couple of front-wheel drive models were available, I did not have the opportunity to drive them.

I was glad to have all-wheel drive the day we drove across western Quebec. With snow falling overnight and continuing during our test drive, most of the roads we followed were snow covered and unplowed or only half plowed. Equipped with all-season tires and not snow tires meant keeping speeds in check and paying attention.

On a good day, one might not ever be aware that the Trax had an all-wheel drive system. It only kicks in at launch then quickly calculates whether or not there is a difference in wheel speed before de-coupling and leaving the Trax in a more fuel-efficient front-wheel-drive mode. Torque can be applied at any time and distributed 50/50 front to rear when slippage is detected.

2013 CHEVROLET TRAX. Click image to enlarge

Along well-maintained highways, the Trax felt solid and confident despite its size. The interior was quiet, unless the little engine was pushed hard, and the ride quite comfortable even when the roads became rugged.

The AWD system was engaged pretty much all the time as we navigated the less travelled and snow-covered back roads of Quebec. The system was continuously challenged to redistribute torque, a task that was complicated by the car’s Stabilitrak traction control system that, reacting to both a loss of traction and a bit of sideways slippage, intervened by reducing engine power and applying brakes when what we wanted and needed was continued momentum to power up a hill.

But this kind of driving was the kind that makes one happy that the vehicle is equipped with all-wheel drive and an active safety nanny like Stabilitrak. In its natural environment, the less challenging urban jungle, it might not matter if you chose FWD or AWD, but if circumstances lead you into the wild woodlands of west Quebec, you will never regret the added expense of all-wheel drive.

Amongst compact SUVs, the Chevrolet Trax is small. But it is not everyone that needs the passenger room and cargo space of a larger vehicle. For buyers who want the look and confident road manners of an SUV, but with the fuel consumption of a compact car, pint sized might just be right sized.

Crash test results
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

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