Honey, They Shrunk the SUV

Honey, They Shrunk the SUV

Expanding Chevrolet's chapter on affordable motoring is the new Trax - their compact crossover SUV


George Kuruvilla

Published: Thu 25 Feb 2016, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Fri 26 Feb 2016, 7:59 AM

The 2016 Chevrolet Trax is the automaker's first foray into the small SUV segment and since they claim to have invented the SUV segment over 79 years ago, we think they should know a thing or two about SUVs. Especially if you consider vehicles like Captiva, Trailblazer, Tahoe and the very massive Suburban that they manufacture.
But our apprehensions with the Trax lie in the fact that, unlike these mid to large size SUVs, building a scaled down SUV, while retaining the functionality and affordable price tag, is a task in itself. So this week, we find out what Chevy has in store for us in this compact crossover SUV.

The Trax was only launched in the GCC in 2014, which is probably why not many of us are familiar with it. But if we had to describe it in three words, they would be - pudgy little thing. At 4,200mm in length, it's about an inch shorter than a VW Beetle and about a foot shorter than a Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4. It's 1,700mm wide - easily fitting into any parking space - and relatively tall at 1,600mm, giving you a commanding view of the road from the driver's seat, which is what customers seem to prefer these days. There is that peculiar and very obvious Chevrolet family resemblance in its styling; in fact, it looks like a bloated and taller Chevrolet Cruze.
Gracing the signature dual-port grille at the centre is Chevy's golden bow-tie emblem. The headlamp clusters have a pulled-back effect but contain nothing more that halogen bulbs. The lower valance largely includes black plastic and a metallic bash plate, which is a good thing, considering that this part can be replaced for cheap, in case there is an unfriendly meeting with the curb or road debris. The Trax is also equipped with round fog lamps housed in black plastics to help you navigate through early morning fog, like we observed a week ago.
Adding some muscularity to the equation are flared arches, with some more of that black plastic protecting the edges of the wheel arches. The rising belt line also blends in some amount of sleekness, but it curbs visibility out of the rear windows. At the rear, the pronounced wheel arch connects with the vertical tail lamps, reminiscent of the first generation Nissan Murano, which was a game changer at the time.
The Chevy Trax is a convenient city size and has a styling distinction that takes it away from regular rental car banality that owners of cars in these segments face. It may not score high on desirability, but it is cute.
Open the door and you can take a rather easy step into a typical Chevy cabin. The plastics only look soft, but are actually hard and resilient. The dominating feature is the dual-tone finish, segmenting various parts of the cabin in black and brown, with large portions of satin silver metallic trims highlighting the key equipment. The driver gets to grab a sporty small-diameter three-spoke steering wheel with a motorcycle-?inspired instrument panel housing a circular analogue tachometer intersected by a rectangular blue-lit digital display for the speedometer and other vitals.

A centre stack with large central air vents dominates the dash and, below it, there's a 7" Chevy MyLink screen with a central button at the bottom. While the circular air conditioner controls are a convenient size and easy to use, we would prefer more hard knobs and buttons to help with the interaction with the screen menus.
There are plenty of storage options, including two glove boxes - one of which contains outlets for USB and auxiliary devices that enable connectivity for iPods, smart phones, and other electronic devices. You also get storage in all four doors, four bins in the dash, pockets in the seatbacks and bins under the rear load floor and a hidden storage drawer under the front passenger seat. It almost sounds like the Swiss army knife of stowage.
On paper this is a five-seater, but we can't vouch for five adults. The seats up front are flat and commodious, with little margin between the two front seats, making it snug but comfortable. The rear can only take on a child - preferably a preteen in the centre seat - especially if the outer seats are occupied by adults. You can fold down the backrest of the centre rear seat giving you a fold-down armrest with cup holders, if you prefer.

Nestled deep in the engine bay is an almost concealed 1.8L inline 4-cylinder engine with a specific power output of 77.7hp/L, which Chevy claims is one of the most powerful units in this displacement class. Between live and dead shafts, you have a garden variety 6-speed automatic transmission connecting parts.
Ninety per cent of the 175Nm maximum torque is available over a wide range from 2,200 to 6,200rpm. That's decent enthusiasm for movement on paper, and pretty decent on the road too, but it never gets fast enough to get your heart racing. On the highway, the 138 horses it makes at 6,200rpm is adequate for leisurely overtaking but not for anything beyond. Claimed 0-100km/h dash is around 10.6 seconds.
Base models are powered by the front wheels, but higher end ones come equipped with an all-wheel drive system that is front biased and works rather efficiently with the power transfers. When traversing a slippery spot, the power ?diverts to the rear wheels seamlessly. This, combined with an elevated ride height, lets you make light sandy crawls through makeshift parking lots easy.
The Trax features Electric Power Steering (EPS) with integrated wear compensator for precise steering action over the life of the system. Over the course of our test drive, the feel and feedback we received from the steering was good. It is decently weighted but not built for the ultimate accuracy and response. The Trax's McPherson strut-type front suspension and a rear compound crank suspension all contribute to an acceptable ride quality overall - even on long drives.
Ultimately, judgement on a vehicle such as this is passed on how light it is on the pocket and how environmentally friendly it is. That being said, the claimed economy that ranges between 7.6-8.2L/100km should not disappoint. However, by loading it up with luggage and lads, you will see a significant drop in performance. 
For a small car like the Trax, even we were surprised to find up to 1,371L of cargo space with the rear seats folded down flat. Of course, doing that is a bit of a task - you need to release the lock, tumble forward the bottom rest for the rear seat and then drop the backrests. But after you do that, you can slide in small sofas, large potted plants etc. The rear seats are split 60/40. Folding the front seat flat will let you transport things up to 2.4m long.
You will appreciate the rear camera being on the options list after you've seen the limited rear visibility, due to the thick rear pillars and small box rear windows. You also have rear parking sensors to bring to your attention any objects in the vicinity. And to keep you safe when on the move, the Trax is also equipped with Chevy's complex StabiliTrak system and electronic stability control. Other features include Hill Start Assist for when you are on the ascent, ABS and six standard airbags. Chevrolet Trax was awarded the top safety rating by the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) in Korea and Europe. And for those young parents with kids, the necessary ISOFIX anchoring systems for child seats are available. It also features standard roof rails - but do note that the roof has a load capacity of 75kg. The Trax can also tow trailers weighing up to 1,200kg.
We like that everything is readable and fairly logical on the Chevrolet MyLink interface - it provides easy access to phone books, personal playlists, photo galleries, videos, and other stored media. Of course, you need to be stationary to view some content. The system can store the pairing information of up to five smartphones at a time. Mass storage devices, including MP3 players, iPod, iPad can also be connected through USB.
Whichever way you look at it, the 2016 Chevrolet Trax is a compact crossover SUV that is a decent step up from a small car ownership experience. Or, if you wish to downsize, the Trax is a sensible step down from owning a behemoth SUV. It blends dinky-car agility with the practicality of an SUV without burning your pocket at the time of purchase or at the pump. The lack of a physical volume knob is irritating and there are performance deficits when fully loaded, but these are our only major concerns in what seems to be a smart car. Chevy claims that 2016 Trax owners are only required to wait for an hour while the car is being serviced, although I am fairly sure it takes just as long to clean it. As for warranty, a regional three-year/100,000km warranty and four years of regional 24x7 roadside assistance should keep your pockets safe for a while.

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