OVER the last few years, SUVs have been shrinking. Small SUV crossovers – which are commonly offered with two-wheel drive, as well as four-wheel drive – have proved a big hit in the UK, particularly with city drivers who like the better visibility that the increased ride height affords plus the ease at which they soak up annoying urban speed bumps.
There’s now a reasonable selection to choose from, including the Nissan Juke, Peugeot 2008, Renault Captur, and Vauxhall Mokka. Enter the Chevrolet Trax, the smallest SUV ever designed by American carmaker, a company with a long history of making SUVs. It follows that it ought to be a pretty good urban SUV offered at an affordable price.
But where many of the cars in this emerging category boast quirky and original styling, the Trax is no oil painting with a boxy, stocky, utilitarian look, and the snout of a long distance truck. It’s certainly got nothing on the beach buggy-inspired Nissan Juke or the guppy-faced Peugeot 2008. Like them or not, you can’t deny they’re more striking than this Trax.
It’s not much more stylish inside; I sat in a cabin clad with budget-level plastic trim presented in a purely utilitarian manner. Functional it may be, but characterful it isn’t. The controls though are easy to locate and use, so at least there’s some benefit to its simplicity. The car isn’t bad on space either. There’s a good amount of leg and head room in the front and back seats, and for your bits and bobs, there are various cubbyholes throughout the car plus two gloveboxes, one on top of the other. At 356 litres, the Trax’s boot space is pretty big in comparison to most of of its rivals’ and you can increase the space to a pretty useful 1,370 litres by folding down the front passenger seat and using the rear seats’ 60/40 split should you need to.
I drove two models; a front-wheel-drive 1.7 LT diesel model and a 1.4-litre with all-wheel-drive. Chevrolet expects the front-wheel-drive 1.7 LT diesel model to be the most popular in the range because it offers lower CO2 emissions and reasonable fuel economy.
However, its engine is really noisy. It sounds properly agricultural and it labours often when accelerating. I much preferred driving the 1.4-litre petrol model. This was because, though the ride isn’t particularly comfortable and there’s quite a lot of road and wind noise whirling around in the cabin, the handling is surprisingly good for a car of this type. And it feels quite a bit faster than its 0-62mph of 9.8 seconds. If you work it hard, it even feels quite spritely, far more enjoyable than the diesel model.
I can’t say how good the four-wheel drive system would be off road. Though it should be able to handle some of the trickier wintry road conditions we’ve seen in recent years. But then nobody’s trying to pretend the Trax can take on serious off road tracks; it’s more of a car for people who want to drive something a bit more adventurous and unusual than a regular hatchback.
Higher spec models have a new connectivity system called Mylink which allows you to dock a phone with the in-car infotainment system. I found it a satisfyingly easy and very useful system for streaming music and making calls on the move – not all of these systems are so easy to use.
The issue with this Chevrolet Trax is that competitors are selling better cars for similar money. And they are selling cars with a good deal more character too. To me, it isn’t clear why you wouldn’t buy a better and more stylish-looking rival.
THE FACTS: CHEVROLET TRAX 1.4-LITRE AWD
0-62MPH: 9.8 secs
TOP SPEED: 121mph
CO2 G/KM: 149g/km
MPG COMBINED: 44.1mpg
DESIGN Two Stars
PERFORMANCE Three Stars
PRACTICALITY Three Stars
VALUE FOR MONEY Two Stars