OTTAWA, ON – Canadians love their small cars and increasingly that love affair is trending toward small SUVs or, more recently, CUVs.
Chevrolet dealers have been well represented in the small car market, with the Cobalt, Volt, Sonic and Spark, and the Orlando minivan, but they've had nothing to offer in the way of compact CUVs, below the Equinox. Until now.
That situation is has been remedied by the 2013 Trax five-door hatchback CUV, which is rolling off transporters and into Canadian showrooms right now.
Note that that's Canadian dealerships; you won’t find the Trax advertised or available in the U.S. This is one of those rare Canadian-only vehicles (within North America).
GM Canada's brass was able to make the case for this exception because of the significance of the segment in this country. More than half of all new vehicles sold in Canada are small or compact cars and utility vehicles and industry pundits expect the sector to grow another 25% by 2017.
Unveiled at the Paris auto show last fall, the Trax has been engineered and developed to suit a variety of global markets. It was a collaborative effort involving teams from North America, Korea and Europe and it will be produced in Europe, Russia, Asia, Australia and Latin America.
Trax models headed for Canada will roll off an assembly line in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, where they are built alongside the Chevrolet Sonic.
At 4280 mm in overall length, the Trax fills a void in the GM lineup, slotting below the Orlando (4674-mm), Equinox (4775-mm), Traverse (5204-mm) and gargantuan Suburban (5650-mm).
That dimension makes it smaller than the best-selling compact CUVs like the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Hyundai Tucson and on par with the likes of the Nissan Juke and Suzuki SX4.
Based on GM’s Small Global Platform, to be shared with the Buick Encore, it gets its engine, transmission(s) and instrument panel from the Chevrolet Sonic.
The Trax is also available with an innovative new all-wheel-drive system, to help Canadians make it though winter with ease.
Generic GM styling
The Trax's exterior styling is much like that of other small GM CUVs, with an obviously-Chevrolet grille. Nothing on the outside helps it stand apart from the pack.
The interior is a little more innovative, although the instrument panel is almost a duplicate of that in the Sonic.
From the rather Spartan LS trim level to the leather-trimmed LTZ the Trax offers a great deal of utility. Strangely, in light of the South Korean competition, heated seats and a CD player are not offered on the base model and hard plastic surfaces abound.
The lighting is a pleasant shade of blue, which is also used to backlight all the switches and controls. There are 25 storage slots and spots throughout the interior including four cup holders for the front seats, each capable of accommodating a one-litre container. A catheter will be a dealer-installed option! (Joke.)
The instrument panel offers a combination of analog and digital display. Bluetooth, steering-wheel-audio controls, OnStar and both USB and auxiliary audio inputs are standard across the line.
The Trax offers GM's new MyLink infotainment system, which includes an 18-cm touch screen, Bluetooth hands-free and audio streaming connectivity, satellite radio and the ability to show pictures and video.
First introduced on the Spark and available in a few months, MyLink can be equipped with BringGo Navigation – an app for your smart phone that will also allow you to conduct Google searches.
It also brings GPS mapping, and navigation – without using mobile data. When you buy the app (approximately $50) it downloads map data and even if you stray from cell service coverage areas, you maintain navigational ability.
Room and utility
Two of the reasons for buying an SUV or CUV are a tall seating position and utility. The Trax offers both. Thanks to a tall roof, all occupants are treated to plenty of headroom.
There is room in the second row for two adults or three youngsters and 532 litres of space behind the rear seat, which expands to 1371 litres with it folded down. The front seat back also folds flat allowing the Trax to accommodate very long objects.
Only one engine is offered – the same, proven, turbocharged 1.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder found in the Cruze and Sonic.
The smooth little turbo four provides ample oomph but no more, and it has to be kept on the boil in the higher rev ranges just to do so. Passing requires patience and long site lines.
There is not sufficient power to permit towing but the upside is very respectable fuel economy.
GM says the Trax can travel up to 100 kilometres on the highway on less than six litres of regular fuel. I certainly didn't approach that level during the snowfall and slippery roads encountered during my test drive.
On the road
The Trax is composed and quiet on the road and while severely hampered by the lack of winter tires, I was able to try the new AWD system which sends power to the rear wheels during initial acceleration from rest, switching to front-wheel-drive at speeds above 7 km/h. if traction permits, and back to AWD as necessary.
The Trax is available in LS, LT and LTZ trim levels. The price-leader LS comes with front-wheel-drive only with a manual transmission standard and a six-speed automatic optional.
The uplevel LT and LTZ come with the automatic and a choice of front or all-wheel-drive. All models come with hill assist that prevents the vehicle from rolling back when starting on a hill.
If GM can convince a generation or two of consumers who wouldn't otherwise enter a Chevy showroom to give it a look, the Trax just could become a hit.