SAN FRANCISCO – There’s a new addition to Chevrolet’s crossover lineup, the 2013 Chevy Trax. Introduced at the Paris auto show, the Trax is the smallest vehicle in the bowtie brand’s list of crossovers that include the Orlando, Equinox and Traverse.
The Trax is the result of a collaborative effort by General Motors teams in Korea (which handled the engineering), Europe (driveability) and the U.S. (styling). Using the Chevy Sonic platform as a base, this small crossover has been developed to have global appeal, with 140 countries in its marketing plans.
Canadians will have a choice of front- or all-wheel drive, available in four trim levels – the base LS, mid-range1LT and 2LT, and the top-of-the-line LTZ.
Chevrolet has shared its heritage in the utility vehicle segment with the new kid in the family. The Trax’s styling reflects familiar cues, including the two-grille/bowtie bar nose and dual-element tail lights.
The side panels have bold, sculptured lines and prominent wheel arches, while the strong C-pillar adds to the muscular tone. A functional spoiler tops off the rear liftgate, while a silver skid plate peeks out below the rear fascia. There’s a similar skid plate up front.
You’ll recognize the interior design, too. It has the dual cockpit layout that’s prevalent on other Chevy models. The two sections of the instrument panel flow down into a centre stack that’s dominated by a seven-inch touch screen when equipped with Chevrolet’s MyLink Touch infotainment system.
Models not equipped with MyLink still have Bluetooth connectivity as standard equipment. All audio systems include auxiliary input jacks for USB, iPods and MP3 players.
The gauge cluster has a three-dimensional look that’s similar to the Sonic, though this iteration is a bit more refined. A large analog tachometer sits on the left, with a large, easy-to-read digital speedometer to the right.
The gauges are illuminated with an ice-blue hue – another Chevy tradition – and are readily visible in daylight, as well as at night. A tilt/telescopic steering column is standard.
Room for four
Seating in the Trax features twin buckets up front and a 60/40-split back bench. I found the front seats supportive and comfortable, although I did find myself rubbing elbows with my equally robust driving partner a few times.
The rear seats will accommodate a couple of adults, but I think trying to fit in one more would be a challenge. Headroom front and rear was fine, but rear leg room was snug, at least when the front seats are well back in their tracks.
There are multiple seating configuations, with up to eight different layouts possible. With the rear seatback upright, there’s 356 litres of cargo space; fold the seatbacks flat and there’s 785 litres of space for stuff.
Chevy product experts say the Trax has class-leading storage space for personal items, including a dual-level glovebox. There are also numerous cupholders, including four in the centre console, plus cubbyholes and bins scattered throughout the cabin. There’s no armrest/storage bin in the console, however.
Safety was a priority in developing the Trax. Sixty percent of the cabin area is constructed of high-strength steel and there are 10 airbags. Chevrolet expects the Trax will earn five-star safety ratings when test results are released.
All models are powered by Chevy’s 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine, with either a six-speed manual gearbox or the optional six-speed automatic. (Overseas markets will also offer a 1.6-litre turbocharged gasoline engine and a 1.7-litre turbo diesel.)
The 1.4L four, also used in the Chevrolet Sonic and Cruze sedans, as well as the Buick Encore, has an aluminum head and cast-iron block. It develops 138 horsepower at 4,900 rpm and 148 lb-ft of torque at 1,850 revs using regular fuel.
Automatic on-demand all-wheel drive is available as an option on all but the base LS trim level, which comes only in front-wheel drive.
The system, developed by Borg-Warner, turns on with every launch and monitors for initial wheel-slip up to five km/h. If no slippage is detected, the system reverts to front-wheel drive to save fuel.
If, however, there is wheel-spin, the system keeps all four wheels engaged up to 60 km/h. Beyond that point, it remains on standby but will re-engage if needed. It can shift power up to a 50-50 split front to rear, but there is no side-to-side transfer.
Electronic stability control and hill start assist are standard on all models.
I had an opportunity to drive automatic-equipped models with front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive during a media preview here. The drive route, which wound north of the Bay area to the Sonoma Valley, included multi-lane highways and winding secondary roads.
On the highway, the Trax cruised along quietly, easily keeping pace with the traffic flow. When pressed to overtake, however, the four-banger took a bit of time to generate additional road speed – and there was a noisy reaction under the hood that infiltrated into the cabin.
On hilly terrain, the response was similarly "reserved." While power is adequate for normal use, I wonder how well this engine will respond when the Trax is loaded with four adults and their stuff. Perhaps this is also the reason Chevy doesn’t recommend using the Trax to tow.
Fuel consumption ratings for FWD models with the manual gearbox are 7.8 litres/100 km in city driving, 5.7 on the highway and 6.9 combined. With the automatic transmission, the ratings are 8.1 city, 5.9 highway and 7.1 combined.
One of the most impressive aspects of the Trax is its dynamics. That’s not surprising, given the background of the vehicle’s global chief engineer. Jim Danahy was the chief engineer for Corvette before he was transferred to Korea in 2008 to oversee the development of the Trax, particularly its dynamics.
Danahy's passion for good steering and handling, honed during his Vette days, has been implanted in the Trax. Its electric-assisted power steering is quick, precise and provides good feedback to the driver.
In fact, the Trax's handling is so car-like you forget you’re driving a crossover – there’s minimal body roll in the twisty stuff, yet the ride is comfortable.
Helping give the Trax more stability on the road is its relatively wide stance – 1,539 millimetres. Its turning radius is 11.2 metres.
The MacPherson strut front suspension and torsion beam rear setup have been tuned to be compliant but comfortable. This ideal degree of tuning has been achieved through a selective choice of shocks, bushings and tires.
Sixteen-inch wheels and tires are standard, with 18-inch rims and rubber available. The base LS gets steel rims; the other three trim levels have aluminum alloy rims, all in a five-spoke design that’s similar to the Camaro wheel.
The chassis has also been designed for superior stiffness while reducing the transfer of noise and vibrations into the cabin. The engine cradle, for example, has been specially braced to minimize torque twisting. The cradle also has special mounts to reduce vibration.
The brakes, which were called on frequently to help deal with frequent elevation changes and dawdling drivers on my coastal route, performed flawlessly. All-wheel drive models have 300-millimetre ventilated discs up front and 268-mm solid discs in back. Front-wheel-drive models have front discs and drums in the rear.
With a lagging global economy and soaring fuel prices, consumers worldwide are opting for smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles, especially in the crossover/SUV segment. This trend makes the timing of the Trax’s debut ideal as it’s well equipped to fit those emerging demands.
If you’re considering a smaller crossover that’s efficient, functional and fun to drive, check out the Chevy Trax when it arrives in showrooms later this fall. Pricing is expected to be announced within the next month.