FIRST DRIVE

2015 Chevrolet Trax sport-cute comes up short

Pricey crossover offers too little

Published: January 26, 2015 08:00 AM

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The Trax belongs to the fast-growing subcompact SUV class, a dress-size smaller than, say, a Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4. It will compete most directly with such other newcomers as the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, and Jeep Renegade. The Trax we’ve been driving for the last few days, rented from Chevrolet, is a front-wheel-drive, fully loaded, high-trim LTZ. The $26,805 sticker price is a lot for a front-wheel-drive half-pint, even one with a pocketful of cool toys.

As down-market sibling of the ho-hum Buick Encore, the Trax is quite small. Searching for the Trax in our SUV-clogged parking lot the first time was a challenge; I finally spotted it hiding behind our Volkswagen Golf. Only its roofline peeped over the VW’s top.

One reason for the diminutive dimensions is that the Trax, made in Korea and derived from the Sonic subcompact, is actually designed to serve non-U.S. markets. It's just right for places where both roads and customs demand very small cars.

When we buy our own Trax we’ll be stepping down to the more popular LT trim, giving up what we have to in order to get all-wheel drive without breaking the bank. It’ll still probably come in at $25,000-plus.

Driving impressions

At best, the driving experience with the Trax is inoffensive. Starting off on a flat road, the 138-hp, 1.4-liter turbo four-cylinder feels quite spritely, and the six-speed automatic shifts smoothly. But once you come to your first moderately steep hill, the fizz goes out of your drink.

The spec sheet may say there’s ample power, but you just don’t feel it from the driver’s seat. The transmission leaves too many of those 138 horses in the barn, and the remainder of the team struggles and complains all the way up the hill. Acceleration with the Trax’s wealthier Buick Encore cousin is also laggardly, but at least in that car the cabin stays appreciably quieter.

The electric power steering feels responsive enough at everyday speeds, but the ride is nothing to brag about. Normal pavement flaws deliver constant vertical jitters, effectively shaking up and stirring whatever it was you just ate.

Inside the cabin

The Trax's cabin design is neat and tidy, as it should be in a basic car. High seating affords a good view forward, but the clamshell body styling renders visibility to the rear lousy. No mere frill, the standard backup camera is a near necessity here.

Furthermore, the cabin is cramped, and the deep-pocket front seats feel distinctly narrow, at least for this average-sized American male. Rear-seat room is tight as well.

Our LTZ’s substantial feature set includes a remote starter; heated seats; a big, clear, 7-inch touch-screen control center; and connectivity add-ons such as a mobile Wi-Fi hot spot, part of Chevrolet’s OnStar 4G telematics subscription. The touch-screen display looks good, but the radio’s tuning and volume controls are soft keys rather than actual knobs. The multiple taps needed to make volume adjustments are a pain in the digit.

In the end, this car makes sense only if you want or need a car you could park in a doghouse and have something against its natural competitors. For about the same money or just a little more, you could score a Subaru Forester, CR-V, Mazda CX-5, or RAV4, all of which bring much more car for the money.  

—Gordon Hard

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