THE Chevrolet Trax is a compact SUV in the Nissan Juke/Skoda Yeti mould. As well as chunky looks and a tempting price tag, the lil’ Chevy also has heritage on its side – its maker claims to have got the sport-utility vehicle ball rolling in the 1930s, with the Carryall Suburban, an eight-seater car the size of a bread van and built for the North American market in the days before anyone thought of calling SUVs “SUVs”.
This is the iconic US brand’s first foray into the bijou end of the SUV market, and it’s a reasonable start. A stubby nose, bulging wheel arches and Chevrolet’s signature bow tie badge set the Trax apart from its peers. Our test cars rode on 18-inch alloy wheels, which look the business and give the Trax an air of Tonka Toy toughness.
The name Trax hints at off-road adventures a-plenty, but hold your horses. The bulk of the Trax comprises two-wheel-drive models and, although both of our cars sent their power to all four wheels, off-road potential is limited by a) road tyres and b) a ground-hugging front bumper that scuffed its chin a couple of times on our test drive. Best think of the Trax as a jacked-up hatchback with just enough room for five adults and an extra shot of practicality. The sort of recipe that serves Nissan and Skoda so well, in other words.
Three engine choices are available at launch. We drove the 128bhp 1.7-litre turbodiesel and 138bhp 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol. A 114bhp 1.6-litre naturally-aspirated petrol completes the range but was not available for testing at Chevrolet’s European press launch in Zadar, Croatia.
There are only two trim levels, and the only one you need to concern yourself with is the LT, which comes loaded with lots of equipment that the entry-level LS doesn’t get.
Chevrolet expects the 1.7 diesel LT to account for the bulk of UK sales – with 300Nm and 58mpg, it ticks the torque and economy boxes – but jings, it’s a noisy thing. The clatter from the engine bay is really noticeable while pottering around town, and it’s still a bit too vocal once the Trax settles into its stride on the motorway, even though the Trax’s tall gears mean the engine is barely breaking sweat at 70mph. Note to Chevrolet’s UK engineers: more soundproofing required.
We preferred the 1.4 turbo. Granted, the economy’s no match for the diesel (44mpg) and it’s unwilling to be worked as hard as the “turbo” part of its name suggests, but keep the revs low, where its 200Nm of torque lives and, compared to the diesel, it’s like swanning along in a Bentley.
What’s not very Bentley is the handling. On less-than-perfect surfaces, constant shuffling of the steering wheel was called for to help the Trax hold its line in the bends. There was also quite a bit of body roll, but the ride comfort was spot on. The test cars were European-spec models, and there’s talk that Chevrolet will rejig the steering and suspension for the UK market. The Trax shares its underpinnings with the Chevrolet Aveo hatchback and, having breezed around in a UK-spec version of that car with no major issues to report, I’m sure they’ll get it right.
Inside, the big selling points are practicality and Chevy’s MyLink system, which lets you run a suite of apps from your smartphone (satnav and music-streaming services, among others) via a nice big touchscreen in the centre of the dash. It’s only available in LT-level cars, though. If you have a recent iPhone, you can use its Siri voice-recognition feature to bark commands at the car.
Five seats can be arranged eight different ways, and the front passenger seat can be folded flat if you need to carry a slender wardrobe, surfboards, or a slender wardrobe full of surfboards. Also, there are more cubby holes dotted around the cabin than most folk will know what to do with.
Even in top-level trim, some of the interior plastics look and feel a bit low-rent compared to, say, those in the Yeti and Juke, but the Trax proved squeak and rattle free over some 200 miles of testing on gnarly Croatian roads. The driving position is good and the layout of the controls is logical.
We gave a couple of Swedish hitch-hikers a lift (a middle-aged couple, before you get any ideas) and asked them for their thoughts on the Trax as we wound our way up and over the side of a canyon. Well, if you can’t trust the Swedes to give you an honest opinion, who can you trust? Their verdict from the back seats: “Very comfortable, yes.”
That they thought they were riding in “a Nissan, or maybe a Ford?” suggests the Trax has what it takes to make it in the mainstream market. Their squeals of delight on being told they were riding in the back of a Chevy suggests the badge alone could help the Trax rack up sales.
CAR Chevrolet Trax range
PERFORMANCE Max speed 108mph; 0-60mph 9.4-12.3s
MPG (combined) 43.4-62.7mpg
CO2 EMISSIONS 120-153g/km