Almost right on track

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Of the many segments in the vehicle market today, it is the sub-compact sport utility vehicle (SUV) that is continuously evolving. And that is good for car buyers.

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Also called the crossover segment, the sub-compact SUV segment is filled with entrants that are hard to tell from the other, because most of them do not have a single theme when it comes to styling. And there are those that don’t look like a subcompact SUV or an SUV at all. And so some of them are called crossovers. Whatever car makers have in mind when designing their subcompact SUVs or crossovers, one thing is for sure – they try to outdo each other in features, performance and styling.

But the truth is, it is very hard to tell if one sub-compact SUV or crossover one-ups the other just because it has more features, better looks, a revolutionary or better engine package, or is trying to set a trend. Compare that with the pick-up platform vehicle segment that are fondly called mid-sized SUVs in the Philippines, where the trend is toward more torquey diesel engines, better off-road performance, a bevy of safety features, high ground clearance, more roominess for passengers and macho looks.

So when a car market like Chevrolet introduces its own sub-compact SUV or crossover, it is worth studying what its entry to the segment brings to the market when it comes to features, styling, performance and what have you. Enter the Trax that is positioned to take on the likes of the Ford EcoSport, Honda HR-V, SsangYong Tivoli, Nissan Juke, among others.

When it comes to styling, the Trax looks wider than its competitors because of those bulging wheel flares that are not molded plastics like the ones found in some SUVs. Upfront is the standard Chevrolet grille design that by default makes the Trax easily looks like the smaller sibling of the Trailblazer and a cousin to Cruze sedan.

Looks larger
Although it looks like its ride height is not that high, the Trax looks wide and tall, easily making it look larger compared to its main competitors. Slip into the Trax and immediately the mission of this subcompact SUV is conveyed with its all-plastic door claddings – this vehicle was meant for the outdoors and not just for urban cruising.

The all-plastic cladding actually makes for easy cleaning after a day of active outdoor travel where dust, mud and what have you stains the interior of the Trax. This idea was perhaps pioneered by the first-generation Nissan X-Trail that had an interior that had lots of plastic claddings for its interior for easier cleaning.

The seats are also clad with leather, which is also a good idea because fabric seats are a headache to clean of dirt, mud and what have you after an active outdoor adventure on wheels.

Put it plainly, the interior of the Trax cannot be described as luxurious (buy a Honda HR-V if that’s what you want). But then, the Trax is obviously not marketed as a subcompact SUV offering luxury – in fact, the Trax looks like it was also meant to be roughed up.

Anyway, why would Chevrolet install such advanced safety systems including six airbags, panic brake assist, roll over mitigation, electronic stability control and hill descent control in its sub-compact SUV? The Trax Fast Times also test drove had 18-inch rims shod with Continental rubbers that helped push its price to about P1.2 million.

Turbocharged engine
Underneath the hood of the Trax is a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine that delivers 140 horsepower at 4,900 rpm and 200 Newton-meters of torque at 1,850 rpm. While turbocharging has become a more viable solution to boost horsepower figures of engines with smaller displacements, the catch is the excitement only starts to kick in when the turbo begins to spin at higher engine speeds. So when the turbo does not spin, particularly at lower engine speeds, some engines may feel gutless or underpowered.

Fortunately, the Trax does not feel severely underpowered when the turbo does not engage at rather low speeds, at least in city streets. But in the open highway (where pedal to the metal driving becomes tempting), there is a noticeable lag until the Trax reaches 100 kph. And that where the fun begins.

From 100 kph it’s easier to push the Trax to 140 kph than it is from 40 kph to 100 kph. At speeds over 120 kph, the Trax, especially the variant shod with Continental tires, feels very stable or like a large vehicle.

In the city, the Trax was a breeze to maneuver in traffic and into parking slots. The rather light steering, thanks to electric assist, was truly a blessing for city driving. It also makes the Trax easier but rather scary to throw into a corner really fast. Anyway, there’s the roll over mitigation and electronic stability control to make sure the Trax doesn’t end up upside down.

Although the Trax looks more meant to be taken outdoors and take a little or significant roughing up, its interactive features also make it a vehicle that is friendly to drive in the city because of its seven-inch touchscreen Chevrolet MyLink System with Siri Eyes Free that allows hands-free connectivity. There are also numerous buttons in the steering wheel that you have to master because there is no way to learn them “instinctively” or by experimentation.

May be right on track
Overall, the Trax looks like it is right on track in offering a sub-compact SUV that offers beyond what is currently offered by the other competitors. The top-of-the-line variant, with 18-inch rims and loads of interactive features, is priced at P1.2 million. That means potential buyers of the Trax could add P200,000 to P300,000 and buy an entry-level version of the mid-sized SUVs.

Perhaps buyers of the Trax should really have their mind set on enjoying the advantage of a small SUV to get around the city and to blast the highways faster than the mid-sized sport utes. So Chevrolet may be right on track with the Trax.

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