For all of the things it does perfectly well, the trouble with the Chevrolet Trax comes when someone asks, “What do you think of it?”
That groaning isn’t the engine, but the sound of you trying to form scattered thoughts into a cohesive sentence. I’m sure my face just went blank for a few seconds.
The Trax is the anti-enthusiast’s car, which doesn’t necessarily make it a bad car despite auto journalists being unable to get excited about it. In fact, the Trax has plenty of good points and offers a lot of what people are looking for in this small SUV class.
But would anyone want a Trax, or just settle for it? Cue the groaning.
Some of the interior details defy logic. Why, on this $26,000 Trax LTZ, was only one of the power window switches lit at night? Why does the unlock button on the remote unlock all the doors when you press it once? Why do the touch-sensitive buttons for the radio hate my touch?
For that price of admission, however, you are treated to rear parking sensors to go with the backup camera, as well as a partial power driver’s seat and pretty good Bose sound system. And the OnStar 4G LTE is at least more reliable than Amtrak wifi.
But most rivals have nicer interiors overall. The Trax’s plastics are scratchy and flimsy and the radio is an ergonomic nightmare. It was hard to get truly comfortable, too, between the thin seats and backrest that’s either too upright or too reclined. At least there are numerous pockets and cubbies for cups and phones and keys to live in.
My Trax was painted a color called, “Orange Rock.” Large side windows made it very easy to see who was driving something that looked like it was injected with too much beta carotene.
Looks aren’t the Trax’s strong suit, either. It’s not offensive, but it’s like it’s been neglected of any single piece of styling. This kind of styling gets shrugs from everyone.
The Trax is essentially a tall body riding on top of what would usually be a Chevy Sonic, what I usually considered one of the nicer cars among the lowest-level hatchbacks on sale today. There’s nothing too much about the Trax that screams “rugged SUV,” though. Unlike a Jeep Renegade or Subaru XV Crosstrek, the Chevy comes off as a tall wagon more than anything else.
The Trax makes little attempt to hide the fact it’s really a tall Sonic. Maybe it’s going for honest looks.
Somewhere, you’ll find the power from the 1.4-liter turbo four in the Trax. There are 138 horses living somewhere up front, and they show up for work in between third and fourth gears. The trouble is that the Trax’s six-speed automatic is usually in fifth or sixth gear once you need the power. A toggle to manually control the gears helps somewhat.
The Trax I drove was a front-wheel drive model, and it was just powerful enough with three guys and a weekend’s worth of luggage on board. Adding the $1,500 all-wheel drive would likely make passing more agonizing.
Having said this, the Trax’s turbo and traditional automatic applied power to the wheels in a more pleasing manner than the front-drive, CVT-equipped HR-V I drove not long after. While it’s rated at up to 34 MPG on the highway, I never saw more than 28.
The Trax isn’t very special to drive, but consider its Sonic roots and it’s all pretty competent. Wind noise around the mirrors is present, but engine noise is reasonably suppressed when you’re not searching for the turbo. The view out the front is good, but pretty useless towards the back. Its narrowness is odd at first, but makes it feel nimble in traffic. The ride, however, is very good. Even when riding on fashionably large 18-inch wheels, imperfections on the 405 were soaked up well.
Between this and the sound system, the Trax makes a decent commuter car.
Right now, you can lease an $24,000 LT model – meaning you skip the leatherette, 18s and Bose audio – for less than $200. That’s a better deal than the $26,000 LTZ I drove. Add all-wheel drive to that and you’re pushing $28,000. That’s well into CR-V/Forester/Equinox territory.
After a week with it, I couldn’t figure out why anyone would want the Trax or what its one breakout feature was. And there are other similarly sized rivals that make more emotional or financial sense.
The less expensive Honda HR-V, which I’ve driven on multiple occasions now, has more room for your arms and legs and luggage for less money. It’s perhaps less refined, but opt for the manual one and it’s borderline fun to drive. A Jeep Renegade, which I haven’t spent a week with, but can say that it looks adorable and offers a lot of tech many rivals don’t, even if it, too, is expensive for what you get.
But the biggest case against the Trax is the Buick Encore, which is like a Trax that did the extra credit assignment in school. And for roughly the same lease payment now, the Encore is quieter, with nicer interior finishes and, perhaps, a better exterior look.
The short answer for, “What do you think of it?” I think I’m still at, “Um…”.
Photos: Zac Estrada/Carscoops