Going from driving a 2015 Volkswagen GTI for a week straight to hopping behind the wheel of a Chevy Trax is quite the transition. Outside of having a liftgate hatch, four tires, and an engine, these two cars couldn’t be any different than one another. But the German-engineered, plaid-seated, sport-tuned red rocket ship of a hot hatch has taken off, leaving us with a big, blue, bubbly ball of American economy compact crossover.
Not to say that this as a complaint, but we really needed to make a mental shift before we reviewed something like a simplistic Trax LT with any justice. So in order to give this bubble of inner-city-inspired bliss a fair chance a step back was needed. After a few deep breaths, it felt like it was time to give this new Chevy an untainted review.
While the Trax may be new to us, it’s already been available in 66 global markets. We’re getting it now as compact crossovers continue to gather steam in the States. Starting at $20,995, it’s no wonder they’re so popular worldwide, and with all-wheel drive and four disc brakes coming to you for just $1,500 more (the most affordable AWD option in the Chevy line), it’s by far one of the best bang for the buck compact crossovers on the road today.
It isn’t off-road ready and rugged like the Limited Edition Renegade, nor is it swift or a complete crusher in the corners. But no one in their right mind enters a crossover expecting any of these things; even the all-wheel drive version is no competition for the likes of the Renegade, with it’s adjustable differentials, or the Lexus NX 200t F-Sport and it’s controllable handling characteristics. The Trax is a solid entry-level daily driver, and it’s designed to be that way, because GM wants to offer us the most options available for that fantastic price in hopes that we’ll one day trade-up for a Buick Encore or a Cadillac.
Cars like the Trax are designed to parallel park with ease, hit the interstate without issue, pass over potholes without bending rims, and get Generation Z drivers from A to B without incident. On paper, it’s the very definition of a Crossover Utility Vehicle, but in real world conditions can the Korean-built crossover stand-up and answer its true calling?
Perhaps the best way to evaluate the Trax is to look at it the way one would a yo-yo. While it shares a few surprising similarities with the GTI (both are turbocharged and use electric power steering), the German hot hatch has a level of seriousness that the Trax just doesn’t have. Like a yo-yo, the Trax is colorful, entertaining, playful, and round; it can be taken almost anywhere as long as it doesn’t involve serious off-roading. And after a few days, it’s apparent that this car is all ups and downs.
The Trax is indeed a car that has been designed around a “less is more” approach. While it isn’t loaded with goodies, you get a fair amount for 20 grand. Our Trax was spruced-up with the LT Plus Package, which gives the driver a six-way power driver seat, a leather wrapped steering wheel, rear park assist, and surprisingly comfy leatherette seats with patterned inserts that reminded us of slabs of bacon (seriously).
Outside of those, the Trax came with a slew of standard amenities that kept it on our good side the entire time: The seven-inch MyLink Radio touchscreen display, Bluetooth connectivity, Wi-Fi, USB ports, daytime running lights, and 15 storage compartments to keep you wondering what surprises you’ll find next. It also comes with ten airbags, stability and traction control, and according to GM, 66% of the car’s body is now made from high-strength steel to keep everyone that much safer.
Put it all together and you have a car that’s perfect for for first-time buyers or teens. It’s practical, tech-savvy, easy to operate, inexpensive to insure, and according the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), it’s safer than Fort Knox on lockdown, receiving a five star safety rating in every category save for rollover (where it got four stars). It comes with a three year bumper-to-bumper warranty, a five-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, and the first two years of scheduled maintenance covered too. But teens don’t care about that stuff, and serious considerations for them revolve around having enough room for beach floats, making parallel parking easy, tech and connectivity, cute styling, and having enough room for a gaggle of friends.
But what must go up must come down: On the downswing of the yo-yo string, the Trax suffers from minor amenity issues that aren’t deal breakers as much as oversights worthy of a raised eyebrow and a “How did they miss that?” For instance, the Trax has a fair deal of cheap plastic inside of it, which helps keep the price point down, but when it comes to buttons and compartment doors, it’s typically best to throw some stiffer material in the mix to avoid any unnecessary breakage. The car also suffers from poor rear visibility when those rock-hard rear headrests are raised, and while the thumb-operated “sport shifter” on the gear changer does indeed shift gears while driving, it leaves one wondering who would use it in the first place.
Critics complain that the turbocharged 1.4-liter engine is not nearly enough for the 1.5-ton chassis, and that the six-speed automatic transmission isn’t the most accommodating when shifting up or down is needed. And while we tend to agree, neither are much of a deal breaker; the Trax is designed for efficiency and practicality, and if Chevy had to put a tiny turbo on a sewing machine to make this thing move, then so be it. The Trax is actually surprisingly zippy off the line for what it is, with turbo-lag not overly prominent at lower RPMs. The people who will be considering this car aren’t into performance anyways, and that little 138-horsepower motor should be plenty for getting up to speed on an on-ramp.
As our week with the Trax wound down, there was an interesting conundrum on the table: Did we think the Trax was worth serious consideration as a contender in an already oversaturated market? In short, yes, and in a variety of different ways. This is a fantastic low-frills alternative to the econo box, and if getting 34 miles per gallon on the highway isn’t enough, then maybe you should consider a hybrid. While reliability has yet to be proven, the overall simplicity of the car reinforces the fact that having fewer things to break means less to worry about. But most buyers won’t worry about this kind of stuff, they’re far more likely to wail over the Trax not having an overhead compartment for their sunglasses than the long-term reliability of the vehicle.