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2015 Chevrolet Trax Pros and Cons: Why (Not) This Car?

Chevrolet Trax front quarter view
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Introduction

Two years ago Chevrolet launched the Trax, a small B-segment crossover, in Canada, Mexico, and a number of overseas markets--but skipped the United States. They had their reasons: the design wasn't right, it was too late to tool up in the U.S., it couldn't be profitably imported from Korea, and it might cannibalize sales from the much larger, more profitable Equinox. Yet a few months ago the Trax belatedly arrived at American Chevrolet dealers. What happened? And if the Trax already seemed out of sync with the Chevrolet brand two years ago, is it now even more a case of too little, too late?

"What happened" is easily answered. Two years ago the only non-GM players in the pocket crossover segment were the Nissan JUKE and the MINI Countryman, two quirky vehicles targeting niches GM had no interest in. But during calendar year 2015 Jeep, Honda, FIAT, and Mazda are all jumping in with relatively mainstream vehicles. GM has been offering the Buick Encore, but its mini-Lexus styling is as mature and conservative as the JUKE's is young and quirky. If GM didn't field the closely related but more youth-oriented Chevrolet Trax, previous "why nots" notwithstanding, it risked losing customers.

Which brings us to the second question. I haven't yet driven the Honda HR-V or the Mazda CX-3. But I have spent 30 to 40 minutes in each of the Italian-made FCA sibs, not long enough for a thorough review of either the Jeep Renegade or the FIAT 500X but long enough to evaluate how the Trax compares. Will GM lose customers anyway? Or is the Chevrolet Trax good enough that it should have been offered all along?

Trax Reviews: Chevrolet Trax front quarter view

Massive prow distinguishes the Trax from the closely related Encore. more Trax photos

Trax Reviews: Chevrolet Trax interior

Too dark, even with the blue stitching? The Trax's interior is also offered in light gray / black.

Tested: 2015 Chevrolet Trax

4dr SUV turbocharged 138hp 1.4L I4 6-speed shiftable automatic FWD

Compared: 2015 Jeep Renegade

4dr SUV 180-horsepower 2.4L I4 9-speed shiftable automatic AWD w/low range

Why the 2015 Chevrolet Trax?

  Compared to the Renegade
Ride smoothness
Ride smoothness: Better Better Worse

The Chevrolet Trax's suspension tuning is firmer than the Buick Encore's. It still rides comfortably, with surprisingly little bobbling about for a tall vehicle with a short wheelbase and narrow track. A solid body structure helps. The LS and LT have 16-inch wheels. The relatively tall sidewalls of the corresponding tires help absorb impacts. Those who have tested the Trax LTZ, with Encore-like 18-inch tires, sometimes have been less impressed with its ride quality.

In my limited experience with each of them, the Jeep Renegade and FIAT 500X don't ride quite as well as the Trax. The Renegade has a fair amount of traditional Jeep flavor in its suspension tuning. It clomps more firmly (and more loudly) over bumps yet leans more in hard cornering. The 500X feels sportier than the Chevrolet and much sportier than the Jeep, and can feel a touch choppy over patchy pavement. I wouldn't write either off due to ride quality, though.


Quietness
Quietness: Better Better Worse

Lacking laminated front door glass and other "quiet tuning" tweaks, the Chevrolet Trax isn't as quiet inside as the Buick Encore, but is still quieter than any other competitor I've sampled. The Jeep and Fiat aren't too far off in this regard, though. Almost as much as with the Trax and Encore, their refinement impresses given their size, weight, and pricing. None seem cheap. I wouldn't be surprised if the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3 are both considerably noisier inside.


Trax Reviews: Chevrolet Trax rear quarter view

The Trax's rear quarters are also chunkier than the Buick's.

Trax Reviews: Chevrolet Trax instrument panel full width

Much simpler, easier to use controls than in the related Buick Encore.

Fuel economy
Fuel economy: Better Better Worse

The Chevrolet Trax isn't quite the segment's fuel economy champ--that honor goes to the new Honda HR-V--but it's close. EPA ratings are 26 mpg city and 34 mpg highway with front-wheel drive (FWD), and 24/31 with all-wheel drive (AWD). With a CVT instead of a conventional automatic, and with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine rather than a turbocharged 1.4-liter, the Honda manages 28/35 and 27/32, respectively.

You can get an engine as small as the Trax's in the Jeep and FIAT, but only paired with a manual transmission (not offered in the Trax). Even with this engine the Jeep's EPA ratings are 24/31 (though with either drivetrain, and so more competitive with AWD). A nine-speed automatic is only available with a non-turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. The additional, taller ratios balance out the larger engine size, for EPA ratings of 22/31 with FWD and 21/29 with AWD.

The FIAT 500X fares a little better with the same powertrains. EPA ratings are 25/34 with the 1.4T and manual transmission (not offered with AWD). With the 2.4 and nine-speed automatic transmission the 500X's EPA ratings are 22/31 with FWD and 21/30 with AWD.

In my real-world driving, the Trax's trip computer regularly reported numbers much better than its EPA ratings: between 30 and 40 mpg in the suburbs (and most often 36-37), and just over 40 mpg on the highway. It's not hard to see how the Trax's fuel economy can excel in highway driving. Cruising in sixth gear, the small four spins only 2,000 rpm at 60 mph.

I observed the best fuel economy numbers with very leisurely acceleration and braking. Push the Trax hard, and the tiny turbo will force as much fuel and air into the cylinders as it can, severely impacting fuel economy in the process. If you want to get impressive mpg averages out of a turbocharged engine, the turbo is been seen as something to be used only when quick acceleration is really needed, not when pulling away from every traffic light.


Why Not the 2015 Chevrolet Trax?

  Compared to the Renegade
Feature availability
Feature availability: Much worse Better Worse

I'd like to list safety among the reasons to buy a Chevrolet Trax. Its crash test scores are all excellent. But, perhaps out of deference to the Buick Encore, GM doesn't offer the latest crash prevention features on the Trax. You can't get forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind spot warning, or rear cross traffic detection. All four features are offered on the Encore, Renegade, and 500X. The Renegade and 500X haven't yet been crash tested, but the Encore has and scored as well as the Trax.

In terms of luxury features, the Trax also cannot be optioned like a Buick, or even like a FIAT. You can't get leather upholstery or automatic climate control. And, as with the Buick, you can't leave the key in your pocket and you'll have to use a manual lever to recline the driver seat. Nav is available, but only via a phone-based extra-cost app.

I can understand why GM might expect people to step up to the Buick if they want luxury features. But the safety options should be offered on the Trax. The most important, forward collision warning, is offered on the related but less expensive Chevrolet Sonic.


Powertrain performance
Powertrain performance: Worse Better Worse

A small turbocharger seamlessly boosts the Trax's 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine to 138 horsepower at an easily accessible 4,900 rpm. Of greater relevance, the turbo plumps up the engine's low end and midrange. In casual driving the powertrain feels easily adequate, even relaxed. Push it, though, and there's not much more thrust to be had.

Either engine in the Jeep and Fiat is much more powerful. The 1.4T is good for 160 horsepower, the 2.4 for 180. With the latter, the FCA crossovers can get from a dead stop to 60 mph about a second sooner than the Trax, roughly nine vs. ten seconds.

Even nine seconds isn't quick by current standards. Lead-footed drivers will much prefer the Nissan JUKE or the MINI Cooper S Countryman.


Trax Reviews: Chevrolet Trax front view

This isn't Chevrolet's latest face. Does this matter?

Trax Reviews: Chevrolet Trax back seat

The Trax's back seat is a match for most in the segment, but the Honda HR-V's is roomier.

Front seat support & comfort
Front seat support & comfort: Worse Better Worse

Like that in the Buick Encore, the driver seat in the Chevrolet Trax is properly supportive and comfortable below the neck. Unfortunately, the headrests in both jut too far forward for my comfort. Depending on your height and posture, your experience might be similar, or not. Pay close attention to seat comfort during your test drive.

I didn't notice any such issue with the seats in the Jeep or the FIAT. I have had a similar issue with some Honda seats, though.


Rear seat room & comfort
Rear seat room & comfort: About the same Better Worse

There's much more room inside the Trax than many people expect given its compact exterior. At 5-9, I could sit behind myself with a few inches of knee room to spare. But if the people in the front seats are taller than me, those in the back seat better be shorter.

The Renegade and 500X have about the same amount of rear knee room as the Trax. They have a couple inches more shoulder room, though, so fitting three people in back is a little less of a squeeze. (It will still help if they enjoy physical contact with one another.) The Honda HR-V isn't wider, but does have a few more inches of rear legroom.

On the other hand, the rear seats in the Nissan JUKE and MINI Countryman are tighter than that in the Trax.


Cargo capacity
Cargo capacity: About the same Better Worse

The cargo capacity story is much the same as the rear seat room story. The Trax contains nearly as much cargo volume as the Jeep, and significantly more than the Fiat--enough for just about any frequent four-person-family task. In all three the front passenger seat can fold forward to make way for long objects. But if you want to stuff a maximum amount of stuff into your small crossover, you want the Honda. And you certainly don't want the Nissan or the MINI.


Other features of the 2015 Chevrolet Trax

  Compared to the Renegade
Exterior styling
Exterior styling: Worse Better Worse

I can see what they tried to do with the Trax. Squared-off fenders distinguish it from the ovoid Encore. But the Jeep makes a much stronger statement for those seeking a rugged appearance, while the Fiat is sleeker and sportier. The Nissan JUKE and MINI Countryman are also more distinctive in their own ways. Compared to any of these alternatives the Trax's exterior styling is less compelling, if not unattractive.

The Trax does look better with the LTZ trim level's 18-inch wheels. But at least when the vehicle is painted "brilliant blue" the LT's 16-inch wheels aren't entirely swallowed by the bulked-up fenders.


Interior styling
Interior styling: Worse Better Worse

The Chevrolet Trax's interior includes some interesting details, including sport bike-inspired instruments (first seen on the related Sonic sedan and hatchback) and blue stitching on the seats. Compared to that inside the Buick Encore, the interior ambiance is youthful and sporty. But it's still bland compared to that inside the Jeep, FIAT, Nissan, or MINI.

Then again, how much flavor do you want inside your small crossover? Many, perhaps most people only want about as much as the Chevrolet offers.


Handling
Handling: Better Better Worse

The Trax's handling is laudably stable and secure, but not sporty. The steering is nicely weighted, but numb. With a character that reminded me of the iconic Wrangler, the Renegade feels heavier and less agile, perhaps even a touch clumsy in off-road-ready Trailhawk trim. With tighter suspension tuning and somewhat grippier tires, the FIAT feels more athletic than the Chevrolet despite equally numb steering. Like the Jeep, it has more character than the bland Chevrolet, but in a different, European direction. Here as with powertrain performance, though, thrill-seekers will be much happier in the Nissan or the MINI. The Mazda CX-3, which won't arrive until mid-summer, is also likely to be more fun to drive than the Chevrolet.


Reliability & durability  

We don't yet have any reliability data for the Trax. But we do have a little for the Encore, made in the same Korean plant using many of the same parts, and this suggests that the Trax should be reliable.

Given the record of other FIATs, I have less faith in the Italian-made Renegade and 500X.


Price or payments
Price or payments: Better Better Worse

Examine the Chevrolet Trax's pricing, and you'll gain some insight into why it wasn't offered in the U.S. earlier. Though it starts at $20,995, $4,000 below the Encore, stepping up to the mid-level LT Plus (as tested) narrows the gap to just $1,175. Adjusting for the Buick's additional features halves even this modest amount. Anyone who prefers the more upscale appearance or additional quietness of the Buick isn't likely to opt for the Chevrolet instead unless they're willing to settle for the no-frills LS. When the Trax and the Encore are similarly equipped, their prices don't differ substantially.

The Trax undercuts the Jeep Renegade by about $1,000, but is priced about even with the 500X and Nissan JUKE. But the Honda HR-V starts $1,000 lower and in mid-level trim costs about $500 less than the Trax.

Ultimately, the prices of all of these crossovers are bunched close enough together that price isn't likely to be a deciding facto--unless one of them ends up with much larger discounts or incentives.


Conclusion

The Chevrolet Trax feels solid, has a smooth, quiet ride, and, despite its compact exterior, has enough space inside for most people. It's a good all-around vehicle especially well suited to drivers who just want something to get around town in, but with a higher seating position than a regular small car.

Yet the Trax doesn't stand out in any particular area. The Honda HR-V has a much roomier interior and even better fuel economy. The Buick Encore is more luxurious. The Renegade appears more rugged and, when suitably equipped, can deliver on the promises made by its appearance by off-roading like a Jeep. The FIAT 500X has a certain European sophistication. The Nissan JUKE and MINI Countryman are much more fun to drive.

What space does this leave the Trax? Well, many people don't want to make a strong statement. They can't imagine themselves in a Jeep or a JUKE. Many of these people also care far more about a smooth, quiet ride than sporty handling, but they also can't imagine themselves in the Buick. Those who'd like an Encore in a more youthful wrapper and at a slightly lower price can now, after a couple years' delay, buy a Chevrolet Trax.

With excellent crash test scores, stable handling, and modest powertrain performance, the Trax could be an excellent choice for young drivers. Unfortunately, GM has reserved the latest crash avoidance features for the Encore. But while these features were only available on premium-branded cars in the recent past, this is no longer the case. They're offered on both the Jeep and the FIAT. Chevrolet itself offers forward collision warning on a $17,400 Sonic. It should also offer these features on the Trax.

Trax Reviews: Chevrolet Trax engine

The Trax's small turbocharged four-cylinder engine has a healthy midrange, but no top end.

Trax Reviews: Chevrolet Trax cargo area, seat folded

The back seat doesn't quite fold flat. The Honda HR-V rules the segment here as well.

See more 2015 Chevrolet Trax photos

Chevrolet provided an insured car for a few days with a tank of gas. Fiat provided a car at a regional media association event. Michael Williams of Southfield (MI) Jeep provided a 2015 Renegade. He can be reached at 248-354-2950.

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2015 Chevrolet Trax pros and cons, according to Michael Karesh: the best reasons for buying (or not buying) the 2015 Chevrolet Trax. Join TrueDelta to post your own impressions.

Response from NormT

9:04 pm June 18, 2015

Your fuel economy numbers mirror mine in a 2013 Buick Encore but with the additional AWD. It is by far the best fuel economy numbers I've seen in the segment...and for any AWD with gasoline engine.

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