At six-eleven, the New Orleans Pelicans’ center DeMarcus Cousins towers over the 64.8-inch-tall Chevrolet Trax crossover. Like the NBA All-Star center, though, the Chevy’s height is key to its function. As are many of its closest competitors, the Trax is essentially a raised version of a subcompact hatchback, in this case the Chevrolet Sonic.
Chevrolet sure has taken the lift seriously with the Trax. Towering over the Sonic by five inches, the Trax is among the tallest of its peers—only the boxy Jeep Renegade is a hair taller, at 66.5 inches, while the Mazda CX-3 is several inches shorter. As you can probably guess by its gawky proportions, the Trax also is among the narrowest of these little SUVs; with just five inches up top, it would be as tall as it is across (something that’s definitely not true of Cousins).
A visual update for 2017 has helped mitigate the Chevy’s dorky stance, and the new Trax is more handsome than it was before. Broader headlights make the front end look wider, while the larger grille opening ties the Trax in with Chevy’s larger and recently redesigned Equinox and Traverse SUVs. The taillights look more modern, and a faux skid plate carries over in an attempt to convey an impression of ruggedness, despite the Trax’s economy-car underpinnings.
In no small part due to its stature, the Trax has an upright seating position that affords fantastic visibility out front through the large windows. By our measures, the Trax’s seating height is above that of the Jeep Renegade by half an inch, and it’s more than four inches higher than that of the Mazda CX-3. Headroom is plentiful front and rear—we’d wager that even Cousins could fit in the back seat with a bit of space to spare, even if his knees were splayed uncomfortably.
Despite the extra height, however, the Trax’s cargo area isn’t all that much larger than the Sonic’s. Nineteen cubic feet are available behind the rear seats, less than in the Honda HR-V and the Kia Soul, both of which provide 24 cubic feet. If you want to expand that space, you’ll find that the Trax’s rear seats aren’t the easiest to fold; you must flip up the bottom cushions before folding the seatbacks forward, an extra step that most rivals don’t require.
The updated interior does benefit from several new features. Push-button start, forward-collision warning, and lane-departure alert are now part of the options list, while a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto comes standard on even the base LS. The dashboard’s materials are improved somewhat, although certain pieces such as the shifter and the climate controls still look and feel cheap, a more egregious offense in our tested $27,290 Trax Premier than in lower-priced models like the pictured Trax LT.
Getting Out of Its Own Way
Chevrolet didn’t update what’s under the hood, an area where the Trax needed work. A turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-four providing a paltry 138 horsepower is the only engine choice. A mostly well-behaved six-speed automatic and a competitive 148 lb-ft of torque help the little engine deliver a decent amount of peppiness around town, at least in the lighter front-wheel-drive Trax we tested. When it’s time to merge onto the highway or execute a pass, though, the little 1.4 struggles against the Trax’s 3151-pound curb weight—as confirmed by the sluggish 9.3-second saunter to 60 mph. A 145-pound-heavier all-wheel-drive Trax we tested in 2015 was slower still, at 9.4 seconds.
The small-displacement engine is presumably intended to imbue the Trax with small-car-like fuel economy, but it falls short in that regard as well. We measured just 30 mpg in our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test, three short of the EPA’s highway rating. The significantly more powerful Kia Soul Turbo, which gets to 60 mph nearly three seconds quicker than the Trax, also hit 30 mpg in our testing. The more powerful and more efficient turbo 1.4-liter four that’s optional in the closely related Buick Encore (and also benefits from direct injection) would be a welcome addition to the Trax lineup. We hope Chevrolet is working on adding it sooner rather than later.
The Chevrolet makes up for its accelerative deficiencies with competitive handling and braking performance. With a decent 0.83 g of grip around the skidpad and a short, 164-foot stop from 70 mph, the 2017 Trax is far less tippy and precarious than its styling suggests. Body roll is kept in check and the ride is comfortably firm, while the brake pedal provides progressive feel. The little Chevy also is eminently maneuverable, with quick steering and a short wheelbase that make parking a cinch. The CX-3 is more fun to drive, but the Trax is competent where it counts and gives an overall impression of solidity.
Not a Standout
That idea of competence without enthusiasm sums up the Trax overall. There’s not much that really stands out about Chevrolet’s smallest SUV—it’s not the cheapest in its class, nor the most entertaining, nor the roomiest, nor the best looking. It wouldn’t be our first choice in this segment (that’d be the 10Best Trucks and SUVs–winning Kia Soul), and if you’re set on a Chevy, the Sonic, although vertically challenged, strikes us as a better buy.
Maybe the Trax, then, is less like DeMarcus Cousins and more like a high-school basketball player who just hit a growth spurt. It has got the height, but the Chevy still needs to develop its skills before it can advance to the pros.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback
PRICE AS TESTED: $27,290 (base price: $21,895)
ENGINE TYPE: turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4, iron block and aluminum head, port fuel injection
Displacement: 83 cu in, 1364 cc
Power: 138 hp @ 4900 rpm
Torque: 148 lb-ft @ 1850 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 100.6 in
Length: 167.2 in
Width: 69.9 in Height: 64.8 in
Passenger volume: 93 cu ft
Cargo volume: 19 cu ft
Curb weight: 3151 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 9.3 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 33.6 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 9.8 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 5.0 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 7.0 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 17.1 sec @ 81 mph
Top speed: 115 mph (drag limited, C/D est)
Braking, 70–0 mph: 164 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.83 g
EPA combined/city/highway driving: 28/25/33 mpg
C/D observed: 25 mpg
C/D observed 75-mph highway driving: 30 mpg
C/D observed highway range: 420 mi