2015 Chevy Trax: City Chic SUV

By Frank A. Aukofer, January 31st, 2015

The 2015 Chevrolet Trax slips quietly into a segment of new hatchbacks that operate under the assumed name of crossover, and even is touted by some as an SUV.

If Trax looks a bit familiar, it's because it is basically the Chevrolet version of the Buick Encore, a small luxury crossover utility vehicle. The specifications are almost identical, though the Buick costs thousands of dollars more and delivers less fuel economy, thanks mainly to a heavy injection of sound deadening materials and luxury accouterments.

A turbocharged 138-horsepower four-cylinder engine that delivers power to the front wheels or all four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission powers both vehicles. They have the same interior space -- enough for five passengers if someone squeezes into the uncomfortable center rear position.

The 2015 Chevy Trax has mostly nondescript, inoffensive exterior styling punctuated by a bold front end that makes it look bigger. It measures 14 feet long, but its interior volume meets the government's definition of a midsize car.

Chevrolet plans to market the Trax as an economical urban sport utility vehicle, or SUV, ideal for chasing around cityscapes. But it's not half bad as a long-distance highway cruiser.

There are arguments over its classification. Some Chevy people insist that it's an SUV, which usually is defined as a truck-based body-on-frame vehicle with rear- or four-wheel drive. Others call it a crossover, which is similar to an SUV, but is car-based with unit-body construction, a rear hatch, and FWD or AWD.

But the new small crossovers like the Trax more closely resemble hatchbacks. The Trax is about the same size as the Nissan Versa hatchback, which also has midsize interior room but is marketed as a subcompact.

The Trax has a versatile interior. Split rear seatbacks fold flat to increase the cargo area from 19 cubic feet to more than 48 cubic feet. Moreover, the front passenger seatback also can be folded flat, enough to carry an 8-foot stepladder.

Manufacturers can be forgiven for co-opting the crossover name. In the U.S., hatchbacks have been about as popular as ants at a picnic. But jack them up a few inches, add an all-wheel-drive option, and call them crossovers, and you suddenly have something with cachet.

Existing Trax competitors are few, but more are coming: the Jeep Renegade, Honda HR-V (based on the Honda Fit), and the Mazda CX-3 (built off the same platform as the entry-level Mazda2), which is actually a bit smaller than its sibling, the Mazda3 hatchback.

The Trax comes in three trim levels: LS, LT, and LTZ. Tested for this review was the base LS, which has a starting price of $20,995 with the standard front drive. Given the fact that you can buy similarly sized hatchbacks for thousands of dollars less, that initially appears excessive.

However, even the base LS Trax boasts an extensive list of standard equipment. Most notable are all the connectivity features, including 4G LTE Wi-Fi, Bluetooth streaming audio, and live aid OnStar with turn-by-turn navigation. You also can buy a $50 BringGo navigation app for your smartphone that operates with the Trax's 7-inch touch screen. A rear-view camera also is standard.

All-wheel drive, included on the test vehicle, costs $1,500. And for another $80, you can replace the LS's homely steel wheels with handsome alloy wheels. The tester, with a premium paint job, topped out at $22,575.

On the road, the Trax is a sprightly if modest performer. The turbo four-banger delivers decent acceleration and the six-speed automatic shifts smoothly. Handling with the AWD is competent, though the ride is choppy and the interior resonates with road noise. The Trax could use some of the Encore's superb sound-deadening technology.

Front seats are supportive and comfortable, but the back seats are hard and unyielding. Sun visors do not slide on their support rods to block sunlight from the side and the LS does not come with cruise control.

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