COMPACT CAPABILITY: The small size of the Trax will make it easy to maneuver in cities.
COMPACT CAPABILITY: The small size of the Trax will make it easy to maneuver in cities.
GENERAL MOTORS CO.

Last month, immediately prior to the New York Auto Show, we were treated to special seat time in a car that would not be unveiled to US buyers until later that evening. It is a compact crossover called the Chevrolet Trax, and though it had been sold abroad for several years, it was now time for it to travel stateside.

The crossover market numbers in the millions of vehicles, and the compact crossover is the fastest growing corner of the CUV realm. Chevrolet estimates that the small SUV market will grow 80 percent in just two years. With vehicles like the new Jeep Renegade and Honda HR-V on their way, Chevy needed to get in on the game fast.

So Chevy imported a vehicle that had seen international success. The Trax was initially launched in Canada and Mexico in 2012 followed by a rollout in Europe. Since its launch, General Motors has sold 90,000 versions of the Trax in 60 countries around the world. But is it ready for the States?

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In coming to America, the Trax gets a mildly revised front grille, but that’s it. The platform is shared with the Buick Encore, which is enjoying relatively positive sales. As such, the Trax features a stout front area, high belt line, and sharp drop-off in the rear. Chevy ups the visual toughness of the Trax with the dark textured wheel-well arches and running boards. I find the bulged out wheel fenders to be a bit awkward, especially where the rear haunches meet the rear hatch. But the form follows the function of the interior, which is paramount in this market.

Given that it shares DNA with the diminutive Chevy Sonic, the Trax has a pretty spacious interior—even for this writer’s 6-foot-3 frame. The raised ride height yields a surprisingly commanding seating position while driving. The interior is also borrowed from the Sonic, including the minimalist, yet high-tech instrument panel and gauge cluster.

The Trax features a seven-inch touchscreen fitted with Chevy MyLink, which is a user interface that allows occupants to access functionality of your smartphone on the screen. That includes calling and navigation functionality, but it also has Pandora and Stitcher streaming radio, as well as weather updates and various other apps. Like the Sonic before it, the Trax does not have a CD player, signifying a change of the audio entertainment guard and an indicator of the target demographic for the Trax.

The Trax employs GM’s 1.4-liter ECOTEC turbocharged inline-4. It makes 138 horsepower and 148 lb.-ft. of torque. If that doesn’t sound like a lot of power—that’s because it’s not. The Trax feels underpowered, and its engine overwhelmed, in many driving scenarios. It might be enough for Europe, but not for American roads. If GM thought power was adequate, horsepower ratings would not be so hard to find on their website.

Power is sent through a six-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels or available all-wheel-drive. The automatic has a manual shift mode, in the form of two buttons on the gear selector. When climbing a hill, you will need these to keep the Trax in the proper gear. Its transmission wants to get into the most fuel efficient ratio, which does not translate into “best ratio for hill climbs.”

Fuel economy for the front-wheel-drive Trax is 26 mpg city, 34 mpg highway. The fuel economy numbers for the AWD version were not stated, but we expect 1 mpg less in both driving conditions. Pricing was not stated either, but with the Buick Verano as the “upscale” sibling coming in at $25,085, we predict the FWD Trax will start at around $20,000.

Thanks to the Chevy small car platform which underpins it, the Trax has a responsive, car-like ride. Steering is firm and quick, and despite its sporty ride, it manages to absorb quite a bit of road harshness. It will have to in order to deal with New England or even Detroit roads.

A very similar configuration to this is found on the Buick Verano, but in order to keep costs down, certain sound deadening efforts have been omitted. As such, the Trax can be quite loud under hard acceleration. With such a small displacement engine under-hood, don’t bother trying to have a conversation while accelerating on the highway.

Frankly, the Trax seems like a placeholder. Chevy could not afford to NOT participate in the US market, but aside from the in-car tech, the Trax does not come off as a modern vehicle. It seems like Chevrolet slapped a new grille on a vehicle that was not intended for our market to cash in on the compact crossover game while they worked on a CUV that can go door-to-door with the competition. But Chevrolet got there first, and we suspect they will sell plenty, regardless of what we think.