SAN FRANCISCO -- The heritage and expertise Chevrolet has developed in the sport/crossover utility market is being applied to a new product intended to have global appeal.
The 2013 Chevy Trax, introduced at the recent Paris auto show, will be the smallest CUV in the lineup when it hits the streets later this fall. Based on the Chevy Sonic platform, the Trax fits in as the first rung in the brand's sport/crossover utility ladder, joining such siblings as the Orlando, Equinox and Traverse.
The Trax has been a global collaboration for General Motors, with the styling handled primarily in the U.S. The engineering has been developed by GM's Korean division, while the European engineering team was responsible for the vehicle's driveability.
The Trax will be offered in Canada with a choice of front-wheel or all-wheel drive. The only engine available here is a turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder, although several other power plants will be offered in other markets, including a 1.7L turbocharged diesel four.
The 1.4L is the same aluminum-head, cast-iron block engine being offered in the Chevy Sonic, Cruze and Buick Encore, developing 138 horsepower at 4,900 r.p.m. and 148 pound-feet of torque at 1,850 r.p.m. on regular fuel. It can be paired with a six-speed manual gearbox or an optional six-speed automatic. The full-time all-wheel drive is available as an option on all but the base LS trim level, which is offered in front-wheel drive only.
The AWD system, developed by Borg-Warner, turns on with every launch and monitors for initial wheel slip up to three to five kilometres an hour. If no slippage is detected, the system reverts to front-wheel drive to save fuel. If there is wheel spin, the system will engage all four wheels up to 60 km/h. Beyond that speed, the system remains on standby and will re-engage all wheels if needed. It can shift power up to a 50/50 split front and rear, but there is no side-to-side transfer.
Electronic stability control and hill start assist are standard on all models.
During a day of driving both automatic-equipped FWD and AWD versions of the Trax, the powertrain delivered adequate performance. On the interstate, it cruised along quietly, at least until the accelerator was nudged to make a pass. Then things got a bit raucous up front and the boost in power was somewhat slow to develop -- both characteristics not unusual for a small four-cylinder.
Similarly, reserve power felt a bit weak when negotiating some of the hilly terrain on our drive route north to the Sonoma area. One wonders how responsive the 1.4-litre would be when hauling a full load of four adults and their gear.
It's no surprise, then, that towing with the Trax is not recommended.
The vehicle's manners on the road are impressive. The electric-assist steering is quick and precise, with good feedback. The ride is firm but certainly comfortable and it carves through twists and turns with very little body roll.
Its car-like dynamics are no doubt due largely to the Trax's chief engineer, Jim Danahy, who was chief engineer for Corvette before being assigned to oversee the Trax project in Korea. His passion for good steering and handling, honed while working on the Vette, have had a positive influence on the Trax.
The brakes, too, were flawless during the test drive. Front-wheel-drive models have ventilated discs up front and drums in the rear; all-wheel-drive models have discs on all four wheels.
Styling leans on Chevrolet's family cues, with the front end dominated by the global face of the brand and the dual-element tail lamps common on Chevys. The side panels feature sculptured lines and powerful wheel arches that give the vehicle a bold look. A strong C-pillar adds to the muscular tone.
The aluminum alloy wheels are a five-spoke design, similar to the Camaro, They're available on the 1LT, 2LT and top-of-the-line LTZ trim levels in 16-inch and 18-inch sizes; the base LS gets 16-inch steel rims.
The interior features the dual-cockpit look that's prevalent on other Chevy models. The instrument panel flows nicely into the centre stack that's dominated by a seven-inch touchscreen when equipped with Chevrolet's MyLink Touch infotainment system that readily links your smartphone to the vehicle. Models not equipped with MyLink have Bluetooth connectivity as standard equipment. All audio systems include auxiliary input jacks for USB, iPods and MP3 players.
The gauge cluster is an interesting combination, with a three-dimensional look reminiscent of the Sonic. There's a large analog tachometer on the left, flanked by a large digital speedometer. The gauges are illuminated with in an ice-blue hue and are readily visible both in daylight and at night.
The Trax is fitted with two rows of seating -- twin buckets up front and a 60/40-split back bench. I found the front seats supportive and comfortable, although I did rub elbows with my equally robust driving partner a few times. The rear seats will accommodate a couple of adults, but trying to fit in another would be a challenge. Headroom was decent, but legroom was snug, at least when the front seats are well back on the tracks.
Chevy product experts say the seating can be arranged in eight different configurations, adding to the vehicle's functionality. With the rear seatback upright, there's 356 litres of cargo space; fold the seatbacks flat and there's 785 litres of space for stuff. There are also numerous cupholders, cubbyholes and bins scattered throughout the cabin.
Fuel-consumption ratings for FWD models with the manual gearbox are 7.8 litres per 100 kilometres in city driving, 5.7 on the highway and 6.9 combined. With the automatic transmission, the ratings are 8.1 city, 5.9 highway and 7.1 combined.
In a segment that's growing fast as consumers opt for smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles, the Chevy Trax is well suited to meet those demands. Expect pricing to be announced within the next month.