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With a business based on selling trucks and SUVs, just three model years ago, the only small cars in Chevrolet's lineup were the decrepit Cobalt compact sedan and coupe and its retro-styled HHR tall-wagon sibling.
Today though -- with the introduction of the Cobalt-replacing Cruze sedan, Volt hybrid, Orlando mini-minivan, subcompact Sonic sedan and hatchback and Spark city car -- you can't walk across a Chevy dealer lot without bumping into a small, fuel-efficient car of some kind.
Joining Chevy's burgeoning small car brigade is the new-for-2013 Trax crossover, essentially a longer/wider/taller version of the subcompact Sonic, using the same 138-horsepower, 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder and six-speed manual and automatic transmissions. Smaller than more popular compact crossovers, like the Honda CR-V, the Trax has no domestic brand rivals, counting only the Nissan Juke, Hyundai Tuscon and Suzuki SX4 as true competition.
Whereas Chevrolet Sonic pricing runs between $13,665 and $23,560, the more capable Trax starts at $18,495 and tops out at $29,330. While the Sonic is strictly a front-driver, for $25,155, the mid-level Trax LT can be had with part-time all-wheel-drive and mandatory autobox.
I had few qualms with the Trax's interior design. A tilt and telescopic steering wheel and supportive front seats deliver an excellent driving position. The Chevy's cockpit design is simpler than its Buick Encore platform-mate, with driving instrumentation borrowed from the Sonic that is clear and concise. Plus, the interior build quality is right there with the imports.
Despite most returning Chevy buyers still adding to their CD collections, the Trax offers the latest infotainment connectivity. Steering wheel audio/phone controls, hands-free phone connection, USB and auxiliary jacks and General Motors' OnStar service is all standard fare. And to make the most of the Trax's small footprint, its right-front backrest folds flat, the rear cargo shelf can be stowed vertically behind the rear seats and Chevrolet says the Trax has more rear cargo room than a BMW X1.
The Chevy crossover's just-under-10-second zero-100-km/h time won't put a scare into Corvette owners at a stoplight, but for its intended mission as an urban runabout, it's perfectly fine. And when not abused by motoring journalists, the blown four is as smooth here as it is in other small Chevys.
Our day's test route involved little urban driving -- it was mainly bombing around the back roads of Québec's Gatineau Hills. As such, my 9.8 L/100 km average was nowhere near Transport Canada's 5.7 city and 7.8 highway Trax estimates.
If not as agile or quick as the Juke, the Trax is remarkably composed and refined for non-enthusiast driving chores. Over rough, rutted gravel roads, the Chevy delivers a composed ride without getting sloppy in its body motions. Its electrically assisted power steering is surprisingly linear in turns and offers plenty of off-centre pushback.
My day's drive in Ottawa coincided with the first serious snowfall of the season. The Trax's AWD system -- which starts with all wheels engaged at takeoff, then switches to front-wheel power only at higher speeds, then back again as slippage occurs -- handled unplowed roads with aplomb.
As capable, usable and competitive as the new 2013 Trax is, its biggest flaw may be the yellow bow-tie badge on its front grille.
Chevrolet's marketing wizards say the vehicle's target customer is 25 to 38 years old, female, single, no kids and living in the city. As witnessed by the new Trax, Chevrolet finally has the small cars its needed for decades. The heavy lifting now is getting the small-car buyers.
-- Postmedia News