Right Side of the Tracks: Chevrolet Trax review

Trax. Somehow it sounds like it should be Traxx. There’s something vaguely yoof about that name, like when things are misspelt to appeal to a youthful audience. Kool. Sparxxx. Foxx. What are we meant to make of that name? Something youthful and useful – it can offroad but it ain’t no square, y’all.

I wonder what we’re supposed to make of sibling stablemate the Mokka from its name. Middle-class, unthreatening, pleasing in a somewhat anodyne idiom – Mellow Birds in car form. Just how far Vauxhall can extend its ending-in-A naming convention remains to be seen too. Here’s a couple of suggestions I’ve copyrighted, just in case. Macadamia, Babushka and Apologia.

Yes, the Trax is indeed related to the Mokka but it does actually feel a little different. For a start the Chevy can offroad in 2×4 format; the Vauxhall is front-wheel drive only. And whereas the Mokka is pitched more at fleets the Chevrolet is likely to sell in highest volumes to private buyers. What’s more the Chevy crossover sells for £500 less than the Mokka. There’s something interesting about the Chevy badge, in that it isn’t seen as the budget model that some competitors are – and with a Volt and a Camaro in your line-up it isn’t hard to see why.

The Trax looks pleasant enough and the interior isn’t bad either. Specifications are decent and it drives reasonably well – a little better than the Mokka unless my senses play tricks on me – but this isn’t a car you should ever sling into a corner. Feedback is not sufficient to really get an idea of what would happen were you to get a little merry behind the wheel of the Trax, though the firm-ish set-up means the body feels controlled, if somewhat jittery over imperfect surfaces.

The Trax gets the turbo 1.4-litre petrol engine that’s a good lump, though it feels a teeny bit underpowered here, as will the underwhelming GM 1.6 petrol. If you want more power there’s the 1.7-litre diesel that’s very flexible, surprisingly fast and possibly the loudest engine you’ll ever come across at low revs. Start up this engine, or pull away at some lights, and you’ll feel like you’re rousing a rather angry bear with a bad cough.

The LS base spec is only available with the 1.6 so there’s at least one very good reason to avoid it and plump for LT. This is fortunate as Chevy thinks this will be the trim of choice. It brings the MyLink touch-screen system, seemingly inescapable in most new cars these days.

I have a problem with these touschscreen jobs, in theory. You don’t get any tactile feedback so it’s difficult to know whether your input has been noticed or not; this often necessitates looking directly at the screen while driving, which may or may not be a problem depending on the car. Here it works reasonably well, but this seems to be a growing – and inescapable – trend regardless of how well it integrates with the dash.

Either way, you get to play music, make calls or control the satnav through this screen. What’s more the apps on the system can be updated and most of the controls can be run through your phone – assuming you have a generous data allowance. This lends the Trax a little sheen as the interior is perfectly functional and spacious but rather lacking in character. To be fair, this makes perfect sense, as the two main demographic targets – young families and older buyers (LT and LS respectively) – are unlikely to be bothered, prioritising interior space, practicality and durability.

Exterior looks are a little more interesting: Chevy does very well by making its cars more distinctive than competitors and the Trax is similarly eye-catching; some chunky styling and rather unusual sills make it a little bit hovercrafty. The differences to the stablemate Mokka aren’t simply cosmetic though: Chevrolet says the crossover’s body panels and interior components are all different. Damper rates, bushes and tyre compounds are all different too, which might explain why the Trax feels a little more spry.

Inside is where this all starts to make sense. In spite of some rough materials the interior is very impressive in its versatility and usefulness. There are 19 – count ’em – storage compartments and eight seating configurations. Boot space rivals the Qashqai and there’s a low loading lip.

A smallish crossover SUV makes perfect sense on that basis – apart from superminis and smaller this is the only sector that’s showing growth over the years as people prioritise value and fuel economy. Quite where it fits into the sector isn’t especially easy to figure out – in fact it’s not easy to see where this sector is going with cars as different as the Juke, Qashqai, Yeti, Ford Ecosport, Peugeot 2008, Renault Captur and even small-ish MPVs such as the Vauxhall Meriva and Ford B-MAX competing for the ‘dual-use’ dollar.

A decade ago this sector was probably most closely related to the nichey, undesirable glazed CV market – C3 Picassos and Bipper Teepees. Now these cars – essentially jacked-up superminis and hatches – are doing the business for volume manufacturers, so much so that the premium manufacture’s can’t ignore it any longer.

There’s something fascinating about these brands carve out spaces for themselves in crowded markets; doing wonders with keenly-prices, well-specced cars. Chevy’s dealer network is made up of plenty of small, family-owned outlets and its straightforward, ‘value-not-budget’ brand proposition in that context makes perfect sense.

As a brand Chevy seems, to me, not big and brash in that traditional US idiom, but approachable, honest. How Chevy’s badge escapes the vagaries of snobbery is intriguing too. It is somehow in a little bubble of its own – a manufacturer that makes cars that are perfectly judged on the cost-value axis. It’s an axis upon which Chevy always to be on the right side.

Chevrolet Trax

Chevrolet Trax 1.7 VCDi LT
Engine size 1.7-litre diesel
Price £18,945
Power 129bhp
Torque 221lb ft
0-62mph 9.6 seconds
Top speed 116mph
Fuel economy 62.7mpg
CO2 emissions 120g/km

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