The world’s car manufacturers have long struggled to figure out how to balance the need to offer products specifically tailored to the demands and customer expectations of different markets with the financial imperative of containing the huge costs associated with development and selling of any new model. In the past, many of the major companies, with multiple brands in their portfolio, resorted to what is often referred to as “badge engineering”, where all they changed were badges and a few details of trim and other things which are not hard to vary. This provided cars to dealers who only sold one marque or indeed customers who were very marque loyal, and often allowed for a hierarchy from the value brands to the sporting or luxury ones. We saw it from BMC in the UK in the 1960s and all the US majors indulged in the practice until much more recently. That approach does not generally work as it used to now, though, with many of those historic brands having been killed off. More recently, the vast increase in the number of what appear to be completely different models in ever-expanding ranges has come about largely as the result of extensive platform sharing, sometimes not just within a company but often between companies, with the costly bits that you can’t see being shared but the bits you can looking very different. Sometimes, though, we still see a complex array of different badges applied to what is clearly the same basic design. Operating in major markets that range from North and Latin America, Europe and Asia, General Motors used to develop a complete range of specific cars for each major market, but in recent times has converged a lot of their product portfolio such that although the marque that you buy in Australia, the UK and the USA may be different, many of the underlying cars will be quite similar. That is certainly the case for the car that is being reviewed here, the Chevrolet Trax. To Europeans, this will look like a slightly different Opel or Vauxhall Mokka, and indeed that is exactly what it is. It is based on the same Gamma-II platform as the Mokka, and with its origins in South Korea and the former Daewoo operation. Those with good memories may recall that in fact Europeans could -for a brief time – buy a car badged Chevrolet Trax, but it was pulled from the market when in the use of the Chevrolet brand was phased out in favour of Opel and Vauxhall. The Mokka was an obvious addition to the European range, as small crossover-style vehicles enjoyed a massive increase in popularity in the early 2010s. That a car of this size would find favour in North America was rather less obvious, as to customers on that side of the Atlantic, this is definitely a small car. However, GM took the decision to try, putting Buick badges and relatively luxurious on a car which had stablemates also sourced from Europe (the Buick Regal, an Americanised version of the Insignia) as well as all-American designs such as the large LaCrosse saloon and the massive Enclave SUV. The Encore had little in the way of direct competition, and sold in decent enough numbers that GM concluded that there could be a market for the Chevrolet version as well. It arrived in America for the 2015 model year, little different from the version that had been sold in other world markets for the preceding two years. Befitting Chevrolet’s market position relative to Buick, the Trax had a lower level of equipment and a much lower price. The front and rear styling was also a little different, with a grille that adopts the current Chevrolet family style. I’d experienced the Mokka a couple of times in Europe and been less than impressed by it so I don’t mind admitting that both the Encore and the Trax were not exactly high on my list of cars to test, but on arrival at Phoenix’ Sky Harbor airport rental facility, looking for my next car on this trip, there was really very little choice, so I ended up selecting a relatively new 2018 model year Chevrolet Trax.
Slightly surprisingly for an model at this price point, there is keyless starting with a large button to the right of the steering wheel. Power for all US market Trax models comes from GM’s familiar 1.4 litre Turbo 4 cylinder unit, which puts out 138 bhp. It comes coupled to a six speed automatic gearbox. In other applications, this engine impresses with its refinement and punch, but here it felt somewhat out of its depth. The Trax felt sluggish and had to be revved hard to get even quite modest acceleration at all times. And doing that increased the noise levels more than somewhat. Once up to a steady cruising speed, though, the engine was decently quite quiet and other traditional sources of noise – wind and road – were also well suppressed. At least the gearbox was smooth in operation. Considering how relatively heavy-footed I had been with the go pedal, I was quite surprised at the end of the day when refilling the Trax before returning to find that it took just 4.83 gallons, having covered 199 miles That computes to 41.2 mpg US or 49.2 mpg Imperial, which is a very creditable figure indeed. Sadly, that is about the only accolade I an accord the Trax from a driving point of view. My notes refer to the fact that it was just dull, and then go on to say that whilst there was some sensation in the steering, the car was plain sloppy with lots of understeer and body roll on moderately twisty roads. This is definitely not a car for anyone who enjoys driving. The quid pro quo is that it does ride decently well, with this car coming on relatively high profile 205/70 R16 wheels. There were no concerns with the brakes, with the foot pedal having a decent feel to it. There is pull-up handbrake fitted between the seats. The boxy styling does help somewhat with visibility, though there are very thick pillars, especially at the back but the standard reversing camera does help. The Trax is small in all dimensions compared to most cars on US roads, so it is more manoeuverable than most and was easy to place on the road, and slotted into parking spaces with plenty of spare in all directions.
Reminder that this is the value version of the design in the American market comes when you look inside. There is an awful lot of black plastic, with a massive dash moulding made from this substance, a rather hard to the touch plastic at that, which does not even try to look plush. There are some silver grey inlays and there is a bit of orange stitching, but with black upholstery as well, this is quite a sombre looking inside. With LT trim you do get a leather wrapped steering wheel, and the outers of the seats were a sort of synthetic leather but the Trax makes not real effort to hide his value ambitions. The dash design is best described as “swooping”. The instrument cluster is a bit unusual, with a central speedometer which forms part of an arc, and the rev counter does them, in a circle that overlaps to the left of the speedo, with a bar chart style fuel gauge to the left of that being the only other gauge. The right hand element of the cluster is used for a rectangular block for the trip computer display. The two main dials use rather odd forceps style pointers for their needles. The dials are at least clear and easy to read. The trip computer display has a number of different options and, as is the case with many current GM products, you cycle through these by twisting the end of the left hand column stalk and select the one you want by pressing the end. There are two column stalks – stock GM parts – for indicators and wipers. Lights are operated by a rotary dial situated on the dash to the left of the wheel. The steering wheel boss contains buttons for audio repeaters and the cruise control. The upper centre of the dash has the integrated 7″ colour touch screen for the GM MyLink screen. This is very similar to that used on other GM products at present, and proved easy to use and reasonably responsive. Features included AM/FM and XM Satellite radio, as well as Apple Car Play and Android Auto, and as well as GM OnStar there is a 4G LTE HotSpot. There are only a limited number of buttons below the unit, so you will need to use the touch screen interface for many of the things you want to do. There are six speakers for the audio function and sound quality was decent. Two USB ports feature. Beneath this unit are three rotary dials used for the manual air conditioning. Although some of the individual components are the same as you will find in the Mokka and indeed other GM products, the design of the dash of the Trax is completely different.
Adjustment of the driver’s seat on the test car was electric whereas that for the front passenger was all manual. The electric operation is one of the elements of the Convenience Pack which appeared to be fitted to the test car. The steering column telescoped in/out as well as up/down. It was not hard to set the seat and wheel such that I got the driving position that I wanted. Sadly, I never got totally comfortable, though, as there was something about the shaping of the seat which did not really fit with my body. Armrests are anchored to the inner sides of the front seats. The seats themselves were trimmed with a mix of cloth in the centre and a sort of synthetic leather for the outer portions. Neither were what would you call high quality either to look at or to touch.
The Trax is relatively narrow, so the rear seat is really only going to be viable for two adults. Leg room is reasonably generous, and there is not much intrusion from a central tunnel, though the centre console unit does extend well back so if there were a middle seat occupant they would need to make sure their knees avoided that. There are slight cut outs in the back of the front passenger seat to provide an extra bit of space. Headroom was OK, but not perhaps as generous as you might expect from a car of this genre. There is a central drop down armrest which features cup holders in its upper surface. There is not much provision for odds and ends, with just one net on the back of the driver’s seat and some rather small pockets on the doors.
Hardly surprisingly, considering the relatively compact external dimensions, the boot is not all that big, but it is a nice regular shape, with the area behind the wheel arches squared off and an oddments recess incorporated into the moulding on side of the car. The boot is quite deep and there is (unusually for entry level US market cars) a load cover to hide the contents from prying eyes. This can be clipped on the back of the rear seat backrests if you want some extra load height. A space saver is found under the boot floor and there is some room around it to store odds and ends. More space can be created by folding the asymmetrically split rear seats. To do this you need first to pull the seat cushions up and the drop the back rests down. Surprisingly, the resulting load area is not very flat, and I found that there front seats needed to be well forward to allow for the folded rear seats to fit in the space There are roof rails on the Trax,. though I suspect these are there as much for looks to try to create the illusion of a touch off-roader as they are for practical purposes. Inside the cabin, there is plenty of provision for those bits and pieces that you want to have accessible. The glovebox is a good size and there is a recess in front of gearlever, as well two cupholders in the centre console, a lidded cubby over the driver’s left knee and bi-level bins on the doors.
The 2018 Chevrolet Trax comes in three trim levels: LS, LT, and Premier. All models come standard with the same 1.4 litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a six-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel and all-wheel drive are available in every trim. The 2018 Trax LS features cloth upholstery, a rearview camera, a 7-inch touch-screen infotainment system, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, a built-in Wi-Fi hot spot, Bluetooth, two USB ports, and a six-speaker stereo. The Trax LT includes LED daytime running lights with projector-style headlamps, LED taillights, front and rear faux skid plates, roof rails, deluxe cloth upholstery, alloy wheels, XM satellite radio, a 110-volt power outlet, cruise control, keyless starting, front passenger under-seat storage drawer, heated mirrors, and deep-tinted rear window glass. Models with the Driver Confidence package have blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and rear parking sensors. Models with the Convenience package come with synthetic leather seat trim, a six-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, proximity keyless entry, and push-button start. Trax LT models with the Sun and Sound package have a sunroof and a seven-speaker Bose stereo. The Chevrolet Trax Premier features 18″ alloys with their own distinctive design, front fog lights, standard synthetic leather upholstery, a six-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a sunroof, proximity keyless entry, push-button start, a seven-speaker Bose stereo, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and rear parking sensors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, illuminated vanity mirrors, sill plates and and chrome accents on door handles and tailgate. My test car was an LT with the Convenience Pack added.
My expectations for the Trax were not that high, and my day with the car did little to persuade me I was being unfair in that opinion. Whilst it would doubtless provide perfectly acceptable transportation for a small family, and the purchase price is relatively low, there were too many things which I thought were not really good enough. In particular, it felt somewhat underpowered, was rather soggy to drive and the interior quality would win no prizes except from the plastics industry for the amount of their product that it uses. Some won’t care, and if you are such a person, then this is certainly a better-value proposition than the pricier but largely identical Buick Encore, though it should be pointed out that the Buick is available with a more powerful engine and the trim quality is rather better. Unlike Europe were there are lots of direct rivals, there are not that many alternatives in America if you want what they would call a small Crossover, but there are some other possibilities. I think you would be better off with one of them: the Kia Soul offers funky looks, is decent to drive and good value or you could go for the Honda HR-V that I sampled a few days before trying the Trax and the Mazda CX-3 that I have yet to sample would be another possibility. I would take any of them in preference to the Trax, just as I would take almost anything instead of a Mokka in Europe.