First drive: 2015 Chevrolet Trax [Review]

Chevrolet is jumping on the compact crossover bandwagon.

Now that the Encore compact CUV has gained its footing in the worldwide marketplace, what about those whose tendencies don't trend towards the Buick tri-shield logo? Chevrolet has been monitoring the situation and finally decided the timing was right to introduce the 2015 Chevrolet Trax Compact CUV.

Available in other parts of the world since 2012, and with sales of more than 180,000 units in 66 different markets, we know about its proven track record. According to Auto-analysts IHS, utility vehicles are now more popular than sedans, and GM thought the time was right for a new compact CUV for the rest of us. In fact, it's Chevrolet piling on itself; According to the brand, the Trax is the seventh small vehicle launch in the last four years. We went to San Diego to see what the hubbub was about.

Well-equippedWasn't it Henry Something-or-other who said you could have it in any color so long as it was black? Perhaps that wasn't the exact quote but in this case the buyer can catch any flavor of the Trax as long as it's powered by the singular 1.4-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine. Small and efficient, it manages to produce 138 horsepower at 4,900 rpm and 148 lb-ft of torque at a low 1,850 rpm.

The Trax is available in two drivetrain packages, both based on the Hydra-Matic 6T40 six-speed automatic transmission. Buyers can choose from front- or all-wheel-drive versions, and both ride on suspensions (recalibrated from the Buick version) that are made up of MacPherson Struts with coil-over springs and a direct-acting stabilizer bar in the front, and a compound crank torsion beam with coil springs and twin-tube shock absorbers at the rear. Steering is via a column-mounted electric power-assisted rack and pinion steering unit, which avoids power draw from the engine for added fuel economy.

The differentiation in drivetrains is in how the power gets to the ground. Although available with an automatically engaging all-wheel-drive, which adds only 150-pounds to the Trax, it can split torque between front and rear wheels as needed. Chevrolet officials explained to us how the AWD system would shift all of its torque to the rear tires, and then back forward to the front transaxle once the vehicle achieves 37 mph.

We spent our day in the urban and suburban San Diego area, driving the standard front-wheel-drive (FWD) version, through such citified obstacles that included railroad grade crossings, within-block u-turns and run of the mill stop-and-go traffic. Further out, in the coastal region of La Jolla, we encountered curvy canyon roads as well as stretches of interstate highways. We were curious to see if the Trax was up to the task.

Globally sourced with hometown flavorAlthough built in factories located in Bupyeong, South Korea or San Luis Potosi, Mexico, GM-based stateside product planners and engineers made sure there was at least a taste of apple pie, to go along with the more stringent safety requirements of the US road. Enhancements were made in the bumper areas and to other features, including noise suppression and interior design, to cater to the US buying market. Once the Trax arrives in dealers around Spring 2015, GM expects it to do battle with such competitors as the Nissan Juke, and Mitsubishi Outlander Sport.

Despite sharing the same platform as the Buick Encore, we were hard pressed to find two pieces of identical sheetmetal between the pair. While the Buick appeals to the more delicate sensibilities, the Chevy features harder angles, creases and style that make it look a bit like its larger Equinox brother, except that it may have spent too much time in the dryer.

For the U.S. market, buyers can opt for the base LS, mid-level LT or range-topping LTZ trim levels with available options like rear park assist (available on LT, and standard on LTZ), heated front seats (LTZ), a Bose seven-speaker audio system, and roof rails (LT, LTZ). All-wheel-drive ($1,500) is available on all trim levels and is the most affordable in the Chevrolet portfolio.

Interior designInside, the Trax departs from the highline looks of its Encore cousin, and instead reveals an appearance that is more in-line with other examples within the Chevrolet brand. A simple, Chevy Spark inspired gauge pod offers similar instrumentation, while sharper angles permeate throughout the Trax's dashboard area.

Following in the footsteps of other Chevy-branded vehicles, Trax comes equipped with OnStar with 4G LTE and a built in hot spot. Activated whenever the vehicle is running, it comes with a free three-month trial after which the buyer can opt to extend or discontinue service. Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment system is also included, complete with a seven-inch monitor that assists in linking Bluetooth streaming, BringGo Navigation, Pandora, Stitcher and TuneIn Radio.

The Trax's driver's seating had us cruising in comfort throughout our SoCal excursion, with good support throughout. What really surprised us, though, was the legroom in the rear seat. Able to accommodate three across, it was also equipped with 60:40 split seating that can be configured in different ways to carry cargo that ranged from suitcases, bags of mulch, band gear, and with the fold-flat passenger's front seat, a surfboard. Chevy was feeling boastful about their cargo space, which measures up at 18.7-cubic feet behind the rear seat to 48.7-cubic feet with the rear seat folded. They claim that is more than the Nissan Juke and comparable to the Kia Soul and Jeep Renegade.

Drive TimeExtremely maneuverable in almost every situation, the Trax proved itself quite capable while attacking the urban jungle. Racing for parking spots was mere kid's play because of the Trax's easy 36.7-foot turning circle.

We found the Trax to be an eager performer, offering decent acceleration but with a fair amount of protest from underhood while exercising the skinny pedal on an uphill grade. Otherwise, it quieted down after reaching touring speed.

We found that steering around town was extremely communicative but seemed to tip towards a more boosted feeling than we liked, especially while at higher speeds. Handling, on the other hand was fun as we flung ourselves down La Jolla-area canyon roads. We keep reminding ourselves that the target audience may actually enjoy the overly boosted feeling, which may be just a bit too much for an enthusiast-style driver.

The EPA says to expect 26 city/34 highway 29 combined from this 2,805-pounder, while the 2,955-pound AWD version should be capable of 24 city/31 highway with 27 combined mpg.

In addition to saving at the pump, Trax buyers can also expect to save a little cash when it comes to maintenance — the 2015 Trax comes with Chevrolet Complete Care, which covers buyers for all scheduled maintenance for the first two-years or 24,000 miles, whichever comes first.

Leftlane's bottom lineChevrolet follows Buick's lead and brings to market the 2015 Chevy Trax. Offering many features for the socially connected buyer, GM officials hope it will be the gateway drug that manages to lure a new generation of customers to the Bowtie division's product portfolio.

2015 Chevrolet Trax base price, $20,995. As tested, $26,805 Trax LZ FWD Package: $25,030, Power Sliding Sunroof, $900; Destination charge, $875.

Photos by Mark Elias.

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