If there’s a niche that has yet to be explored you can bet your bottom dollar that there are marketing people looking at a flow chart right now, trying to work out what it is and how to make something to fit into it. It’s a remarkable sign of the times that we can be sold something we didn’t know we needed in the first place — but then the way segment-busting crossover cars have taken off suggests we like the idea of a car that is just for us.
And if giving people what they want is the short cut to success, then Chevrolet has been following it to the letter in recent years. Once seen as something of a bit player in European markets, the General Motors giant has been rapidly rolling out successive models and broadening its portfolio to the point where there is something for everyone with a reasonable price tag as standard.
Now Chevrolet is breaking into new territory with the Trax, a compact SUV crossover that sits somewhere between conventional small SUVs, MPVs and hatchbacks. Chevrolet says it doesn’t have a direct rival, but rather a number of competitors from different sectors, and on closer examination you can see where they’re coming from.
It’s certainly a chunky beast, with the stance and presence of an SUV but at only 4.2m in length it is only 200mm longer than an Aveo supermini, giving it the kind of looks and feel of a proper 4X4 but enough manoeuvrability to be a car you can take anywhere. It’s definitely worth ensuring you have the larger 17in wheel option to make the most of the looks. And of course to appeal to SUV buyers it has to have the high-set driving position, and despite being unquestionably a compact car, the Trax firmly ticks that box.
In fact the cabin is one of the Trax’s best features: the driving position is very good, the view out is just as you would want it with plenty of light coming in and the space on offer is particularly impressive. Up front there is generous head and legroom and the back seats are perfectly suited to carrying adults — so the kids will love them. There’s a sizeable boot too, with 358 litres with seats up and a hefty 1,370 with them folded down. Even better is the way the cabin all fits together.
Climb inside and it has a premium appearance, certainly a step above what you’d expect given the price tag. The materials themselves are hardy and well constructed rather than luxurious, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the way it looks. It’s helped a great deal by the My Link system, which brings a large touchscreen on to the centre console.
It responds accurately to inputs and with downloadable apps to cover everything from music to navigation and social networking, it has virtually limitless possibilities and gives the Trax a big advantage over its rivals. Underneath the Trax’s skin there is a choice of 1.4-litre turbocharged and 1.6-litre naturally aspirated petrol and a 1.7-litre diesel, with all bar the 1.6-litre base engine available with four-wheel drive.
From behind the wheel the 1.4-litre turbo is the pick of the bunch, as it manages to combine brisk acceleration and generous torque with highly respectable economy and emissions performance. The 1.4-litre is more than acceptably quiet right from start up, and the six-speed manual gearbox fitted as standard has a fuss-free, smooth shift action. Although small in capacity, the 1.4-litre turbo offers a strong 200Nm of torque, allowing you to get rolling easily and make short work of staying in the flow of traffic.
Wind noise picks up a little at higher motorway speeds, but overall refinement is good, creating a relaxing environment for passengers. The Trax is clearly designed to be practical and comfortable first and foremost, and as a result the suspension is set up to deliver a unflustered ride. Even with the larger 17in wheels it manages to deal with the majority of road imperfections, and even the big holes don’t spoil the ride to any great extent.
Should you choose to push the Trax on a twisty road, it will play along happily, and it resists significant body roll with impressive ease. Chevrolet makes a strong case for the Trax, as it packs so many features that buyers are looking for into a compact and good-value package. With prices expected to be lower than similarly sized offerings from other manufacturers it could be a bargain family car that ticks many boxes.