Holden's Trax needs to succeed in one of the most competitive segments in the Australian new car market – and do it on a budget.
The revised 2017 Holden Trax LS auto is the recipient of some much-needed improvements in what is an increasingly important segment for ‘soon to be importer only’ Holden. The end of local manufacturing will undoubtedly be a heavy blow for the brand, and it will need to be able to hang its hat on a solid SUV foundation to be able to compete with the big guns in this country.
As such, the Trax is a centre point of that new focus and needs to appeal to a small SUV-loving public. Pricing is sharp, but perhaps not quite as sharp as it might be, for the FWD-only Trax – there is no AWD variant available.
There’s no diesel engine either, only a 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol (in base manual guise), and a turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine for the rest of the range mated to a six-speed automatic.
Pricing for the LS model tested here starts from $26,490 before on-road costs and standard equipment highlights include: 16-inch alloy wheels, four-wheel disc brakes (replacing drums on the rear of the old model), cloth trim, six-speaker audio system, DRLs, automatic headlights, 7.0-inch touchscreen, Siri Eye Free voice control, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, rear-view camera, rear parking sensors, hill start assist, hill descent control, cruise control, leather steering wheel and heated rear view mirrors.
The Trax faces stiff competition in this segment and by way of comparison, the most popular in the class is the Mazda, where a base CX-3 auto starts from $19,990, while $26,990 will net you a second from top spec FWD CX-3.
Another favourite in the compact SUV class, the Honda HR-V, is also very sharply priced. Also only available in 2WD like the Trax, a base model starts at $24,990, while $27,990 will get you the next model grade up from base.
The 1.4-litre engine under the stubby bonnet of the Trax is punchy enough for the segment and figures of 103kW and 200Nm are adequate to get the compact SUV up and motoring. A manual gearbox would no doubt deliver a more spirited drive, but the auto is slick enough to slice through the ratios when you call for it, even though you probably won’t be tempted by such tomfoolery behind the wheel of the Trax.
The ADR combined fuel cycle claim is an efficient 6.9L/100km but we couldn’t get anywhere near that in the real world. Around town, the usage hovers around 8.7-8.9L/100km, but both Matt Campbell and I saw the figure drop down into the low eights after prolonged freeway runs.
Pure freeway should net a figure in the high sevens, but it’s fair to say the Trax should be a little more frugal than it is. If you’ve got a Trax with a good few thousand kilometres on the clock and the figure is less than what we experienced, let us know in the comments section below.
Vitally important in this segment is the cabin, the amenities within, and the infotainment. I’d call the general dash design and execution unfussy, meaning it’s got that neat, minimalist aesthetic to it, perfect for a compact interior that doesn’t have room for swathes of controls and switchgear. There’s no digital speedo though, which in 2017, isn’t acceptable.
The driving position is comfortable, to the point where even taller drivers won’t have any issues, a bonus for this compact segment. Likewise, the front seat passenger will find more than enough room. We also appreciated all-round visibility, especially front three-quarter, which makes running around town pleasurable. That’s partly to do with the (slightly) raised SUV ride height. As you’d expect, taller occupants up front will take space from rear seat passengers, so this isn’t a vehicle ideal for more than two tall adults.
There’s usable luggage space beneath the hatch, and the hatch itself is light in action, meaning even the kids will be able to lift it up with minimum effort to get schoolbags and the like in or out. The seats fold 60:40 to really open up that luggage space too.
The most obvious feature in the cabin is the 7.0-inch touchscreen, featuring Holden’s MyLink infotainment system. It also has Siri voice control, which is a bonus for iPhone users, and the addition of Apple CarPlay/Android Auto is a must.
The interesting news here is that CarPlay worked seamlessly for us, but decoupling that and opting for Bluetooth didn’t work so well. Sure, it’s not an issue when you have CarPlay to fall back on, but if you only have access to Bluetooth, these glitches are not ideal.
We found the Bluetooth system slow to connect initially, and then unreliable once connected. It would drop out during calls, switching over to the handset, then reconnecting not long after – incredibly annoying, especially when you’re on the move. It wasn’t one phone either, we tried four different handsets and all experienced the same annoying glitches.
Countering that infotainment negative is the excellent rear-view camera, which is clear and wide, and in concert with the sensors, leaves no room for excuses in regard to parking blunders – especially in a vehicle of this size.
There’s more than enough clever and useful storage as well for phones, wallets, charging devices, coins and the usual day-to-day items. The door pockets are handily sized, the cupholders are useful, and there’s a possie for your sunglasses up in the hood lining. There’s also a handy storage tray that recesses under the front seat too.
Once you’re comfortable in the cabin, you’ll want to assess the Trax’s on-road chops and we weren’t especially surprised to find the smaller 1.4-litre turbocharged engine has lifted the game overall, despite delivering the same power figure as the NA 1.8-litre. The extra punch in torque terms (peak available from 1850rpm) through the mid-range is what it’s all about and particularly valuable for the daily grind.
The Trax will get off the mark in spritely fashion and hold speed from there, revving smoothly out to redline. The torque peak being available so low is a real benefit, and the engine is refined from idle right up to redline.
The gearing is neatly tuned to the engine’s ability too, and you never get the sense the Trax is in the wrong gear at the wrong time or struggling to get cracking. We liked the snappy way in which the 'box kicked back a gear or two for roll-on overtaking too, illustrating its highway touring ability despite diminutive sizing.
One factor proudly highlighted by Holden at the launch of the MY17 Trax was the Australian suspension tune, and while it’s much better than the previous model, it’s not without its faults. Around town, we’d call the ride firm, and while the cabin is a little on the loud side, it deals well with the usual urban fare.
However, at higher speeds, the system felt over-damped and unsettled on the highway. The Trax suspension is basically a lot better – and more comfortable – below 60km/h than it is above that speed. Despite these minor issues though, the new suspension tune has made for a much more comfortable package than the old model.
Strangely, and somewhat jarringly considering the rest of the driveline refinement, the brake pedal feel isn’t great. It’s feels more like an on/off switch than a pedal with progressive take up. The steering isn’t perfect either, with a dull sensation to it sometimes, and it’s not as direct or sharp as the segment leaders. It’s extremely twitchy to return to centre when you roll out of a corner and the weight of the system isn’t consistent from lock to lock. It’s not a deal breaker certainly, in a segment where most buyers probably won’t even notice it, but for us, it’s a point worth noting here.
Trax owners get a three-year/100,000km warranty with roadside assist and it’s covered by Holden’s capped-price servicing scheme. Currently, the first four services will cost you $229 each at intervals of one-year or 15,000km – very reasonable pricing for budget conscious buyers.
We appreciate the improvements to the Trax and think it’s a worthy step forward from the old model – however this LS isn’t the specification we’d buy. It’s simply not as sharply priced as the most popular (Mazda CX-3) or as good all-round as the CarAdvice favourite (Honda HR-V) in the compact SUV segment.
However, it is still very much worth your consideration. We’d argue that you opt for a higher model grade and bargain hard on the list price. From our experience, Holden rarely sells its vehicles at the RRP.
Listen to the CarAdvice team discuss the 2017 Holden Trax LS auto below, and catch more like this at caradvice.com/podcast.