The smallest-ever Chevrolet SUV is coming down under as the Holden Trax, but is it a jacked-up car or a proper small truck?
In Holden’s line-up, the Trax sits below the Captiva in terms of size – the new compact SUV is 4200mm long and 1700mm wide – but while the Captiva is offered in both five- and seven-seat models, the Holden Trax is strictly a five-seater affair only.
On the outside, the Trax has been designed to appear muscular and rugged, and although it shares its underpinnings and engines with the Opel Mokka, US studios were tasked with beefing-up the look.
The wheels are pushed to the corners, there’s little overhang at either end, and a higher nose sporting Chevy’s family face provides a more rugged look and stance. The steep front windscreen and a rising character line give the Trax an agile profile, while traditional off-road grey cladding and roof rails add to the car’s feeling of purpose. The C-pillar shape follows that of larger Chevrolet SUVs and is joined by a rooftop spoiler and black shroud around the rear windscreen.
The end result is that the Holden Trax shares only its front doors and roof with the Mokka – there’s no mistaking the two.
Riding on 16-inch or more attractive Camaro-inspired 18-inch alloy wheels, the wheel arches, too, are much more pronounced than on the Mokka, as designers wanted to communicate that the Trax shares its bloodline with some of the world’s best-selling SUVs.
It’s smart and sophisticated, with a ‘dual cockpit design’ that splits the driver and passenger’s sides to ‘cocoon’ its occupants. There are good surfaces that are more sturdy than luxurious, and while they’re made to a price, feel solidly built.
When at the wheel, there’s loads of headroom and legroom, with full adjustment of the seat and steering column. The instrument cluster is a brilliant, easy-to-read design with the rev-counter next to a clear digital speedometer. There’s chrome and silver detailing, but it’s not overdone, while the switchgear is excellent for a mass market, entry-level SUV.
There’s also loads or stowage – including door bins, four cupholders and twin gloveboxes – and it’s clear that the designers worked hard with the design.
Higher trim levels (two are expected for the Holden range, although these are yet to be confirmed) will use a seven-inch high-resolution touchscreen integrated into the dash. This will be used for the car’s MyLink infotainment system, a first for Australia if the local Trax maintains it.
The system incorporates phone, sat-nav and audio functions, but takes another step by reading apps. For instance, GM’s Engis navigation app, which it will launch next year, can be used on your smartphone and accessed via the Trax’s screen. So you could plan a trip at home and transfer the navigation directions to the car. The app also features lane guidance and live traffic reports. Neat stuff.
There will be three engines offered starting with an 85kW/155Nm 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol, a 103kW/200Nm 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol, and a 96kW/300Nm 1.7-litre turbodiesel. The diesel is offered with a choice of six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions, while the 1.6-litre petrol comes as a five-speed manual front-wheel-drive-only.
The Trax’s Borg-Warner all-wheel-drive system, which can split 50 per cent of the torque between the front and rear axles, is offered with both the diesel and 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engines.
All manual transmission Trax models will employ engine stop-start, making it the first Holden to use the technology. The most efficient powerplant is the diesel, delivering 4.5L/100km in front-drive form, or 4.9L/100km with all-wheel drive. The auto-only 1.4-litre turbocharged all-wheel-drive Trax returns 6.4L/100km - not bad for a small SUV.
On the road, sadly, this engine struggles to excite in a straight line. Response is lethargic, with a doughy throttle pedal, and it feels like it would struggle with four passengers. The automatic gearbox lets it down, and the engine can sound a little harsh as the transmission decides what to do. It simply takes too long to kick down, and when it does, it’s a noisy, brash event. You can use the manual gear selector on the auto’s gear lever, but it’s not ideal around town.
The Trax does offer a comfortable ride, though, with good levels of refinement and compliance that’s never crashy over larger bumps even on the larger 18-inch alloys.
A winding road sees the Trax’s high centre of gravity become apparent. It’s not bad, though. Change of direction is pretty good, despite there being a decent amount of roll, and its lateral body control isn’t too bad around bends for what this car is. It can be upset by larger, mid-corner bumps, however.
Despite its light weight – 1280kg is the lightest model – there’s too much dive and squat, which combined with the vague electric steering makes it difficult to place the Trax precisely. You can turn the car’s electronic stability program (ESP) off too, which makes it easy to scrub the tyres around bends in the front-drive versions.
Braking performance on our various two- and all-wheel drive test vehicles was remarkably different: on the two-wheel drive they were average, adding to a lack of confidence into corners, but the all-wheel drive’s superior grip levels saw it put on a strong performance to pull up much better. Admittedly, our test cars were Canadian-spec pre-production vehicles, but even these proved that the Trax is a reasonable all-round handler for a kiddy-hauler while being refined and comfortable.
Practicality is a core strength of the Trax with a class-leading 1371 litres of luggage space and a flat floor with a low and wide loading area. There are eight seating configurations, making the Trax super versatile, while there’s also excellent rear legroom that easily accommodates a six-foot-tall adult.
Safety gear includes a suite of six airbags and electronic stability control with Hill Start Assist, and Hill Descent Control.
While the Trax hasn’t been crash tested, the Opel Mokka has achieved a five-star Euro NCAP rating, and Holden will be hoping for the same for the locally delivered Trax.
So is the Holden Trax a winner? It does offer excellent versatility and practicality with a well-designed, well-made interior. It feels sturdy, and while its drive is let down by the iffy automatic transmission and vague steering, in the real world there’s plenty of room for adults and it will be a far better car with the diesel, making it a genuine threat to the crossover establishment.