Current wisdom at Fisherman’s Bend is that it will need far more stock of the new Holden Trax than the “few hundred” units en-route from South Korea for the pint-sized SUV’s local September release. And after a quick spin in the diminutive imported five-door “Mum’s taxi” – Holden’s words, not ours – we’re inclined to wholeheartedly agree.
Right car, right time, says GM’s local arm. Sure enough, the Holden Trax that fits neatly under the Captiva, in both sizing and pricing, lands right under the broad “small SUV” umbrella, a segment increasingly murky in absolute categorisation (define ‘small’) but a certifiably bankable one with a car that ticks the right boxes.
Initial impressions are that the Trax lands big ticks in the most crucial areas for buyers of affordable family-hauling: pricing, value for money, design, new-school technology (at least in the touch-feely infotainment department) and perceived utility.
The range kick-off of $23,490 for the LS manual variant – LS automatic is $25,690, range-topping LTZ is $27,990 – is so sharp that it’s easy to write the Trax off as cheap-yet-cheerless motoring. Far from it.
The Trax’s exterior design strikes a real sweet spot. It looks larger than you’d expect a vehicle based off the Barina’s 'Gamma' platform. It’s better resolved and more sweetly proportioned in the metal than it does in pictures. Crucially, size-wise, it’s big enough for that requisite on-road SUV swagger yet small enough to avoid intimidation when tackling ultra-tight parking spaces.
It foregoes its Opel Mokka twin’s cutesier look (with which it only shares its front doors) and has adopted more masculine Chevrolet design (which only differs from the Holden in front grille and bar styling). The look neatly avoids any negative age or gender centricity.
Inside, there’s ample overall headroom and second-row knee room to accommodate four large adults with genuine comfort, though limited cabin width makes fife adults a real stretch of the friendship.
The seating, too, is as supportive as it is comfortable, with cloth trim in the LS and nicely supple Sportec synthetic leather in the LTZ. The front seats, located some 160mm higher that a those in a Cruze, provide the all-important captain’s chair vibe SUV-alike buyers desire.
Design- and material-wise, it presents well. Holden name-checks Steve Jobs – he of Apple fame – with a trend towards a more minimalist approach to the user interface. The perception, at least, is that much of the car’s conveniences and functionality are accessed via the standard-fitment seven-inch touchscreen, and that the only other separate controls necessary are those for the basic air-con (there’s no proper climate control, even on the LTZ pictured below).
The MyLink system display has a rich look – superior to many big-dollar prestige cars, in fact – and straightforward interface for accesses audio, Bluetooth and a host of smartphone (iOS and Android compatible) app-driven features such as Pandora, Tunein, BringoGo sat-nav and Stitcher. There’s no CD player – a deal-breaker, perhaps, for some – though a handy 240-volt/150-watt power outlet is fitted at the rear of the centre console.
Less successful is the instrument cluster – a modern-look analogue tachometer unhappily mated to a clunky, 1980s-look digital display used for speed and other readout information.
Overall, the cabin avoids the sort of youth-themed pretensions found in far too many small, affordable new cars.
Cargo space is a modest 356 litres with the seats up (785 litres seats folded), about par for the sub-compact SUV course and similar to that of your average hatchback. Whether that’s large enough to accommodate the larger prams and ever-growing addenda a modern young family ‘needs’ to cart around is questionable. The utility limitation this brings could well be a deal-breaker for many prospective buyers the Trax is so squarely aimed at.
Nothing about Trax feels cut-priced or low-rent. Fortuitous, for Holden, is GM cousin Opel’s sudden and timely exit from the Aussie market, which neatly and conveniently removes a more highly specified and more premium-priced alternative in the Trax’s (now stillborn) GM cousin, the Mokka. That the Trax comes fitted with a fairly rudimentary powertrain package – at least compared with Chevrolet/Buick/Opel versions offered overseas – will be lost on many buyers. But rudimentary it is.
All three Trax variants come fitted with the same naturally aspirated 1.8-litre petrol four that, head and valves apart, is identical to that of the MY14 Cruze's engine. Critical stats are 103kW at 6300rpm, 175Nm at a fairly lofty 3800rpm and a combined cycle fuel consumption best of 7.0L/100km for the manual (7.6 for auto variants). One size fits all, then.
The 1.8 delivers its goods in a workmanlike manner. It neither struggles terribly, even with three adults and luggage on board, nor presents anything like spirited enthusiasm. Backed by the auto it’s a handy rather than impressive daily-driven ally. And while the five-speed manual presents a little more tangible engagement to the driver, it's geared for around-town tractability rather than open-road cruising – nearly 3000rpm in top gear at just 100km/h anyone…?
Not on offer, nor (openly) slated for future rollout, are the 103kW/200Nm 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol or the 96kW/300Nm 1.7-litre turbo-diesel you invariably find behind other GM badges abroad (and was most certainly ear-marked for Opel Mokka in Oz). Also not offered, it should be added, is the super-frugal 85kW/155Nm 1.6-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder released in Europe. All of these engines better the local 1.8’s consumption figure, too – from 4.5L to 6.4L/100km – even in all-wheel-drive forms. The Holden version, though, is only available in front-wheel drive.
On the road, the Trax really starts punching higher than its modest price tag suggests. It’s quiet, refined and has good isolation from the outside world. Again, there’s a sense of quality that belies the price tags.
Holden engineers know a thing or three about tuning chassis for often dodgy local conditions and the Oz-specified package is a very polished one, with a well-honed ride and handling balance that must surely be a new budget-SUV benchmark. The ride comfort on the LS’s 16s is superb, on the LTZ’s 18s firm yet generally compliant, though a little fidgety from the rear seat.
The no-brainer trade-off, of course, is that the LTZ exhibits a noticeably crisper edge in its handling character. It’s no sports car – far from it – but the Trax does possess a genuine keenness in the corners. Mid-corner bump control and an unobtrusive, driver-friendly stability control calibration deserve special mention. There’s proper depth to the driving experience beyond being simply a utilitarian SUV box on wheels.
More critical than dynamic handling talent for a Mum’s Taxi is safe, surefooted grip and road-holding. Holden specifies top-notch Continental rubber – 205/70R 16-inchers for the LS, 215/55R 18-inchers for the LTZ – which contributes significantly to the Trax’s all-weather, sealed-surface on-road talents.
Brakes, though providing ample, repeatable stopping power, are discs front and drums rear, showing one of the areas where the Trax is engineered to cost. That said, the Trax has six airbags and all essential electronic aids (ESC, ABS, EBD), earning the newcomer a five-star ANCAP rating. Hill-start assist is a welcome standard-fitment feature.
The Trax should rightly be the sales hot cake Holden predicts it will be – mostly down to price and to value for money. And for the latter, the company lists (spec for spec) the pricier Nissan Dualis, Mitsubishi ASX and Hyundai iX35 as key ‘small SUV’ competition.
Thing is, the grey and murky ‘small SUV’ tag conveniently absorbs both sub-compact (Trax, ASX) and compact SUVs (iX35) together with ‘crossovers’ (Dualis). So while it’s easy to say the Trax is more affordable than, say, the Hyundai, it’s also ostensibly one segment smaller in size.
On individual merit, though, the Trax scores enough positives that should see Holden ordering more boat loads.