Take a Barina city car, jack up the suspension and pump steroids into the body … and you get the Holden Trax, the company’s smallest SUV yet.
The Trax was one of the first models to arrive in Australia that forms part of a new trend of sub-compact sports utility vehicles.
The Holden Trax has direct rivals in the 208-based Peugeot 2008, Fiesta-based Ford EcoSport and upcoming, Clio-based Renault Captur, though its pricing – from $23,490 – also brings some slightly larger SUVs into play. These include the new Suzuki S-Cross, Skoda Yeti and Mitsubishi ASX.
The Holden Trax LS features include 16-inch alloy wheels, reverse view camera and sensors, auto headlights, leather steering wheel, and a seven-inch colour touchscreen that’s the centerpiece of the company’s MyLink connectivity system.
Foglights, 18-inch alloy wheels, ‘Sportec’ (read vinyl) seats, heated front seats, trip computer and a storage tray under the front passenger seat are the key extras for upgrading to the $27,990 LTZ.
MyLink is now found in a number of Holdens, including the Commodore, and is an excellent system. The touchscreen has strong graphics, features large icons for functions that are easy to spot at a quick glance, and it’s simple to pair your smartphone via Bluetooth.
You can also connect certain apps on your smartphone with the Trax, so you can have integrated Internet radio (Pandora, TuneIn) and satellite navigation (BringGo). Turn up the volume and the Trax’s audio also delivers a strong, bassy sound.
The interior is clearly related to the Barina’s, though there’s a better execution of the circular rev counter and rectangular digital speedo, and the readout instrument cluster design itself. There’s also an extra layer of practicality despite the door pockets being narrower. There are four cupholders in the centre console to ensure no passenger goes without a drink, and the dashtop includes a lidded compartment.
Angled window switches on the doors also gain additional ergonomic marks over the flat panels of the Barina.
Overall design, quality and layout are above that of the rival EcoSport’s cabin, though behind the benchmark 2008.
It’s important these baby SUVs offer more than just a higher ride height than their donor city cars, so it’s good the Holden Trax can boast a bigger boot than the Barina’s – 66 litres extra for 346L (which more than doubles again with rear seats folded).
That’s slightly more than the EcoSport’s boot (346L) but plenty of litres short of the 2008 (410L), ASX (416L) and S-Cross (430L).
If only the boot is in use, the rear seat is one of the best in this vehicle category. Foot space is slightly spoilt by a step in the floor beneath the front seats, and the centre rear seat misses out on a headrest, though otherwise there’s a fair amount of space for passengers and the bench offers best-in-class comfort (the spongy, yet supportive front seats are great, too).
The Holden Trax doesn’t set standards for fuel efficiency. Official consumption figures of 7.0L/100km (manual) and 7.8L/100km (auto) aren’t good starts, and on a mostly freeway- and country road-based test loop it averaged an even more disappointing 10.5L/100km.
The main culprit is weight. The Holden Trax hits the scales at up to 1371kg – a bigger mass than rivals, and notably heavier than the S-Cross (1125kg) and 2008 (1131kg).
This also puts a burden on the engine – the 1.8-litre four-cylinder ‘Ecotec’ that dates back to the 1990s – and six-speed auto when it comes to producing momentum.
There are times when the engine’s 175Nm, although developed at a not-too-high 3800rpm, sees the Trax struggling, particularly on hills where the auto starts hunting for gears.
Even around town, the six-speeder often acts more like a four-speeder, taking too long to drop a gear and instead allowing the engine to start labouring.
Opt for a quick kickdown push on the accelerator, for occasions such as overtaking, and the cabin is filled with a burst of unpleasantly thrashy revs.
The auto is better when you’re travelling downhill, dropping a gear or two for some subtle engine braking, and the drivetrain is fine if you’re just using light to medium throttle use around the suburbs.
Holden engineers applied some local tuning to the steering and suspension of the Trax that is imported from South Korea. The former has been more successful, with the Trax providing steering that isn’t perfectly accurate but is faithful enough to the driver’s inputs that you can be confident of placing the vehicle where you want to.
The ride is a bit more of an enigma. The Holden Trax LS wears chubby, 70-aspect tyres that should bring their own form of suppleness, yet they can’t completely disguise the inherent firmness of the suspension. And there’s nothing they can do to overcome the Trax’s tendency to become choppy over uneven urban roads.
On country roads, however, those fat Continental ContiPremiumContact 2 tyres also produce higher levels of grip than might be expected. Combine that with a balanced chassis and the Trax gives the driver nothing less than a secure feel when tackling the open road.
There’s also some assurance with servicing costs because Holden’s capped price program for the Trax asks just $185 for each of four services up to three years or 60,000km.
The city-sized-SUV class is still waiting for the kind of standout performers found in most other categories. The Holden Trax, though, is not only a more convincing model than the Barina it’s based on, but also makes itself one of the stronger considerations with its above-average driving manners, appealing interior, bountiful equipment count, and an excellent infotainment/connectivity set-up.