The Holden Trax has long been a bit-player in the vibrant small SUV market. Despite strong growth last year on the back of sharp deals, sales continue to pale in comparison to the Mazda CX-3, Mitsubishi ASX, Honda HR-V, Nissan Qashqai and Subaru XV.
But that doesn't mean the Holden, first launched in 2013, has lacked merit. We lived with one for a few months in 2015 and came to enjoy its nimble (Australian-tuned) dynamics and faux tough-guy styling, two things that generally get the attention of younger buyers in particular.
Now the Trax's 2017 upgrade is here in Australia, indeed sitting in our garage, bringing with it some new technology and infotainment, more specification, and significantly overhauled design both outside and in. The mission is clearly to get this baby Holden onto more shortlists.
The revised MY17 iteration certainly makes a strong first impression. The slightly awkward upright nose on the old car has been replaced by a sharp two-piece grille, sleeker headlights with standard LED daytime running lights (DRLs) and a new bumper. With its flared guards and good proportions, it's a handsome little runabout.
The cabin layout is also much better than before, more resolved and less of a mish-mash. The new trims are made to a higher-standard and screwed together relatively well by GM's Korean factory. The LTZ's contrast-stitched fake leather seats and padded trim panels feel quite high-grade.
The design of the fascia is reminiscent of the impressive new European Astra five-door, with a clean layout dominated by a new 7.0-inch screen with Holden's familiar MyLink infotainment, Siri-based voice control, and now Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability. The CX-3, HR-V and Qashqai don't have that, though the ASX and Suzuki Vitara do.
There's also ample storage for phones and other odds-and-ends, including multiple door pockets and sizeable cup-holders - though there's no centre console, just a folding driver's arm rest on middle-grade and top-spec versions. There's also a sunglasses-holder above the driver's head (watch out, taller drivers) and a storage tray under the front passenger seat.
The old Trax's cabin felt like it was built down to a price, a cheap one at that, whereas the MY17 fights with better members of the class for presentation and quality. Commendations are due for the upgrade, as much as a kicking is due for what GM mustered before now.
The Trax's standard equipment list has been updated and improved as well. The base LS kicks off at $23,990 plus on-road costs (unchanged, though the MY16 was always discounted in reality) and has key features such as the 7.0-inch screen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Bluetooth/USB connections, a reversing camera with sensors, cruise control and a leather steering wheel.
Outside are new DRLs and 16-inch alloy wheels that mean even the base car looks sharp-ish.
Note, this $23,990 price is for the manual gearbox version with the inferior 1.8-litre normally aspirated engine option. Unlike the old version, the base LS can now also be had with the better 1.4-litre turbo-petrol engine matched exclusively to a six-speed auto, for $26,490, or $1500 more than an equivalent auto Honda HR-V VTi.
The new mid-range LT with standard 1.4 engine and auto occupies the spot where the MY16 LTZ sat, at $28,890, and adds extra such as cloth/fake leather trim, a sunroof, fog lights (looking at you, James), the driver's armrest already mentioned, push-button start and passive entry system, and DAB+ digital radio. You also get racy 18-inch alloy wheels.
Finally, the new LTZ climbs $1600 over the old one (which is now basically the LT) to $30,490 and adds fake leather seats (Sportec in Holden parlance) with heating for front occupants, rain-sensing wipers, LED tail lights, TFT driver's instruments with digital speedo, and both blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert safety system. There's still no climate control or sat-nav though.
The blue car you see in the images, and which we spent some time driving, is this LTZ spec, which lines up price-wise between the HR-V VTi-S and VTi-L, or the CX-3 sTouring and Akari grades.
Finally, the base red and white exterior paint colours are free, but you have to fork out an extra $550 for bright blue, metallic black, silver, range or the neatly named 'Son of a Gun' grey.
Befitting the Trax's SUV positioning, the driving position is higher than an average light hatchback, affording you slightly better visibility and ease-of-entry. The cabin ergonomics are great as well, with the exception of the steering wheel that's a little oversized to our hands.
So far, so good. But where the Trax doesn't match the Honda or Nissan is cabin space, though in its defence its sub-4.3-metre dimensions make it one of the smaller players in the market, about on a par with the Mazda.
Rear legroom is acceptable for adults, though the sunroof eats a little headroom, and you get your own flip-down cupholders, door pockets, electric windows that go all the way down, and even a novel 230V powerpoint. There are ISOFIX points for a child seat, and full curtain and side-protecting airbags for both rows (plus dual-fronts). There are no rear air vents.
Boot space is 356 litres, 24 less than a Volkswagen Golf's, while the rear seats fold 60:40 for longer items. However, the process of sliding the front seats forward, pulling up the rear seat bases, the folding the seatbacks down, is less efficient and clever than most rivals - the Honda's Magic Seats coming to mind more than any.
Still, as the top-selling Mazda CX-3 has shown us, you need not have the most cabin space to appeal to buyers...
Holden's 1.4-litre turbocharged drivetrain, now available across all versions with a six-speed auto, retains its 103kW/200Nm outputs, the latter at a low 1850rpm giving you ample urban tractability.
The engine also offers good refinement higher up the rev band, and the small turbo and six-speed auto minimise lag. It's a lovely drivetrain for the class that tugs along the Trax's 1390kg tare mass easily enough, in a relaxed fashion.
We got close to the manufacturer-claimed fuel consumption of 6.9L/100km on the combined cycle, managing 8.1L/100km with a mixture of peak-hour, highway and dynamic country loops. Holden recommends fuel grade of 95 RON or higher, however.
The base 1.8 engine (103kW/175Nm) is almost irrelevant, because it only comes with a five-speed manual gearbox on the LS, and people in this segment have voted with their feet overwhelmingly for autos. They also generally want front-wheel drive (not all-wheel drive), which is why it's standard on the Trax.
That said, some rivals can be optioned with AWD, including the CX-3 and ASX, though others such as the Qashqai and HR-V cannot. The Subaru XV is AWD-only, but that's the brand's staple. Regardless, grip from the Trax LTZ's quality Continental tyres is ample, and the engine hardly overcomes the front wheels.
It's all about clearance in this market, not actual off-road ability, though the Trax gets a decent control system that moderates speed on declines for the ambitious.
The MY17 update carries over the Australian-developed suspension tune from the old model, and that's a good thing. The soft springs are offset by well-controlled damping that irons out the roughness from sharp inputs, and helps the ride stay quite supple without body control becoming overly compromised by roll or wallow. Tyre and wind noise is very well suppressed too.
It's not as darty as a CX-3 or Vitara, but it's more cushy. The electric-assisted steering is also sharp from centre, making the Trax feel pleasantly nimble and eager to turn-in, while it keeps any vibrations from the axle at bay, even over cobblestones or ungraded trails. Dynamically, the Trax gets the tick, on roads and also on gravel. That local work pays off.
From an ownership perspective, you get a modest three-year/100,000km warranty with roadside assist, though you get the benefit of Holden's sizeable dealer network. Servicing costs are publicly available. At present rates, your first four visits (at intervals of 12 months and 15,000km) are $229 a pop, which is very affordable.
All told, Holden's MY17 updates are worthy. The Trax still isn't the most practical small SUV (hello HR-V), but nor is it the least. And now that you get the 1.4 turbo engine across more variants, it's a proposition that should sell better than before.
Furthermore, if you can stretch to the Trax LTZ with its excellent blind-spot monitoring system and more, it's a good bet, though the lower grades also both offer a neat package that's cheap to run, fitted with lots of modern tech, and drives with poise and comfort.
For another opinion, check out our quick-spin of the Chevrolet version from the United States published a few weeks ago.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward
Listen to the CarAdvice team discuss the 2017 Holden Trax LTZ below, and catch more like this at caradvice.com/podcast.