The most affordable model in the 2017 Holden Trax range is the LS. Here we drive the manual. But is it just as fun as the auto?
The 2017 Holden Trax has had a makeover, not only on the outside but the inside, to 'appeal to a fresh audience' according to Holden. The small five-door SUV looks more attractive from the front, adding to that a better-laid-out interior. Prices start from $23,990 for the base manual LS model, which we have here, right up to the automatic LTZ at $30,490.
For the same price as the previous model year, the LS now includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, projector headlights and rear disc brakes as standard (previously drums).
Holden needed to nail the pricing, with the Mitsubishi ASX at just over $1000 more, add another $2000 for the newly released Toyota CH-R, and factoring in the $19,990 Mazda CX-3, it has some stiff competition.
The base model still misses out on a lot of safety kit though, like lane departure warning, blind-spot sensors and forward collision warning, which come standard in the Toyota CH-R.
Powering the Trax is a non-turbo 1.8-litre petrol engine, with 103kW of power and a torque peak of 175Nm, which is almost on par with the Honda HR-V, at 105kW and 172Nm. But, if you were hoping for an all-wheel-drive SUV, look elsewhere, as only front-wheel-drive is available.
It's paired with a five-speed manual, which is a rare sight these days - compared to the more typical six-speed manual transmissions. If you want some more poke, fork out an extra $2500 and get a 1.4-litre turbo-petrol engine with the six-speed automatic transmission.
The Trax’s facelift has improved the car considerably, giving it a more premium look than before. The squashed-nose appearance of the front is no longer, thanks to a larger grille with headlamps that wrap further around the body, with the muscular wheel arches remaining.
Climbing inside, for the driver with long legs that likes to sit close to the wheel, you may struggle to find a comfortable driving position. The clutch pedal is placed so high and forward that your kneecap is centimetres away from hitting the steering wheel.
The seat position is at the right height, though, to deliver maximum vision through the large windscreen and the handy side quarter windows. Although the sloping body design may appear to obstruct over-the-shoulder vision, it is surprisingly good.
The interior is a step-up from the Trax of old, with the dashboard and centre instrument panel completely redesigned. We did notice the plastic around the simple-to-use climate controls will show fingerprints that can be hard to clean off.
Separating the hard but solid plastic on top of the dashboard and the glovebox is orange-stitched padding that stretches across the car from the air-conditioning vents. It breaks up the plastic nicely. Moving to all four door trims, and they are entirely covered in plastic, barring some hard padding on the armrest. Over time, they will likely become properly scratched.
The doors, especially the rear, feel light and ‘cheap’ to open, and require a good slam to close them. There are some nifty storage areas in all doors though, with a large accessible area at the bottom and a smaller one under the door pull.
A centre console is not found in the Trax, with only a drivers-side armrest available in the higher LT and LTZ models. In its place are three cup-holders. Yes, three. If you think that’s awesome, there’s another two in the back seat, but we will get to the rear in just a moment.
A sunglasses holder is found replacing the pull handle above the driver's head and a fold-down phone compartment to the right of the steering wheel. Speaking of, charging your phone is via one USB connection below the climate controls, but cannot be hidden away from prying eyes. Next to it is an audio jack and 12-volt connection.
The 7.0-inch touch-screen features updated Holden MyLink infotainment, which has all your basic needs for audio, phone, settings and device options. But with no satellite-navigation and Holden’s Bluetooth system being fidgety at times, connecting your phone for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto is the way to go. Siri voice-control is an added bonus for users of iPhone, and is very reliable.
Bluetooth audio through the speakers is clear, and on the other end, the driver's voice is heard with a nice amount of bass. The six-speaker stereo lacks guts, though, and is not suited for pumping. Perhaps singing louder than the stereo may help overcome this!
The reversing camera vision is adequate during the day, but at night, it is extremely grainy. Parking guidelines are the only saving grace, with no parking sensors on the front and rear.
Roof rails are always a welcome addition to any small SUV when the weekend is calling. But, you may not need to use it too much in the Trax, thanks to its large boot. At 356 litres, it beats the Mazda CX-3 by a whopping 92 litres.
Checking under the boot floor is a full-size spare wheel with a tyre repair kit. For some buyers, a full-size spare is vital, so a big thumbs-up here.
Opening the boot space to 785 litres is done by folding the 60:40 rear seats in an unusual way - pulling out the bases to fold vertically, and then pushing down the seatbacks. Although it adds a couple more steps to the typical seat-folding, this almost folds them flat. Nice.
Isofix points are installed on the two outboard rear seats, and gaining access to hook up bub in the baby seat leaves plenty of room through the doors.
Headroom for both front and rear leaves enough space even for taller people, and legroom is massive. With wide carpet-lined seat-railings, this impedes on foot room though, and you may find yourself always kicking them.
Rear-seat comfort is fine, adding a centre armrest with two rubber-based cup-holders for that ‘special’ touch. But due to the armrest, the centre backrest is very firm, to the point where only short distances would be your best option.
Also, once in the tallest position, the centre headrest is useless for an adult, as it sits too low. A fascinating addition for me, is the 230-volt power connection, in place of where air vents could’ve gone.
So, what’s it like to drive? Depending whether you’re a fan of manual shifting, it's as much fun as you can have in a small SUV. It does require it to be driven hard to get the most power out of the naturally-aspirated engine, with its sweet spot close to 3000rpm. But it doesn’t take long to get used to the lacklustre performance. Besides, when you’re stuck in peak hour traffic, who needs speed?
Even though it revs hard, engine noise isn’t too bad, no matter the speed - around town is where the Trax loves to play. It’s easy to squeeze through tight spaces and with the great vision to help see what’s going on around you; it makes the daily drive less stressful. Try and avoid the rougher roads, as the SUV struggles to soak up the smaller bumps on the 16-inch alloy wheels. Stretching its legs to 100km/h, crashing over the bumps begin to dissipate.
The five-speed manual gearbox at first was difficult to find your way around, with reverse-gear taking a few attempts. Plus, when the Trax is cold, second-gear synchro can be temperamental and requires a gentle shift. As mentioned, even though the clutch pedal is set too high, it is soft to operate. And there’s no need for a park-brake start on a slope, thanks to a hill holder.
With a fair amount of freeway driving in peak hour traffic, the Trax recorded a combined fuel-economy reading of 7.8L/100km, which is impressive, considering it’s only 0.7L more than what Holden claim.
The Trax was tested in 2013 by ANCAP and received a five-star safety rating, thanks to front head and side airbags and rear head airbags.
Once driven out of the showroom, the Trax comes with a three-year/100,000km warranty, the same as that offered by Toyota. The first service is due at 15,000km, and for the first four services, each will come at a cost of $229, until four years is up or you reach 60,000km.
While the Holden Trax comes fifth in sales behind the Mazda CX-3, Mitsubishi ASX, Nissan Qashqai and Honda HR-V (year-to-date of April), it is worth a look if you are wanting an affordable runabout that has a touch of flair about it.
It does feel underpowered though, so we would highly recommend test-driving the 1.4-litre turbocharged model before you set your heart on it.