Chevrolet’s smallest utility vehicle, launched as a 2015 model, doesn’t qualify as fancy. Most entrants in the small-crossover category strive for and achieve a degree of stylistic flair, but Chevrolet took an opposing path. Externally plain, the tall-riding, strictly straightforward Trax stresses practicality inside.
Little has changed for the 2018 model year. Equinox and Traverse crossovers sit above the five-door Trax in Chevrolet’s lineup
Three Trax trim levels are offered: base LS, midrange LT, and top-rung Premier. Front-wheel drive is standard, but all-wheel drive is an option for each trim level.
Developing 138 horsepower, the 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine mates with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Peak torque, totaling 148 pound-feet, is available starting at only 1850 rpm.
Like many of the smallest crossovers, Chevrolet Trax is based on a subcompact-car foundation. Specifically, it’s related to the Sonic hatchback and sedan. Some folks dub the Trax a tall hatchback or wagon, rather than a subcompact crossover.
All versions except the LS have LED running lights and taillights. Indisputably plain, devoid of chrome trim, the LS is fitted with steel wheels and black plastic mirrors that suggest an econocar. Trax LT comes with alloy wheels.
Build quality has been good, without noticeable squeaks, rattles, or buzzing.
New for 2018, a Redline trim package is available for the LT, adding black 18-inch wheels with red accents, black trim elements, plus black cloth and synthetic leather upholstery.
Crash-testing has yielded good results. The 2017 Trax earned top Good ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, except for an Acceptable score in the small overlap frontal crash (passenger-side). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the 2018 Trax five stars overall and five stars in each individual test except rollover prevention, where it got four. That rollover score (a calculated figure) is typical for tall utility vehicles.
A rearview camera and 10 airbags are standard, but active-safety features are offered only on top models. Forward-collision alert and lane-departure warning are standard only on Premier trim, but unavailable for any other version. Blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and rear parking assist are standard on Premier, but optional for LT trim.
Chevrolet’s MyLink system includes Bluetooth pairing for hands-free phone and audio, a USB port, auxiliary input jack, plus Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity. Navigation is available using smartphone mapping.
Trax LS ($21,000) comes with front-wheel drive, a rearview camera, air conditioning, cloth upholstery, remote keyless entry, 7.0-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, and MyLink entertainment. Steel wheels have plastic covers. OnStar 4G LTE connectivity with wi-fi hotspot capability is available. LS options include keyless ignition, a power sunroof, and Bose premium seven-speaker audio. (Prices are MSRP and do not include $995 destination charge.)
All-wheel drive is optional on all models ($1,500).
Trax LT ($22,900) gets 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, satellite radio, remote start, LED taillights and daytime running lights, and roof-mounted side rails. All-wheel drive adds $1,500.
Trax Premier ($27,295) includes a power driver’s seat, heated front seats, leatherette seat upholstery, 18-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, chrome accents, keyless ignition, a power sunroof, and Bose premium audio. Blind-zone alert, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, forward collision alert, and rear park assist also are standard.
In terms of basic shape, the Trax might be considered somewhere between a short crossover or SUV, and a tall hatchback. Lack of a window aft of the rear door makes the hatchback designation more logical.
Even though the Trax shares its foundation and front doors with Buick’s Encore, body styling differs substantially between the two GM vehicles.
Inside as well as out, the Trax comes across as practical and straightforward. Boasting a relatively spacious cabin for its size, it can seat four adults, or five, for short journeys.
Front seats are comfortable, though the two occupants might feel rather close together. The driver gets a fold-down armrest, but there’s no between-the-seats console.
Unlike some smaller vehicles, seat cushions are long enough to satisfy taller drivers. Upper trim levels include power seat adjustment, but moving a very short lever is the only way to alter backrest angle.
Rear seating is acceptable for adults. Pulling a fabric tab lets the bottom cushion fold forward. The front passenger seatback also folds.
Cargo volume ranks around average, totaling 18.7 cubic feet with the seatback upright, expanding to 48.4 cubic feet when folded down. Passengers can expect plenty of storage spots around the cabin: bins, trays, and twin gloveboxes.
Acceleration can only be called slow, even when compared to other vehicles in its class, which is hardly renowned for speed or sportiness. Chevrolet’s little turbo four simply lacks sufficient vigor to propel the Trax to highway speeds with any degree of haste. Passing on the highway thus requires some pre-planning.
Transmission gears are widely spaced, with a high-ratio sixth gear. That translates to relaxed, fuel-efficient highway cruising. A Trax rides quietly overall, but the engine can sound harsh when pushed.
Fuel economy is satisfactory, but some small-crossover competitors do better. With front-wheel drive, the Trax is EPA-rated at 25/33 mpg City/Highway, or 28 mpg Combined. Optional all-wheel drive drops the estimate to 24/30 mpg City/Highway, or 27 mpg Combined.
Despite a lack of flashiness, the Trax represents good value. The base LS model is indisputably plain, but otherwise the Trax scores well on safety and features, and satisfactory in comfort and quality. Relatively feeble performance is a drawback, and fuel economy isn’t as impressive as some rival subcompact crossovers. Chevrolet’s Trax excels in connectivity and infotainment.
Driving impressions by John Voelcker, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.