2017 Chevrolet TraxEnlarge Photo
We're in the midst of a small-SUV explosion, with new entry-level vehicles arriving every year from major automakers. They blend tall hatchback bodies with the all-wheel drive that qualifies them as crossover SUVs.
Both the Chevrolet Trax and the Honda HR-V are recent new entries in the niche, and two years later, Chevy has already updated its entry.
Each is a smaller sibling to a popular vehicle: the HR-V to the CR-V, the Trax to the well-known Equinox. Both are among the more spacious small SUVs, and are well suited to city and suburban use by couples or young families. Optional all-wheel drive gives secure traction for unplowed roads and the occasional muddy trail.
Though the Trax was recently updated, we think the HR-V's more flexible interior helps it pull ahead. We've rated the Trax a middling 5.8 overall, while the HR-V comes in at a more impressive 6.8. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
When it was launched, Chevy's designers played it safe with the Trax. It was relatively anonymous, almost the generic small SUV—not bad, just bland. For 2017, an updated front fascia, grille, and headlamps give it a fresh and more distinctive look. The rear fascia is new, too, and LED signature lighting and taillights are available on higher-end models. However, the base model still has budget-grade black door-mirror pedestals, and it lacks roof rails and some chrome trim.
The Honda's more exaggerated styling works to disguise the "tall hatchback on wheels" shape of most utility vehicles. It's rakish, using the brand's latest styling language to give the HR-V more pizzazz—a thick chrome top bar in the grille, swept-back front light units, and strongly etched side accent lines. At the rear, though, it's a shrunken copy of the latest Acura MDX.
Inside, the Trax gets a redesigned instrument panel and dashboard for 2017, trading a motorcycle-style cluster with digital readouts for a more flowing design with analog gauges. There's chrome trim added, and available contrast stitching. The look is more traditional, and certainly improved, but hard plastic surfaces remain, and the overall effect is still utilitarian and practical.
The HR-V's cabin has better finishes and materials than the related Honda Fit hatchback. The clean surfaces have a few foibles, like the slim air vents cut into the passenger-side dash. Overall, the interior has more flourishes and "design elements" than other small SUVs.
Both vehicles offer comfortable seats, quiet rides on decent pavement, and a roster of the latest infotainment and electronic safety systems that would have been seen only in luxury cars not so many years ago. Neither of these vehicles is likely to be used off-road much—or at all—so they're tuned for on-road finesse and comfort.
The Trax comes as a base model with front-wheel drive, and offers all-wheel drive as an option. It has only a single powertrain: a 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, making 138 horsepower and paired to a 6-speed automatic transmission. That gives it adequate power, though it's not particularly quick. Fuel economy ratings for the Trax are 29 mpg combined for the front-wheel-drive version, dropping to 27 mpg if you add all-wheel drive.
The HR-V has a 141-hp 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine, paired to either a continuously variable transmission or a 6-speed manual. All-wheel drive is an option, but only with the CVT. The most fuel-efficient model of the HR-V (front-wheel drive and CVT) delivers a combined 31-mpg EPA rating, near the top of the burgeoning class of mini-SUVs.