2016 Chevrolet Trax Review

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Kirk Bell Kirk Bell Editor
June 15, 2016

With its useful hatchback shape and thrifty fuel economy, the 2016 Chevrolet Trax is a smart package for city dwellers who value practicality over power or style.

The 2016 Chevrolet Trax is the automaker's smallest crossover, and platform-mate to the Buick Encore. Although both Encore and Trax are based on the Chevrolet Sonic's architecture, the Encore is decidedly more upscale.

The Trax is one of a new breed of subcompact SUVs. With a lower entry price, the Trax offers most of the amenities of its larger sibling, the compact crossover Equinox. It also gives the brand its least-expensive all-wheel drive entry.

It took a while to get to the U.S. as Chevrolet worked to improve the crash structure. That paid off because the Trax scores well in crash tests. The list of standard safety features is impressive as well. A rearview camera system is standard, as are electronic stability control with rollover mitigation, and an astonishing 10 airbags. Both the driver and front passenger get knee bags, the front and rear outboard positions get side thorax airbags, and side curtain bags cover those in the front and rear outboard positions.

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The Trax’s engineering is much like that of many typical small cars and car-like crossovers, with a MacPherson strut front suspension and a torsion-beam rear setup with a tubular V-shaped beam and twin-tube gas shocks. Column-mounted, electric-boost power steering provides maneuverability and responsiveness, and ride and handling are typical for the class: controlled and comfortable but not sporty.

All U.S. Trax models come powered by a 1.4-liter turbocharged inline-4 making 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque—with peak torque from just 1,850 rpm on up. It’s paired to a 6-speed automatic transmission with a wide range of gear ratios, allowing relatively quick takeoffs but a deep overdrive sixth gear for relaxed, fuel-efficient highway cruising. Fuel economy ratings are 29 mpg combined for the front-wheel-drive version, according to the EPA, dropping to 27 mpg if you add all-wheel drive. Unfortunately, the little four struggles to get up to highway speeds and requires plenty of space when passing.

You could consider the 2016 Trax a tall five-door hatchback, or a classic two-box utility vehicle in miniature. It has the footprint of a subcompact, but at 66 inches tall, it's quite a bit higher than a typical subcompact hatch. An arched-back roofline and nicely sculpted flanks do their best to keep it from feeling too slab-sided. Up front it has a taller, stubbier version of the current Chevrolet corporate grille that blends into a high hood line. Rubber-look lower-body components offer a hint of ruggedness, though the Trax isn’t meant for the trail, even with all-wheel drive.

Inside, the Trax gets an instrument panel look that has a lot in common with the Sonic's motorcycle-influenced layout, including a sweeping tachometer and a digital speedometer. Otherwise, the dash and trim have a simple, sporty, upright appearance. The look and feel are hindered by an abundance of hard black plastics, a sure sign of cost containment.

This small crossover—or tall hatchback, more appropriately—fits four adults, or five in emergencies if the three in back are quite small. The rear seat is split 60/40 and folds forward flat, while there’s storage in all four doors as well as various cubbies. Cargo space expands from 18.7 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks up, to 48.4 cubic feet with them folded forward. The front passenger seat can fold flat for long items, too.

The 2016 Chevrolet Trax is offered in LS, LT, LTZ trim levels, with a starting price around $21,000. LS models come with 1990s-style 16-inch steel wheels and silver plastic wheel covers, while LTs get 16-inch alloy wheels and top LTZ models have 18-inch alloys. However, the LS has a healthy list of standard features, including air conditioning; keyless entry; power windows, locks, and mirrors; 4G LTE connectivity with a built-in wi-fi hotspot; Onstar capability; and the MyLink entertainment system.

MyLink comes with a 7.0-inch touchscreen, SiriusXM satellite radio services, a USB port, an aux jack, and Bluetooth phone and streaming music connectivity. It is compatible with Siri Eyes Free connectivity for iPhones, and with the BringGo navigation app, which allows smartphone users with the installed app to project maps and directions to the vehicle’s display screen.

The LT model adds roof rails, heated power adjustable mirrors, and a handful of other features. Buyers can mix and match features that appeal most to them within the LT model designation. The top-of-the-line LTZ includes heated leatherette seats, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and a Bose seven-speaker sound system. A sunroof is optional, and a loaded LTZ tops out at around $29,000.

The Trax manages decent fuel economy, but doesn't fare well against newer competition. The best fuel economy is achieved by front-wheel drive models, which carry ratings of 26 mpg city, 34 highway, 29 combined, according to the EPA. By comparison, the HR-V and CX-3 are rated at 31 mpg combined. Trax models with AWD are rated at 24/31/27 mpg.

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2016 Chevrolet Trax

Styling

A subcompact crossover, the 2016 Chevy incorporates cues from Chevy trucks in a tall hatchback-style body. The overall effect, however, is rather generic.

The 2016 Chevrolet Trax is based on the underpinnings of Chevy's Sonic subcompact and is basically a different version of the Buick Encore. While it shares only its front doors with the Encore, its styling is far less expressive.

Chevy's designers have chosen to play it very safe against the much more overt design cues of competitors like the Jeep Renegade, Mini Countryman or Nissan Juke. They have added some Chevy truck styling cues to what's essentially a tall, two-box small hatchback body. To our eyes, the slightly squarer lines work better than the Buick's swoops and flourishes. The result is an entirely inoffensive exterior that is bland enough to approach the generic.

The base LS model rides on steel wheels with silver plastic wheel covers, something of a throwback. Its black door-mirror pedestals and the missing chrome belt line strip underscore the budget nature of the lowest trim level. It also forgoes the roof rails standard on all other models, giving it a cleaner look. In keeping with Chevy's desire to emphasize value for the money, however, the mirrors themselves, rear license-plate housing, and other small trim pieces are body color, even on the base model. Alloy wheels are standard on higher-line models, 16s for the LT and 18s for the LTZ.

Inside, the Trax adapts Chevy's "twin cockpit" styling theme to a more practical, utilitarian, and upright configuration. The instrument cluster is almost identical to that of the Sonic, with a tachometer at the left paired with a 3.5-inch monochrome display screen holding a numeric speedometer and various bar gauges and warning lights. The base black-cloth upholstery has not only a pattern of light oblong shapes on it, but contrasting blue stitching—a nice touch that relieves the potential grimness of all-black upholstery. Higher-line LTZ models come with nicer two-tone vinyl upholstery and add some patterned trim over parts of the console to relieve the black.

Overall, the Trax design is straightforward, practical, and probably suited to its size and likely usage. We just wish the designers had taken a few more risks.

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2016 Chevrolet Trax

Performance

The small turbocharged engine offers only mild power, and handling is controlled but unremarkable.

The handling of the Chevy Trax is about average for small utility vehicles. It's nowhere near as much fun to drive as the new Mazda CX-3 or lower end versions of the Jeep Renegade, but it feels solid on the road and absorbs bumps fairly well. The electric power steering offers good on-center tracking on the highway, enough feedback when you need it, and a little weight that feels right at pretty much any speed.

The all-wheel-drive (AWD) Trax rides slightly higher than the front-wheel-drive version, which is not only lower to the ground but has a deeper front air dam—both features that help it gain two mpg in combined average fuel economy. For trivia buffs, the Trax AWD is a "light-duty truck" in the eyes of the feds, while the front-drive model is a passenger car. It's all in the interest of maximizing fuel economy. The increase in ride height is only about half an inch, but the AWD model feels slightly heavier and a touch slower. Given the higher seating position in a small and short vehicle, the Trax does demonstrate some body roll, though its relatively wide track prevents it from feeling "tippy" like utility vehicles of prior decades.

The 2016 Chevrolet Trax comes with only a single powertrain, unlike the front-wheel-drive Sonic on which it's based. The turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-4 produces 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque, and it's mated to a 6-speed automatic. Front-wheel drive is standard, and to Chevy's credit, all-wheel drive is a $1,500 option across all three trim levels—unlike some makers who only offer AWD on pricier models.

Chevrolet is proud of the fact that its engine puts out maximum torque from as low as 1,850 rpm up through 4,900 rpm. The Trax performs well around town, with good acceleration up to about 50 mph. Chevy's specs say the AWD system adds 400 pounds, but that seems like too much. Nonetheless, the extra weight of the AWD version makes it slightly slower to gather speed. The company quotes 0-to-60-mph acceleration times of 9.4 seconds for the front-drive model and 9.7 seconds for AWD; those numbers aren't fast, but they are roughly on par with a number of subcompact and compact cars.

The Trax starts to run out of steam as you approach highway speeds, and the usually quiet engine gets much noisier above 3,500 rpm. For all that sound it produces from 3,500 rpm to its redline of 6,500 rpm, it just doesn't gather speed all that quickly. Bursts of acceleration from, say, 60 to 75 mph on the highway take planning. Part of that is due to gearing that maximizes around-town fuel economy, and it's also a credit to Chevy's sound engineers that they've managed to make low-speed operation so quiet.

The optional all-wheel-drive system starts out powering all four wheels at low speeds, and then gradually dials back power to the rear wheels from there to 37 mph. Above that speed, the Trax is powered solely by its front wheels, unless the traction control system senses wheel slip, in which case it splits power among the four wheels as needed to maintain forward motion. That's all meant to optimize poor weather traction. This isn't an off-roader.

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2016 Chevrolet Trax

Comfort & Quality

The Trax is commendably quiet for the class, but the utilitarian interior is a sea of hard plastic.

The quality of the Trax models we've driven has been good, with no audible buzzes, squeaks, or rattles. However, there are definite signs of cost-cutting in the Trax. While there are soft-touch surfaces for areas such as the armrests, most of the black interior panels are hard plastic, and the overall effect is utilitarian, practical, and low-end.

The 2016 Chevrolet Trax has benefited from a great deal of work by Chevrolet engineers to reduce road and wind noise. For a small, low-priced utility vehicle, the cabin is remarkably quiet under most types of use. At idle, the engine essentially can't be heard, aided by a transmission that shifts imperceptibly into neutral until the car moves away, to reduce vibrations through the drivetrain and steering.

Space is a mixed bag, but quite useful. There's plenty of head room, front and rear, and it feels like a much larger vehicle from the inside than it appears on the exterior. There are some tipoffs to the vehicle's modest width, however. The front-seat passengers' shoulders are only a few inches apart, and the driver's seat has a fold-down armrest while the passenger seat doesn't. There's no console compartment with a padded top, either. Instead, Chevy provides four cupholders set lengthwise behind the shift lever, with the rearmost one accessible to rear-seat riders as well. The Trax boasts 15 interior storage cubbies, trays, bins, and cupholders, including upper and lower glove boxes, upper and lower bins in each door and the center console, and one of our favorite features: smartphone-sized vertical slots with rubber bottom liners on each side of the center-console ventilation outlets.

The front seats are comfortable, with lower cushions long enough for most taller drivers (a frequent failing of the smallest cars from some makers). The driver's seat is manually adjustable for height as well as rake. Top-trim models get power adjustment for the forward-aft movement and height, though the backrest angle remains manually adjustable (via a very, very short lever that unfamiliar passengers will have to search diligently to find). The steering wheel both tilts and telescopes.

Cargo space is mid pack in the growing subcompact crossover segment. With 18.7 cubic feet with the rear seat up and 48.4 cubic feet once the rear seat is folded, it is more space than in competitors like the Juke or Countryman. By comparison, however, the Honda HR-V offers 23.2 cubic feet behind the seats and up to 57.6 cubic feet with the rear seat folded down. The Trax's rear seats are split 60/40, and folding the seat down is simple: Pull a fabric tab under each section of the lower rear-seat cushion, which lifts it up and forward, then tilts it into the footwell. Then make sure the rear headrests are in their lowest position, and pull the release lever on the outboard edges of each half; these can be reached from either the rear load bay or each rear side door. The load floor is essentially flat, and combined with a front seat back that folds forward, Chevy boasts that the Trax and accommodate 8-foot-long cargo like surfboards. (Not the typical 4-foot-by-8-foot sheet of plywood, however.)

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2016 Chevrolet Trax

Safety

The 2016 Chevy Trax earns excellent safety ratings, but lacks any of today's active-safety features.

Canada had the Trax for two years before the U.S., and one of the main reasons was the updates needed to improve its crash structure.

Those changes appear to have worked, as the Trax has received the top five-star overall rating from the NHTSA. It has also received the best ratings of "Good" from the IIHS in all tests, including the tough small overlap frontal impact test. Those results were good enough for the Trax to be named a Top Safety Pick in 2015 by the IIHS, although that designation has been removed for 2016 because it lacks forward-collision avoidance systems.

Standard safety features consist of 10 airbags, including knee bags for both front occupants and even rear thorax bags that protect rear-seat riders' ribs in the event of a side impact. Also standard are a rear-view camera, anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control, and a tire pressure monitor.

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2016 Chevrolet Trax

Features

To attract younger buyers, Chevrolet outfits the Trax with such features such as a 7.0-inch touchscreen, 4G LTE connectivity, and a backup camera that cost extra on most rivals.

The 2016 Chevrolet Trax is offered in three trim levels: LS, LT, and LTZ. Pricing starts around $21,000. All-wheel drive (AWD) adds another $1,500, and it includes rear disc brakes instead of drums. That makes the base all-wheel-drive Trax Chevy's least expensive AWD vehicle.

The base LS trim comes standard with a number of features that are either optional or not available on competing vehicles. The standard equipment list includes 10 airbags; a rearview camera; air conditioning; keyless entry; power windows, locks, and mirrors; 4G LTE connectivity with a built-in wi-fi hotspot; Onstar capability; and the MyLink entertainment system with a 7.0-inch touchscreen, a USB port, an aux jack, and Bluetooth phone and streaming music connectivity. The LS also comes with 16-inch steel wheels and silver plastic wheel covers.

The mid-level LT model adds cruise control, upgraded cloth upholstery, remote start, roof rails, heated power adjustable mirrors, and alloy wheels. The option list for the LT is long, letting buyers mix and match among the features that appeal most to them.

The top-of-the-line model LTZ comes standard with heated front seats with leatherette trim, a Bose seven-speaker sound system, fog lamps, a six-way power-adjustable driver's seat (backrest angle is still manual), a leather-wrapped steering wheel, rear park assist, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.

The only notable option available above LTZ equipment is a sunroof. The Trax tops out at around $29,000.

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2016 Chevrolet Trax

Fuel Economy

At up to 29 mpg combined, the 2016 Chevy Trax gets good fuel economy, but some newer competitors are more efficient.

The 2016 Chevrolet Trax delivers thrifty fuel economy, but it trails some of the newer entries in the subcompact SUV class, such as the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3.

The best fuel economy is achieved by front-wheel-drive models, which carry ratings of 26 mpg city, 34 highway, 29 combined, according to the EPA. That's 1 mpg higher than its sister vehicle, the Buick Encore. By comparison, the HR-V and CX-3 are rated at 31 mpg combined. In addition, if you sacrifice the all-wheel drive (AWD) and consider this a hatchback, there are numerous rivals that beat it, topped by the Toyota Prius C hybrid, which is rated at a combined 50 mpg.

Trax models with AWD are rated at 24/31/27 mpg—again one mpg better than the Encore. That combined number is in the ballpark of versions of the Mini Countryman and the Nissan Juke fitted with AWD and automatic transmissions. However, three Subaru models all do better. The XV Crosstrek gets 29 mpg, and the XV Crosstrek Hybrid and standard Impreza hatchback are rated at 31 mpg. The HR-V and CX-3 with AWD also return 29 mpg combined.

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