Remember the rough-and-tumble Ford Bronco of the late 1960s? The old International Scout, Jeep CJ5 and Toyota Land Cruiser? Down and dirty off-road machines with few frills beyond a transfer case and — in the case of the Bronco and CJ — open-air motoring, thanks to soft tops and pop-out windows?
There are only two vehicles of this type left among us, nearly 30 years later: the venerable Jeep Wrangler (descendant of the old CJs) and the Chevy Tracker.
The 2001 Tracker, now in the third year of its current body style, comes in both two-door and four-door versions, with true four-wheel drive (that is, an actual transfer case with 4x4 Low range) an available option. A soft-top version — Chevy calls this a "convertible" — is the standard issue, with a hardtop available. Basically, there is a fabric flap above you that snaps into place. You can unsnap it and toss it back, although it takes some wrestling. A second, larger fabric covering covers the back seat/cargo area and requires a bit more effort to take on and off. The soft-top feature is available on only one other current model — the Jeep Wrangler. It's fun, but the elements are close by and let you know it with abundant wind noise when the soft top is up.
Tracker prices range from $15,235 for a 2WD convertible to $20,550 for a 4x4 four-door hardtop with the newly available 2.5-liter V-6 rated at 155 hp.
Base models get an upgrade in output, too. Last year's standard (and weak) 1.6-liter, 90-hp four-cylinder engine has been retired and a new 2.0-liter engine with 127 hp becomes the standard Tracker engine. This is a major improvement — as is the addition, at no cost, of air conditioning and a credible AM/FM stereo system with cassette player to the equipment list of all Tracker models.
2001 Chevrolet Tracker
The other news for 2001 is the new LT trim level, a designation well known to buyers of other Chevy trucks. LT Trackers receive cosmetic and trim upgrades, as well as nicer seats and larger wheels and tires.
The current Tracker was completely redesigned in 1999 and is vastly better than the crude, primitive model it replaced. The revised chassis and suspension rides a lot better than the old model but the two-door Tracker remains, especially in a sharp corner, a bit twitchy, given the very short 86.6-inch wheelbase (the distance between the centerlines of the front and rear tires). The upside is excellent agility; the tight turning radius lets you scoot in and out of city parking lots and other places with the ease of a greased porpoise.
Inside, the Tracker is surprisingly comfortable; four-door models even have adequate back seats (something you could not say about the old Tracker). Soft-top models remain a little drafty in cold weather — but that's part of the elemental charm of this kind of vehicle.
The newly available V-6 gives the Tracker more authority in the competition against such models as the Jeep Wrangler and other similarly priced "mini-utes" such as the Toyota RAV-4 and Honda CR-V. The Chevy's ace in the hole, however, is the sturdiness of it's full-frame construction and rugged, truck-style 4x4 system — which makes it the only real option other than the Jeep for those who intend to go off-road. Properly equipped, the Tracker can go pretty much anywhere four-wheeled transportation might dare to go; the decent torque of the new V-6 and the pull of the 4x4 Low range will get you through, around and over most anything.
If there's a downside, it's that the Tracker, despite its capability, looks a little wimpy parked next to the Wrangler. Maybe "cute" is a better adjective. Even the ZR2 model, which comes with more aggressive body-colored and matte-black trim, lacks the presence of the Jeep. The chick-car factor is a definite issue.
This can be mitigated somewhat by ordering the Tracker in a basic, solid color — like black or dark green. The ZR2 decals are a bit much; I'd get out the air gun and peel 'em off mine if I bought one.
2001 Chevy Tracker
Base price range: $15,235-$20,550
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder,127 hp; 2.5-liter V-6, 155 hp (optional)
Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive; 4WD optional
Wheelbase: 86.6 in (two-door); 97.6 in (four-door)
Length: 151.8 in (two-door); 162.8 (four-door)
Width: 67.3 in
Height: 65.7 in (2WD); 66.3 in (4WD)
Curb Weight: 3483 lb (two-door 2WD); 3942 lb (four-door 4WD)
EPA (cty/hwy): 23/26 mpg (four-cylinder manual or auto); 18/20 mpg (V-6 auto)
Safety equipment: Dual depowered front airbags; ABS optional
Major standard features: manual convertible soft top, air conditioning, full gauges, full carpeting
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles