Photo by Steven Martinez

Photo by Steven Martinez

The Chevrolet Trax is part of a new smaller segment of compact SUVs hitting the market this year and next. The Trax has a small footprint, a small engine and clever interior cargo space that maximizes every inch of the vehicle. Chevrolet will be offering a fleet version of the Trax based on the entry model LS trim but with more customization than the retail Trax.

While it slots in between most compact cars and compact SUVs, the Trax could be the right fit for certain fleets because of its flexibility. With a low MSRP, good fuel economy and an AWD option, the Trax can be used in many different environments and climates.

I was given the opportunity to drive the Chevrolet Trax around an unusually rainy San Diego for a day, testing the vehicle’s mettle on urban streets and ocean-side roads. I ended up in surf shop parking lots and hip, boutique donut stores while tracing the possible route of what Chevrolet sees as its primarily youthful market.

The first thing you notice climbing into the Trax is that it is a surprisingly refined space. On my mid-range LT model, the dash, doors and steering wheel were appointed with a two-toned color scheme that while not luxurious, was pleasant and comfortable. The materials seemed to be of good quality for the price of the vehicle at just over $25,000 MSRP for the one I drove, according to the sticker.

The center console was focused around a single touch screen to control audio, navigation and 4G LTE hotspot capabilities. The screen was responsive and clear with an interface that was easy to figure out. The only trouble I had was in trying to find the Wi-Fi settings, which took a press of the OnStar button to find.

The interior felt spacious, at least length-wise. While the seats comfortably accommodated two adult males, the space between our arms was at a premium. In fact, there was only enough room for one arm rest, luckily the driver’s. Head room was excellent, even on a model with a sunroof.

The back seat was good for a small car making nice use of space in such a short vehicle. All seats including the front passenger bucket can be folded down to create a much larger cargo area — enough for a surfboard it turns out.

Photo by Steven Martinez

Photo by Steven Martinez

The Trax separates itself from compact cars and hatchbacks with a truck-like view of the road. While not as extreme as you’d see in a full-size pickup, the Trax can see over the smaller cars and gives that coveted safe feeling that you just can’t get in a small car. Thanks to that higher seating postition, Trax driver most likely won’t be blinded by halogen truck headlights on the commute home at night. The truck feeling also translates to the road.

Rather than tighten the suspension and emphasize the smallness of the Trax, Chevrolet gave the ride a comfortable feel that dampens bumps instead of transmitting them to your spine. The steering is also dampened, making the Trax feel stable at higher speeds.

Representatives at Chevrolet mentioned that they had improved steering feel to require more effort at low speeds, but overall it felt light throughout. With such a short, car-like wheelbase, you won’t need to pivot 80 times to park in a tight space anyway, so sacrificing cornering ability for general comfort is an understandable compromise.

The engine was pleasant. The small 1.4L turbo generates just 138 horsepower and 148 lb.-ft. of torque but that torque peaks so low that I never felt that I had to rev the engine to get going. While I never got up to highway speeds, below 50 mph it felt peppy with no noticeable turbo lag. The transmission performed well too. Even on occasionally steep, hilly terrain, the 6-speed auto only occasionally felt like it was a gear too high for what I was asking of it.

The sound wasn’t too bad either. It’s not the kind of engine noise that will excite you with turbo whines or gasps, but it wasn’t annoying either. Other than the engine sound, the Trax was pretty quiet for an affordable small car, thanks to improved sound dampening for the U.S. model compared to its international counterparts.

The Chevrolet Trax is a handsome compact SUV that leans toward the conservative in a lot of ways. Unlike its cousin, the Sonic, it features rounded headlights and smooth lines and has a subdued maturity not always found in that market. It drives more like an SUV than a compact car and puts comfort and utility over bang-for-your buck excitement.

The Trax sets itself in the middle of small car and small SUV markets and because of that it may not always be the most obvious choice. But by offering a solid mix of both, it offers a compelling, in-between option.

Related:

Chevrolet Enters Compact SUV Segment with Trax

Chevrolet Trax Compact SUV Starts at $20,995

Chevrolet to Offer 4G LTE with OnStar in Summer

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