The 2015 Chevrolet Trax is an all-new subcompact crossover SUV with a standard four-cylinder engine and optional all-wheel drive. It offers good visibility, a high seating position, ample features for your money, strong safety scores and a generous warranty with two years of free scheduled maintenance. However, its cabin quality is unimpressive, its technology interface is frustrating to use and its performance is middling — even in a segment where our expectations are muted. As such, our editors gave it a rating of "C."
What Is It?
The 2015 Chevy Trax is a subcompact crossover SUV that seats five people and is offered in LS, LT and LTZ trim levels. A 1.4-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine is standard on all models and is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is optional for an extra $1,500. Pricing starts at $20,995.
How Big Is It?
The 2015 Chevy Trax is based on the same underpinnings as the subcompact Sonic hatchback. The Trax is much bigger, though, and has the elevated seating position one expects from an SUV. On the other hand, the Trax is still considerably smaller than Chevrolet's next largest SUV, the Equinox, which is nearly 20 inches longer than the Trax, with an additional foot of wheelbase and more than 2 extra inches of width.
The small size of the Trax pays off when driving in the city. It's easier to park and maneuver in tight spaces, benefiting not only from its size, but from excellent forward visibility, light low-speed steering and a tight turning circle (36.7 feet versus the Equinox's 40.2).
Of course, being smaller on the outside means it has less space on the inside than its big brother. You're most likely to notice that the Trax is quite narrow. Those up front will find themselves sitting unusually close together (there's only room for one, driver-seat-mounted armrest) and you'd be hard-pressed to fit three people on the rear bench that is rather flat and doesn't recline.
On the other hand, the tall roof not only provides a wealth of headroom, but it also allows for a higher seating position front and rear, and thus generous legroom. A 6-footer will still struggle to fit behind another (we expect this in the subcompact SUV class), but average-size folks should be comfortable. Plus, since the rear seats are mounted higher than the front seats, passengers have a clearer, less claustrophobic view ahead.
When it comes to cargo, the Trax offers 48.4 cubic feet of maximum cargo space, which is less than all the current crop of compact SUVs (an Equinox has 15 cubic feet more) as well as some compact hatchbacks like the Subaru XV Crosstrek and Volkswagen Golf. However, we expect it to be on par with most subcompact SUVs. The Jeep Renegade offers 50.8 cubic feet of maximum cargo space, for instance, though the deceptively large Honda HR-V should be the exception.
Now, the Trax does offer some helpful versatility of its own courtesy of a fold-flat front passenger seat that allows you to transport items up to 8 feet long. We're not sure if surfers would prefer that over a roof rack, but at least they'd have the option.
What Is the Interior Like?
The cabin's design is more visually related to the Chevrolet Sonic than the Equinox SUV. It features a highly legible digital gauge pod along with a center stack of controls and air vents that looks vaguely like the face and trunk of an elephant. Seriously.
We'll let you decide if that's a good thing, but it's hard to argue the merits of the Trax's cabin quality that is also more in line with the sub-$15,000 Sonic. There isn't much soft-touch trim to be found, and there are hard and/or shiny plastics covering every surface you don't sit on (the standard cloth and LTZ trim's leather cannot be faulted). This contrasts in particular with competitors like the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3, which have higher-quality and more stylish interiors than the cheaper subcompact cars they are based on.
The standard touchscreen interface also leaves much to be desired. Although it shares its MyLink name with the system found in pricier Chevrolets, it is an entirely different, decontented unit that looks and behaves as if it was sourced from the aftermarket. Both the touchscreen icons and the touch-sensitive "buttons" for volume, power and menu below are often unresponsive. We found even simple tasks like tuning the radio to be frustrating.
The Trax at least offers more places to stash your stuff, with copious little bins (of admittedly varying degrees of usefulness) nearly everywhere you look. There are two on each front door, one above the air vents, two smaller bins on either side of those vents (the elephant's ears), an area forward of the shifter and a small compartment above the glovebox that houses the auxiliary audio jack and USB port. Folks who enjoy on-road beverages will also relish the four cupholders between the front seats.
What About Its Performance and Fuel Economy?
Every 2015 Chevy Trax comes with a 1.4-liter turbocharged inline-4 that produces 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. The latter is achieved as soon as 1,850 rpm, giving the Trax a punchy, responsive character off the line or when seeking a burst of acceleration during highway passing.
However, despite a reasonably responsive six-speed automatic transmission, the Trax quickly runs out of steam when accelerating briskly away from a traffic light or trying to get up to speed on an on-ramp. At our test track, this little Chevy SUV needed 10 seconds to reach 60 mph, a slow time for any segment, let alone one in which all but one competitor (the HR-V) have more power.
EPA-estimated fuel economy for the front-wheel-drive Trax is 29 mpg combined (26 city/34 highway), with the all-wheel-drive model coming in at 27 mpg combined (24/31). Our real-world fuel economy was worse, managing a rather pathetic 21.6 mpg on the Edmunds evaluation route and a better 25.4 mpg during its total two-week test. By comparison, the Honda HR-V is thriftier at 31 mpg combined (FWD) and 29 mpg combined (AWD), but quasi-competitors like the front-drive-only Kia Soul (26 mpg combined) and AWD-only Subaru XV Crosstrek (28 mpg combined) compare favorably.
How Does It Drive?
For the urban and suburban adventures (read: errands) that the Trax is likely to embark upon, its résumé of dynamic talents is sufficient. Around town, its small dimensions make it feel nimbler than the typical larger SUV, while its steering is precise and well weighted, though ultimately rather numb. Brake effort and feel are impressively spot-on and a panic stop from 60 mph took 120 feet. That's slightly better than average, but subsequent stops grew longer and the brake pads produced odor, indicating a predilection to brake fade that would reveal itself during long, downhill stretches.
The ride quality is noticeably different when you change from the base wheels and tires to the higher-end option. In an LT trim test car with 16-inch wheels, bumps were impressively damped and the ride was nicely controlled on undulations, maintaining a sense of composure. In this guise, it doesn't feel like a tinny, unsubstantial vehicle in the least.
Having said that, the LTZ trim and its 18-inch wheels and tires rides significantly firmer, busier and has a tendency to tiresomely jostle passengers around on more gnarled pavement. It can be borderline harsh at times and feels trucklike for no good reason. As such, we recommend the volume-selling LT over the fancier LTZ on the grounds of ride comfort alone.
What Features Are Available?
Value is one of the 2015 Chevy Trax's key points of appeal. For its base price of $20,995, a Trax LS comes standard with an impressive amount of equipment, especially in the area of technology. Besides basics like full power accessories and air-conditioning, standard items include a rearview camera, OnStar emergency telematics, a built-in WiFi hot spot, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, Siri Eyes Free for iPhone, a USB port, an iPod interface and the 7-inch MyLink touchscreen interface.
Chevrolet estimates that about 60 percent of buyers will get a Trax similar to the $23,815 LT model we initially tested. It featured alloy wheels, roof rails, cruise control and satellite radio as standard equipment. It also included the $670 LT Plus package that adds a six-way power driver seat, cloth/leatherette upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and rear parking sensors.
Getting the LTZ would add those 18-inch wheels and the LT Plus package content, plus leather upholstery, heated front seats, an auto-dimming mirror and a Bose sound system. This equipment raises the price to an as-tested $27,405. Although competitors like the Jeep Renegade and Fiat 500X are similarly priced, they offer slightly more equipment along with superior performance, interior quality and overall personality. The Renegade also provides an added bonus of some off-roading capability that the Trax does not have.
What About Safety?
Despite its shortcomings, the Chevrolet Trax boasts an impressive safety record. It received a perfect five stars from the government for overall, frontal and side crash protection and a Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It's easy to see why when you consider that it comes with 10 airbags, including front and rear side airbags, full-length side curtains and front knee airbags. It's highly unlikely that any competitor will match this. Also note that a rearview camera is standard, along with OnStar that includes (among other things) automatic crash notification and an emergency assist button.
What Competing Models Should You Also Consider? Honda HR-V: The practicality champ of the subcompact SUV segment thanks to a versatile rear seat that folds completely flat. Its interior design and quality are also at the top of this class, while its fuel economy ratings are best in class.
Jeep Renegade: The little Renegade should be the most rugged of the subcompact SUV segment, with serious four-wheel-drive systems available for those who want to venture off the beaten path and surprisingly sharp handling for those who want to stay on it. Its Jeep styling inside and out also adds a bit of character you don't get in the Trax.
Subaru XV Crosstrek: The Subaru XV Crosstrek offers standard all-wheel drive, excellent fuel economy, simple interior controls and considerably more ground clearance than the Trax. Its low roof also makes mounting things to racks a bit easier.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
You're looking for an affordable suburban runabout that's easy to drive, easy to park and has great visibility for both the driver and passengers. The Trax also adds impressive safety scores and two years of free scheduled maintenance, not to mention optional all-wheel drive.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
There are many areas where the Chevrolet Trax falls short. Its performance, ride comfort, interior quality and technology usability are significant drawbacks, while its rather drab driving experience and dearth of character stand in sharp contrast to the distinct personalities offered by rivals.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds with this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.