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Review of the 2016 Chevrolet Trax: The Better Buick?

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On: Fri, Sep 30, 2016 at 10:16AM | By: Lou Ruggieri

Review of the 2016 Chevrolet Trax:  The Better Buick?

In the ever expanding world of automotive sales, it seems that everyday there is another car or truck vying for a piece of the market. Some months it seems like there are new sports sedans every day, some times it's full-sized trucks, sometimes it seems like there're three more 600-horsepower sports cars on the market. This week, however, there is yet another contender in the very new, but very quickly expanding, mini-SUV segment. This class already includes such vehicles as the Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Mazda CX-3, Nissan Juke, and the Buick Encore. The newest edition comes from Buick's sister company, Chevrolet. It seems GM felt the Encore wasn't enough to represent the General, and perhaps they were right. Chevy has a bit more name recognition among younger buyers despite General Motor's recent attempts at renovating Buick's image with commercials starring a good-looking man partying it up at sophisticated locales with equally attractive young women commenting on the man and his exciting ride that they are surprised to find out is, in fact, a Buick. So as a little insurance, GM release what is essentially a rebadged Encore in a Chevy package, called the Trax.

This isn't new territory, as they've been selling twin models of cars under different badges for decades. The Camaro/Firebird twins are the most famous pair, but there is no shortage of examples out throughout history. This time around, however, the Trax is in some ways better, and worse, than its kissing cousin. In its own right, the Trax offers what seems to be all the rage in the auto industry these days: Small economical transportation that comes with higher ground clearance. Call it American insecurities, or Soccer-Mom Syndrome, but since the 1990s, the U.S. has been obsessed with the SUV. And while there was a hiatus when gas prices shot up to $4+ per gallon, now that they are lower again, we are seeing a rise of the SUV one more time. This time, though, it seems like people have at least been smart enough to focus on fuel economy, just in case we see another spike. The Trax is a perfect example of that thinking. It is essentially a Chevy Sonic, but taller.

While looking small on the outside, the Trax does look fairly aggressive, compared to some of its competitors. Flared fenders and the just-right stance give the impression that the Trax can handle whatever you have in mind, despite its diminutive stature. Road trip? The little Chevy does offer quite a bit of space for people and cargo inside, to the tune of 48.4 cubic feet, and, thanks to a rear seat that can fold 60/40 and a front passenger seat that can fold completely down, there is plenty of ways to fit anything from a drum set to a kayak in there. It has large doors, and even allows multiple six-foot humans to comfortably occupy the car at the same time. The interior of the Trax is pedestrian, but does come with some fun optional features. A rear vision camera, OnStar with 4G LTE and a built-in WiFi hotspot, 10 standard air bags, cruise control, 6-way power driver seat, steering-wheel mounted audio and phone controls, remote start, even heated front seats are optional. The infotainment system is straight from the Chevy Sonic, and very slow to respond, which will no doubt irritate plenty of customers that are used to having their iPhone 6S almost read their mind.

Using a 1.4-liter turbocharged and intercooled DOHC inline-4 cylinder engine, the Trax will draw positive marks for fuel economy—26/34 city/highway mpg which is pretty good for any SUV. But with only 138 horsepower and 148-pound-feet of torque, the Trax does suffer a bit getting its 3,296 pound heft up to speed. Floor the Trax and you will get from 0–60 mph in a painfully slow 9.4 seconds, through the quarter mile in 17.2 seconds @ 80 mph, on to 100 mph in an almost upsetting 33.6 seconds, and finally topping out at a drag-limited 117 mph top speed. In terms of lateral acceleration, the Trax hits a reasonable 0.79 g, and brakes from 70–0 mph in a very good 166 feet. The little SUV has a fun factor in the driving that doesn't show up in the numbers. It feels small and light and ready to jump from its parking spot. The only problem is that even mashing the pedal brings about an asthmatic lackluster surge that really hurts the personality of the Trax. You want to like it, but with such a glaring fault, it's hard to truly embrace it. A six-speed automatic transmission sends power to your choice of four wheels or the front two. The AWD features isn't full-time, and does downgrade to only FWD when it deems necessary to help keep fuel economy up.

There are three models to choose from when buying a Trax. The LS starts is the most basic of the bunch and comes with few features. Starting at $21,800, it is the bargain basement of the bunch, and will get you most of the basics, but not much more than that. Next up is the LT starting at $24,145; it will get you stuff like aluminum wheels, a roof rack, cruise control, remote start, among other things. The top-end Trax is the LTZ, and will get you all of the LT options and more: Rear Park Assist, bigger 18-inch wheels, a Bose premium sound system, fog lamps, and body-color door handles with a chrome strip all help the top-of-the-line model stand out from its siblings. For 2016, however, Chevy offers a special edition called the Midnight Edition Trax that is a very dark offering, literally. 18-inch black alloy wheels, Black Granite Metallic paint, black belt-line moldings, black doors handles, two-tone grey and black interior, and, of course, black floor mats. Thankfully the Midnight Edition will not make you… black out… due to cost, as it adds only $500 to the bottom line of your LTZ.

Despite its anemic power, the Trax does seem to offer decent value, even compared to its own twin, the Buick Encore. The Trax comes in about four grand less, and seems to be mostly the same car. Go figure. Chevy now has two competent horses in the newest auto market race out there, and they seem to be situated to do fairly well. Chevy themselves basically calls out the Jeep Renegade Limited on its website to show its strength, and does a fairly convincing job. But, as we've learned from history, whenever GM has two horses in a race, they both can't win. Cannibalizing sales is ultimately not an issue for GM, because if you're buying a Buick or a Chevy, they don't care. But the individual companies care, and it speaks to their reputation if they succeed or are forced to bow out due to low sales numbers. For a $4,000 discount in a market whose basic tenets are founded in affordability, we might just put our money on the Trax to beat the Buick. And if it can find a bit more power for next year, it might just become the leader of the entire segment.

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