The 1999 Chevrolet Tracker – specifically, the two-door convertible version – sounds so good on paper.
The Tracker two-door is a small, relatively affordable sport-utility vehicle with a base price of $14,735 that attracts entry-level buyers and parents shopping for teenage drivers. It had a slew of improvements for 1999, so changes for model year 2000 are inconsequential. We drove the redesigned 1999 model, which is longer and wider than its predecessor, with an improved suspension, steering and engine. But don’t be fooled. At least that’s what Paul advises.
He: Remember the first two-door Tracker we owned about 10 years ago? We bought it because it was cheap. My recollection is that it was such a dreadful vehicle – noisy, underpowered and primitive – we dumped it as soon as we could. General Motors and its Japanese partner Suzuki finally got around to redesigning the Tracker this past year, and we finally got a chance to test-drive both the two-door convertible and the four-door hardtop. Our main interest, naturally, was in the two-door. To my amazement, the ’99 model doesn’t feel like it’s dramatically better than our old Tracker. Oh, it looks a little cuter, but that was never really a problem with the old one. In the most important areas, like comfort, safety, performance and ease of use, this new Tracker two-door is a dud.
She: Yeah, but I like the four-door Tracker hardtop. It’s almost like they’re two different vehicles made by two different companies. I can enthusiastically recommend the hardtop. It felt solid and quiet, where the two-door convertible is noisy, feels flimsy and is not very refined. This is the same model, right? How could one company build such a split personality into these two vehicles? Somebody needs an analyst’s couch.
He: So analyze this. I’m filling out the specs portion of this review, and noted that the base engine in the two-door is a 97-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder. And I remembered how coarse and anemic the engine in our test vehicle felt. It always seemed to be working too hard and making too much racket. Then I discovered we had the optional twin-cam 2.0-liter engine, which makes 127 horsepower and costs $400 extra. Didn’t change my opinion – except perhaps to tell you not to waste your money. It doesn’t seem to make much difference. And fuel economy for a vehicle this tiny is inadequate, at 22 miles per gallon in the city and only 25 on the highway. My question is, would you even want to take the two-door Tracker on the highway?
She: Let me go back to the noise on the convertible. You could make the argument that it’s irrelevant, especially for the buyer demographic, which I suspect likes to blast Limp Bizkit on the CD player. Which, naturally, is also an extra-cost option. The softtop is still something of a pain to operate, although it seems to work a little better than the one on our old Tracker. I also have to admit the styling is adorable. It hits the right n ote there, on the outside.
He: Problem is, most people drive from the inside. That’s where the two-door Tracker fails miserably. The cabin is still appallingly primitive – amazing for a vehicle that had a sticker of $18,145, including more than $3,000 worth of options. Makes me wonder what the “base” model looks and drives like without the “amenities.” I mentioned the engine. What I didn’t talk about was the unsteady feeling you get when driving this short-wheelbase vehicle. At freeway speeds, the two-door Tracker gives you the impression of riding a roller coaster. And don’t try to take a turn too fast. You can almost feel the outside wheels lifting.
She: I think you’re being a little too harsh. For the audience – not a spoiled forty-something like you who went ga-ga this week over the rear footrests in the $69,000 BMW 740iL – it’s decent enough. Lienert, get back to the real world where the rest of us live.
He: You want real world? No problem. I can think of abo dozen other vehicles I’d rather spend $18,000 on – including the four-door Tracker, which is much sturdier, safer, quieter and comfier. If you’re looking for a convertible SUV, the Isuzu Amigo is a superior vehicle that starts at around $16,000. And if you just want the cheapest two-door in the class, a Kia Sportage is probably a better value.
1999 Chevrolet Tracker
Anita’s rating: acceptable
Paul’s rating: subpar
Type: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, four-passenger sport-utility convertible.
Price: Base, $14,735; as tested, $18,145 (inc. $360 destination charge).
Engine: 2.0-liter I-4; 127-hp at 6,000 rpm; 134 lb-ft torque at 3,000 rpm.
EPA fuel economy: 22 mpg city/25 mpg highway.
12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan: $1,159 (Estimate. Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.)
Where built: Ingersoll, Ontario
What we liked: Informal, fun exterior is adorable; somewhat affordable (Anita); engine and road noise may not annoy young buyers; some improvements over old model.
What we didn’t like: Antilock brakes cost $595 extra; fuel economy is inadequate; too noisy; even optional 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine feels anemic; convertible top is still difficult to operate; feels tippy when cornering at higher speeds; cabin still looks primitive.