Versus the competiton:
A higher-quality interior and new multimedia technologies — including standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto — boost the Trax's appeal in the new class of subcompact SUVs.
The Chevrolet Trax is part of an entirely new class of vehicles that didn’t exist a few years ago: subcompact SUVs. They’re high-riding hatchbacks with available all-wheel drive (AWD), including the Chevrolet Trax, 2017 Honda HR-V, 2017 Jeep Renegade and 2017 Subaru Crosstrek, among many others. In one of Cars.com’s multi-car comparisons in which we tested the old Trax against its class, it placed dead last.
For 2017, Chevrolet’s smallest SUV is updated with a new look and new features, but are there enough improvements to boost its finish? I think so. Chevrolet addressed former failing areas, such as interior quality and advanced safety technology, and its new multimedia offering shoots the Trax to the top of the class in smartphone integration.
Exterior & Styling
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The Chevrolet Trax was on sale globally well before it debuted in the U.S., so it already looked dated when it landed stateside as a 2015 model. Adding contemporary styling to the cute-ute makes the 2017 look newer than it really is, and on mid-level LT and top-level Premier trims, there are strips of LED running lamps surrounding the headlights that give the inexpensive SUV an upscale look.
Dimensions are unchanged from 2016 model year and remain city-friendly along with the rest of the class. These really are tiny SUVs; the Trax is 20.6 inches shorter, bumper to bumper, than Chevy’s next size up, the 2017 Chevrolet Equinox SUV. Compare the Trax’s specs with its competitors here.
How It Drives
I spent a day testing the updated Chevrolet Trax in and around downtown Chicago. Ironically, the Trax’s driving experience hasn’t changed at all; for better or for worse, the refresh included no mechanical changes. The Trax continues to drive confidently for its small footprint, but its engine remains loud and wheezy, and its short wheelbase makes for a bumpy ride over rough pavement. The 138-horsepower, turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-4 cylinder strained to haul three men in a top-level Premier with AWD. (The Premier is the heaviest trim level, weighing 3,340 pounds; the lightest is 3,048 pounds.) The I-4 Chevrolet Trax is peppy enough to get around traffic fine with just a driver onboard.
The driving characteristics of the old Trax didn’t offend us nearly as much as did its interior, which was low-quality, bland and many years outdated even at its introduction. Chevy redesigned the entire dashboard and instrument cluster for 2017. Perhaps the most significant interior update is the all-new dashboard that’s covered in richer materials than before. In the right color combination, like our Jet Black/Brandy test vehicle, the interior is attractive and appears significantly updated. (The “Brandy” burnt-orange interior accents are available on LT and Premier trims.)
The interior may be improved, but a competitor with class-leading materials, like the Honda HR-V, has nothing to fear; the HR-V is a class above the Trax, with soft-touch materials in the backseat as well as the front. The Trax’s backseat remains devoid of anything resembling quality, and there are still many carryover materials below the redesigned dashboard.
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I’m disappointed that the redesigned instrument cluster is now a traditional display instead of the brightly colored, motorcycle-inspired digital cluster in the outgoing Chevrolet Trax. The new analog speedometer’s numbers are crammed together and hard to read — and does this thing really need a 140-mph speedometer? An accompanying digital speedometer remains, but it’s small and not as easy to read as the previous digital display. Losing the 2016’s funky gauge cluster takes a lot of fun and uniqueness out of the Trax’s interior.
Ergonomics & Electronics
While the Chevrolet Trax loses a little edginess with its tamed gauge cluster styling, it redeems itself with a whole new multimedia system that’s a one-stop shop for multimedia tech features. The aforementioned Apple CarPlay and Android Auto should be at the top of your must-have shopping list if you have a compatible smartphone, thanks to their simplicity and comprehensive in-car integration. No direct Trax competitor offered Apple CarPlay or Android Auto as of publication.
But wait, there’s more: The Chevrolet Trax now has two USB ports in the front instead of one. Also, like last year, there’s an available 120-volt AC household outlet in the rear in LT and Premier trims, so backseat passengers can charge a device. There’s also 4G LTE connectivity powering a Wi-Fi hot spot and enabling a mobile app with remote start and lock/unlock features. It’s free for three months, then requires a subscription; see pricing for the OnStar 4G LTE data plan here.
Cargo & Storage
For a vehicle that embraces current mobile technology, the Trax certainly doesn’t leave many spots to store your phone. That’s a big change from the 2016 model, which had up-front storage space galore. The 2017 model loses its upper glove box and center upper dashboard pop-up storage. And while we never really found a use for the two crevices flanking the multimedia screen in the outgoing Trax, those are gone, too. A storage drawer under the front passenger seat and a cubby in front of the gear selector remain.
Rear cargo space remains unchanged, and it’s very usable given the small SUV’s outside dimensions. The Trax’s 48.4 cubic feet of maximum cargo space with the backseat folded is surprisingly accessible through the tall cargo opening. It’s not the largest in its class, however, and those looking for a little more cargo space should check out the sizable Honda HR-V (58.8 cubic feet) or Subaru Crosstrek (51.9 cubic feet).
The 2017 Trax’s crashworthiness is rated highly by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. See how its IIHS ratings compare with other small SUVs here. The Trax aced IIHS’ five major crash tests, scoring the institute’s highest rating of good. NHTSA also rewarded the Trax with its highest overall rating of five out of five stars.
A previous complaint of ours was the lack of advanced safety technology the Trax’s competition offered, like a precollision system and blind spot monitoring. This year, newly added safety tech addresses some of those complaints. A Driver Confidence Package on the LT includes blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and rear parking sensors for $495; it’s standard on the Premier. A backup camera is standard on all trims.
The Driver Confidence II Package is optional on Premier trims, costing $295 and adding forward collision warning and lane departure warning, though they’re just warnings and don’t include automatic emergency braking or lane keep assist course correction, respectively. The Crosstrek and Renegade are ahead of the curve in this entry-level segment; Subaru’s EyeSight option includes automatic emergency braking, and the Renegade offers automatic emergency braking and lane keep assist to steer the car back on course.
Neither collision warning nor lane departure warning signaled many false alarms, and both features were extremely livable even in the hyperactive traffic in and around Chicago.
Value in Its Class
I have little doubt the Trax would fare better than last place in our Subcompact SUV Challenge with the extra features and niceties of the 2017. The improvements don’t come free: Pricing has increased by $255 to $870 depending on trim level. The front-wheel-drive LS base price starts at $21,895, including destination.
The former LTZ is now called Premier and is $870 pricier than before, though its increased standard-feature content — like the more robust multimedia system and standard safety features — means you’re not paying more for nothing. A Premium will set you back $26,995 with front-wheel drive, and the one I tested with the optional Driver Confidence II package and all-wheel drive was $28,790. At that price, the Trax feels out of place, quality-wise, compared with the HR-V, whose better-executed interior takes the sting out of spending that much on a small vehicle. Midlevel LT trims see the lowest price increase ($255) and will likely be the volume sellers and best bargains.
Even with all the 2017 Trax’s improvements that make it a more desirable subcompact SUV, I’m still not sure it would have made the podium in our test against its formidable competitors in this new class of small SUVs.