As far as the Chevrolet Motor Division is concerned, it’s on track with its new 1999 Chevy Tracker.

Debuted last month at the New York Auto Show, the ’99 Tracker has been designed from the proverbial “ground up.” Only a handful of components have been carried over from previous models.

There is more power, new styling, improved ride and handling, a roomier interior, and all that good stuff that goes towards making the Tracker a more attractive small sport utility than its predecessor.

Among sport utes, the four-door hardtop and two-door convertible Trackers most obviously are of the smaller genre. Their 97.6 inch wheelbase and 159.6 inches of overall length attest to that.

Admittedly, a sport ute fundamentally looks like a sport ute. But General Motors’ designers took a whack at giving the new vehicle a more sporty, aerodynamic appearance. The Tracker may not set any records for low co-efficient of drag, but it has been given a more sculpted look and a stance that maintains a distinctive sport utility appearance.

The lowered roof line (overall height 66.5 inches) and sloping hood improve aerodynamics and reduce wind noise. Contoured edges on the front end, the D pillars on the four-door models, and on the rear end provide more of a sports oriented styling theme. Sculpted fenders and side panels add to the flair. A low mounted spare tire enhances rearward driver visibility.

The open Tracker, which Chevy calls a convertible, comes as a two-door. Owners have the option of opening and folding the top or just the rear section.

Today’s sport utes have ride and handling characteristics that tend to be more like that of a passenger car. You never completely achieve this with an off-road vehicle. But Chevy’s small sport-ute goes a long way with an independent front and new five-link rear suspension system that replaces a three-link system.

Adding suspension mounting points and moving them farther outboard made dramatic improvement in handling, as did increasing by nearly 2.5 inches.

Unlike some sport utes that feature unibody (the body is the frame) construction, the Tracker is built on a separate, full ladder-type frame with the body mounted on it.

Rubber body mounts between the body and frame provide a high level of noise isolation.

When Chevy’s engineers got to the engine compartment they really were in a sporting mood. Power is via a new 2.0-liter (121-cubic inch) double overhead cam, 16-valve four- cylinder motor.

That’s the kind of equipment that is the realm of sports cars, and the Tracker’s engine answers the call with 127-horsepower and 134 foot-pounds of torque.

The dual cam four valves per cylinder motor is standard in the four-door hardtop and optional in the two-door convertible model. Standard in the convertible is a 1.6-liter (96 cubic inch), single overhead cam 16-valve engine that puts out 90-horsepower and 100 foot-pounds of torque.

In two-wheel drive form, the two-door weighs 2,596 pounds. considerably lighte r than the 2,860 carried by the hardtop.

So with a manual five-speed gearbox onboard the convertible Tracker with the optional dual cam engine should be a scampering set of wheels.

With the 2.0-liter engine, both the four-door and two-door and four-door are available with a four-speed automatic.

With the convertible’s 1.6 engine, only the five-speed manual is offered.

The Tracker is available in optional four-wheel drive form. This obviously increases the vehicle’s off-road capabilities. It also increases the weight by 121 pounds.

Being small doesn’t mean being less in the way of amenities. In its class, the Tracker’s room, refinements, comfort and convenience all have been upgraded.

The wide stance permits three abreast rear seating in the four-door. New storage areas have been incorporated. A console features the next generation of cupholders that are square instead of round for enhanced versatility.

Inside the hardtop, engineering developed a new way to sto re the rear seat so that it is nearly even with the floor. An additional 2.5 square feet of cargo/floor area is gained with the method.

Prices will be announced upon introduction later in the year, although Chevy says if you’re looking for a two-wheel drive convertible in the $15,000 range its Tracker will be hard to beat. The four- door and two-door reflects its position in the sport utility market.

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