2015 Chevrolet Trax review: Chevy's new (to the States) small crossover is big on value

Roadshow Editors' Rating

6.3 Overall
  • Performance 6
  • Features 6
  • Design 7
  • Media 6

The Good The 1.4-liter turbocharged engine builds its torque at low RPM, which makes the 2015 Chevrolet Trax feel responsive around town. The compact crossover boasts lots of space for people and/or cargo. The well-designed MyLink tech is standard and features an excellent list of digital media and streaming audio sources.

The Bad Onboard navigation is not available and the BringGo app option is disappointing. Fuel economy is merely OK. Almost no driver-aid tech is available at any trim.

The Bottom Line The simple, savvy 2015 Chevrolet Trax sets only modest expectations, but it meets them handily while presenting a significant price advantage over competing models.

The new 2015 Chevrolet Trax should already be familiar to our readers in the UK and Australia. The compact crossover has been available globally since 2013 -- in Australia, it's known as the Holden Trax -- but 2015 marks the first appearance of the model in the US market. Was it worth the wait?

After a week behind the wheel of a base 2015 Chevrolet Trax LS FWD, I found that the Trax is a car that sets a realistic bar for its attainable price and then hops handily over it.

1.4-liter turbocharged engine

The compact Trax is powered by an even more compact 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine borrowed from Chevy's Sonic Turbo . Power is stated at 138 horses and torque at 148 pound-feet. That torque gets passed through a six-speed automatic transmission on its way to the front-wheel contact patches.

The 1.4-liter turbo (trust me, it's in there somewhere) boasts good low-speed torque and responsiveness. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The little 1.4-liter isn't as wimpy as you might be thinking. It develops its 148 pound-feet fairly low in the tachometer's swing, which gives it pretty good tip-in responsiveness and keeps the powertrain feeling lively at city speeds. Without the Sonic RS' sport pretenses, the engine met my performance expectations nicely. The transmission, too, feels well-suited for around-town driving. Automatic gear selection seems logical enough that I was never tempted to use the manual mode, accessible via a thumb rocker on the shift lever.

On the other hand, the Trax seems to run out of steam as it starts to stretch its legs and approach highway speeds. The crossover isn't at all what I'd call gutless, but there's a reason no one's bragging about the Trax's 0-to-60 times. Overall, I like what Chevrolet is doing with this small engine and feel it's a good match for the Trax's modest performance expectations.

The 2015 Chevrolet Trax is thrifty, but not particularly so. Chevy estimates 26 city mpg and 34 highway mpg for the FWD model, which works out to 29 combined mpg, according to the EPA. The Trax is available also with an AWD option that brings with it a brake upgrade from rear drums to discs and a downgrade to 24 city and 31 highway mpg.

With the rear seats stowed, the cargo capacity jumps to 48.4 cubic feet. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Little big Trax

Though larger than the concept upon which it's based, the 2015 Trax is anything but a large crossover. Its compact footprint make it an easy park on cramped San Francisco streets, but its tall seating position affords the driver a commanding view of the road.

From curbside, the Trax's curves make the crossover appear smaller than it actually is. Lift the rear hatch, however, and the size becomes apparent. With the second row seats upright, the Trax offers plenty of leg and headroom for passengers and 18.7 cubic feet of storage space. Stow the intuitive flip-and-fold rear seats to create mostly flat loading floor and expose the Trax's full 48.4 cubic feet of cargo capacity. That's more than enough space for a few kegs of beer or cases of wine, a few large boxes when helping a friend move, or a few pieces of flat-packed Swedish furniture. I did find the Trax's rear load-in height to be a bit tall for my liking.

Seemingly in contradiction with the tall load-in height, I also noticed that the Trax has less ground clearance than you might think. During my week of testing, I rubbed the front bumper's chin on almost every driveway that I entered or exited.

MyLink tech keeps it simple

Dashboard tech is, again, basically borrowed directly from the Trax's stablemates, the Sonic and Spark . At the top of the center infotainment stack, I found the mech-less version of Chevrolet's 7-inch MyLink system. Mech-less means that there are no moving parts -- shorthand for no CD player. In fact, this generation of MyLink pretty much ditches everything that's not directly related to the business of digital audio playback. There's no onboard navigation, not many speaker options -- only an available 7-speaker Bose upgrade at the LT and LTZ trim levels -- and only a handful of audio sources.

What you're left with is a lean and well-designed infotainment system that boasts USB/iPod connectivity, Bluetooth audio and calling, terrestrial radio, an auxiliary input and a few standard smartphone app integrations (including Pandora, iHeart Radio and BringGo navigation). The system feature bold and simple, text-based graphics that are well suited for at-a-glance comprehension at cruising speeds. The Trax keeps its tech simple and inexpensive, which is almost exactly what you want at this price point.

There's a lot of room for tech improvement, but the smart MyLink system hits a feature and budget sweet spot. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

On one hand, I love that Chevrolet is moving away from expensive tech options for its low-cost models and embracing cloud and smartphone-based media. On the other hand, the BringGo navigation app that fills in for the lack of onboard navigation runs nearly $50 and is just terrible . I'd like to see Chevrolet offer the Android Auto and Apple CarPlay standards for MyLink system going. Both are better and more flexible options for offboarding navigation, media, and voice/text messaging to a smartphone than the current crop on integrated apps. Both seem like good fits for Chevy's smartphone-friendly approach. And either would dramatically improve the Trax's "cabin tech" score on our matrix.

As you might expect at this price point, driver-aid tech is limited to the Trax's standard rear camera. There's no blind-spot monitoring and active driver-aid systems. With competition, including Mazda, trickling their more advanced driver-aid options and forward pre-collision systems down to their entry-level models, this a potential area for improvement for Chevrolet going forward.

Low cost, high value

Though not a particularly inspired ride, the 2015 Chevrolet Trax solidly met my expectations for a car in this class. It feels like a car costing $20,000 and not a penny more, which isn't a bad thing. The Trax offers nearly everything that I'd want in a compact, city-friendly crossover at an excellent value. The Ford Escape , Jeep Cherokee and Toyota RAV4 are all much more premium-feeling compact crossovers, but neither can match the Trax's low cost of entry. Of the four, I think I'd spend a bit more for the Cherokee, but that's mostly due to my preference for its UConnect tech and freaky looks.

That entry point is $20,120 for the base LS FWD model. Add an $875 destination charge to reach our as-tested price of $20,995. Max all of the factory options and you'll walk away with a loaded LTZ with AWD leatherette trim, Bose audio, rear parking distance sensors, and a smattering of appearance upgrades including 18-inch wheels for $28,400. I'd recommend that most owners stick to the lower end of that pricing spectrum to take the best advantage of the Trax's penny-pinchers' benefits.

The 2015 Trax's most dangerous weapon is its low cost of entry when compared to competing models. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The 2015 Trax is also available in the UK, where it is available with the same 1.4-liter turbo engine, as well as a 1.6-liter gasoline engine and 1.7-liter turbodiesel, and starts at £15,500. In Australia, the crossover is sold as the Holden Trax with either the 1.4-liter turbo or a naturally aspirated 1.8 and starts at $26,990AU for the LTZ trim level.

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