HOLDEN HAVE GOT IT RIGHT THIS TIME WITH THE 1.4-LITRE TURBO TRAX
Baby sports utility vehicles (SUVs) have come in little waves over the past couple of decades (Daihatsu Terios, anybody?), but the latest looks more like a tsunami.
The small-SUV segment is now the fastest-growing area of the new-car market.
You could argue that the Holden Trax established the template for this segment as it stands today. There was nothing quite like the Trax when it was launched back in 2013: a blend of supermini scale and platform technology (it’s based on the Barina hatchback) with SUV proportions and styling detail. Four-wheel drive? Not really necessary. Not even available, in fact.
So there was nothing quite like Trax in 2013. But there are lots of models exactly like it in 2015, and a lot more to come.
Nice as it might be to credit Holden with such foresight, the Trax is actually a global General Motors model that’s also sold under the Chevrolet, Buick and Opel badges. Our model is sourced from Korea.
Trax was a clever concept at launch time, but the execution wasn’t perfect. It looked fantastic, had a suitably high driving position and plenty of cabin space, but the 1.8-litre petrol engine provided for this small wonder was underwhelming. No surprise there, because it’s just as underwhelming in the larger Cruze.
A fix arrived for Trax late last year in the form of a new 1.4-litre intelligent turbo induction (iTi) engine option. Yes, it has a smaller capacity than the standard powerplant. But it’s also vastly more sophisticated, producing the same amount of power as the old 1.8-litre but even more torque.
The new engine is only available in the flagship Trax LTZ, for a $1500 premium; it takes the total price to $35,490. There are two things that might give you the impression that this car is quite sporty: it’s colloquially known as the “Trax Turbo” and the engine is actually shared with the Barina RS.
That impression would be incorrect, because that’s not the idea behind the Trax LTZ iTi (agreed, Trax Turbo sounds more snappy). But it is $1500 well spent, because the new engine transforms this little Holden from a stylish-looking appliance into a crossover with character. The iTi engine is not exactly a powerhouse, but it’s sweet and strong, delivering brisk performance and crisp throttle response with a hint of turbo-whistle. You won’t be overcome by a desire to plant the pedal at every set of traffic lights, but you soon learn to modulate the throttle and surf along on the torque.
A six-speed automatic transmission is standard: the changes can be a bit lazy, but it’s smooth and well-calibrated to make the most of the iTi engine’s power delivery.
The Trax chassis is set up for comfort rather than speed, despite generously proportioned 18-inch wheels. Ride comfort is good, at the expense of some handling prowess: there’s quite a bit of body roll in tight corners, but plenty of grip. Only in low-traction conditions does the Trax’s lack of all-wheel drive become an issue: the soft suspension and high centre of gravity can cause the weight to shift off the inside-front wheel and induce spin. But this is primarily a city car, remember.
Any perceived clumsiness in the Trax’s handling is also partly attributable to the strangely large steering wheel — a trait that seems to be quite common in Holden’s Korean-sourced product.
The Trax interior gets a fail for form but top marks for function. The cabin architecture lacks flair and there’s a lot of cheap plastic around. Ideal for doing knock-knock jokes to the kids in the back, not so great for creating a premium interior ambience.
The same can be said of the LTZ’s weird faux-leather upholstery, which feels cold and hard to the touch. Nor are the front seats anything to write home about: you feel like you sit on, rather than in them. I suspect the cloth seats in lesser Trax variants are more supportive.
However, there are still plenty of surprise-and-delight features in the cabin. There’s a vast amount of storage space, for example, with a lidded bin atop the centre console, dual gloveboxes and cupholders between the front seats. The three-pin plug installed on the rear of the centre-console remains a brilliant idea.
Another feather in the Trax’s cap: it gets Holden’s MyLink touch-screen information system, which impresses both for its simple/colourful graphics and crisp response. It runs the audio and Bluetooth functions, as well as acting as a conduit to a variety of applications on the user’s own cellphone. Among them are internet radio services from Pandora and Stitcher, as well as satellite navigation via the BringGo application, which stores the maps on your device (to minimise data drain) and serves up directions and graphics on the MyLink screen.
The screen also acts as the display for the reversing camera, which is a welcome feature in any city-bound vehicle. However, it’s a shame the Trax’s is so distorted and fuzzy — at least on our test vehicles. It kind of undermines the crisp-and-colourful imagery you otherwise enjoy through MyLink.
Trax is not supposed to be a super-practical cargo-carrier, but the boot is pretty practical nonetheless. It’s not terribly large in itself — not unusual in the supermini world — but the folding mechanism for the rear seats allows you to flip the squab out of the way (it’s hinged at the front) and then fold the seatbacks to get a properly flat load area.
PROS AND CONS HOLDEN TRAX
ENGINE:Engine: 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol turbo, 103kw/200nm, 6-speed automatic transmission, front-drive.