Holden on to something big with Trax
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Trax compact SUV looks a strong entry in growing market
They are called many things - compact crossovers, small SUVs, soft-roaders - but what they should be called in New Zealand are big sellers.
As Kiwi buyers are moving away from station wagons and large sedans to medium-sized SUVs, more car companies are adding a smaller version to their line-up to attract the hatchback buyers who want a higher seating position.
There's already Nissan's Juke, the Hyundai ix35, and Mitsubishi's ASX in the small SUV segment but Holden New Zealand has just launched Trax, a dedicated small urban SUV.
The five-door Trax goes on sale in September here so heads off Peugeot's 2008 and Ford's EcoSport - both coming to New Zealand in the next six months.
It's a smart move for Holden as the SUV segment is New Zealand's fastest growing. Last month Holden's medium SUV, the Captiva, was the second best selling passenger vehicle, just ahead of the other popular products in this category - Mazda's CX5 and Toyota's RAV4.
While many vehicles in this category provide off-road capability, the compact SUVs are aimed at city dwellers who don't usually require four-wheel-drive ability nor do they want the size of the medium-to-large crossovers.
Holden NZ boss Jeff Murray has smartly opted for the six-speed auto, with a 1.8-litre petrol engine, in two variants - an LS on 16in alloys for $32,990 and the higher specced LTZ on 18in tyres for $35,490.
The Trax has also just gained a five-star Ancap rating thanks in part to the six airbags, ESC, ABS and TCS.
Both models are chocka with gadgets and specifications, including reversing camera and rear parking sensors, MyLink infotainment unit, touchscreen and two nifty accessories - the portable satnav system BringGo and a three-pin plug (see right).
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The LTZ adds heated sportec (aka faux leather) seats, chrome highlights - including visually impressive skid plates and door handles - and a storage tray under the front passenger's car.
Trax joins Holden's SUV range - the Captiva five and seven-seater medium SUVs, plus the large off-roader Colorado 7 - with the company looking at professional couples in their 30s as potential buyers.
"We now have a few more strings to our bow than before," said Murray at the Melbourne launch this week.
He reckoned the LTZ would be the pick for many buyers as "primarily top-end SUVs are selling".
Sitting on the Holden Barina platform, the Trax is 30mm wider than the compact car but 151mm shorter than the sedan variant but has a more macho exterior. The Trax also borrows the engine and auto transmission from the Holden Cruze, providing 103kW and 175Nm of torque with fuel economy of 7.6l/100km.
Holden says there are no plans to add to the powertrain, such as a 1.4-litre turbo version, nor is there an AWD model in the plans. Murray says adding off-road capability will increase weight and dollars to the Trax.
The front-wheel drive vehicle is already well-established for the General Motors family - known as the Opel Mokka, Chevrolet Trax and Buick Encore. Our Trax is built in Bupyeoung, South Korea, with Holden Australia's design team adding a new prominent grille to the vehicle for the Oceania market.
The new look was overseen by GM Holden chief designer Richard Ferlazzo, who is amazed at the popularity of the SUV.
"Design portfolios used to have sports car sketches in them but all the portfolios I now see from young students are full of SUV models," says Ferlazzo.
He shouldn't be that surprised. On the roads around Melbourne for the launch, there were plenty of examples of the Trax's competition.
I had driven Ford's rival, the EcoSport, at the international launch in Goa, India, in May, so it was interesting to compare the two products.
Although Ford's offering was a pre-production prototype - and it gets a tiny let-off with its India-only tyres - looks-wise, the Trax wins hands down. The Trax has a big persona due to the large bonnet, whereas the EcoSport has a dated exterior styling with the spare tyre bolted to the side-hinged tailgate.
The Trax also gets a tick for road handling. It coped with a gravel road at speed with the suspension and chassis coping with bumps.
Thanks to the 1.8-litre engine, the Trax could power through the gears and easily sat at over 100km/h.
And I was doing 100km/h when the wind picked up on the motorway in the LTZ and it was buffeted by winds. The conditions nearly pushed a van into my path and I had to swerve at speed to avoid debris off the back of a truck.
But sitting higher than a hatch, I could see ahead to avoid trouble and had enough road presence for trouble to avoid me. If only I could get trouble to avoid me when I'm not on the road!