Holden’s had a shot before at a small SUV; last time around it was the Suzuki Ignis based Cruze (yes there was a Cruze before the Cruze…confused?). This time around they’ve ‘roided up the Korean sourced Barina and called it Trax. A Wheel Thing back to backs the entry level LS and top spec LTZ.
The Driven Heart
Anyone that’s driven the Holden Cruze (the new one, not the old one) with the original 1.8L petrol engine will be instantly familiar with the heart of the Trax. It never received good reviews and won’t here. It’s underpowered, undertorqued and should be six feet under. There’s just 103kW at 6300rpm and 175 torques at 3800 rpm. With the option of manual and auto for the LS and auto only in the LTZ (auto supplied to AWT), the slow revver just fails to deliver pizzaz, pop and pow. The automatic transmission is fitted with six ratios which, at least, use what’s available (60kmh equals 2000rpm….) and the driver has the choice of allowing the ‘box to do its own thing or manually changing via the oddly sited switch (ala Malibu) on the top right hand side of the lever. There’s no real advantage to using the manual shift (slow, ergonomically awkward) nor does it make any sense (unless to NOT encourage people to use it) to place the manual selector switch where it is. Left to its own devices, the transmission offers an odd mix of short/sharp or hold and delay changes. One would hope that the 1.4iTi and 1.6iTi plants plus the diesels available overseas will make their way into the range, sooner rather than later. It’s coarse, thrashy, unrefined, even the 1.8L in the Camira sounded smoother.
As you’d expect there’s a strong family resemblance to big brother Captiva. The haunches are bulbous and rounded, the proportional profile is not unlike the Captiva (moreso 7 than 5) whilst the front end, signed off by the international consortium as using the Australian nose design, which in its own right has a resemblance to the Malibu, is a shocker. Is it pretty? Hell no. The headlight cluster design is myopic, bland (black trim in the LTZ would have helped differentiate) whilst the actual nose is blunt, bluff and upright with the chin of the bumper given more depth than what looks nice, plus scrapes easily on the road coming off a driveway kerb. The rear is better integrated and the saving grace along with a sensible looking window line plus the LS gets full black plastic as opposed to the LTZ’s alloy insert. Overall look reminds me of the Suzuki SX4 or the original Cruze.
Straight up, what greets the driver’s view gives no doubt as to the vehicle’s roots; the dash display is an almost cut and paste from the Barina, with the same motorcycle style look plus a couple of tweaks to the colour. The centre dash console is clean, simple, well designed and comes complete with a seven inch touchscreen entertainment and MyLink system, complete with the Pandora, TuneIn and Stitcher and more apps accessible via a compatible smartphone, once they’ve been downloaded into the phone though. The USB port is hidden inside a small storage locker just in front of the passenger seat and there’s a centrally mounted spot high up in the centre of the dash for, presumably, sunglasses. Just to the sides of the screen are two holes where one would expect aircon vents would go, circled in brushed aluminuim plastic while the centre console doesn’t have a raised storage section but does have a power point (and FOUR drinks holders!!!!), only suitable for an overseas (non Australian)plug. If it’s not suitable for us, why bother fitting it?
It’s spacious enough inside, with room for four comfortably and plenty of head/shoulder room in the front while the rear seat squabs fold out and up to provide a flat load space with the uprights folded. The seats themselves are comfortable enough but aren’t outstanding either, lacking support to the thighs and around the thorax and the print is a simple square motif spread throughout the fabric in the LT while the LTZ gets the faux leather look and heating as well. Boot space is decent for the size of the vehicle and the load height is just about spot on. The actual dash structure mimics the Malibu with the double flying buttress design and doesn’t look all that bad, terminating in retro style airvents either side but the plastic itself is that old style hard crocodile print style. An interesting side point is the headlight switch, which on Auto, in the LS and LTZ, has a set of driving lights activated and based in the cluster as they’re not in the bottom corners of the bumper in the LS but you do get the normal bumper mounted lights in the LTZ. Simple yet smart. There is a reverse camera as standard but for navigation you need to download an app….huh?
On The Road
Quick steering, a supple ride, a lack of road noise, a lack of crash thump from speed humps add up to be the surprise part of the Trax. It’s fingertip light in the steering, not requiring too much effort at all plus the ratio is fast, with what feels like a half turn lock to lock. It’s a lovely, smooth ride and the suspension is a delight, isolating speedbumps and helped, somewhat, from the Continental tyres at 205/70/16 in size (LS with 215/55/18s on the LTZ and five spoke alloys), with the sidewall height adding a measure of smoothness and, I suspect, the grip when punched hard into tight turns with a minimum of squealing. Although, ostensibly, a SUV, the LS is front drive only with no 4WD mechanism at all, not that it could with such a deep front dam anyway. Acceleration is leisurely, as mentioned, with the gear change slurry on the up shift whilst coming down a hill and under brakes, it will downshift and hold the gear which does aid in braking, to a point. Under full welly, the motorbike look speedo shows numbers changing marginally quicker than what it feels via seat of the pants, oddly enough, but with the aforementioned cacophony from up front dulling the aural experience the overall presentation is, as they say, meh. There’s a compass thrown in, for good measure, on the LTZ but in the simple old style LCD font only. It’s a strange mix, with a feeling of something good and something a bit confused. Fuel economy is a bit dubious; a 53 litre tank isn’t huge and with fuel economy after 537 kms of 8.4L/100 kms, it’s somewhat heavier than the 7.0L/100kms Holden say it should have plus the readout said fifty kilometres left…this after starting with 91 left before a 75 kilometre journey….
If history is any guide, the Trax won’t sell well, based on looks; having said that, the old phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” may have something to do with it. Ford and Mitsubishi found out the hard way that a physically average looking car hurts sales. For me, the Trax’s biggest issue is the front end and primarily the headlight cluster; it’s just ugly and simply does nothing, in my eyes, to help present the car to those that want a decent overall package. Sure, it’ll be bought by those that want a point to point carriage, much like those that think a certain small car from Japan is the bastion of high tech. The tight handling and above expectations ride will mean nothing to those willing to overlook the “take no prisoners” bluffness of the front end with its Clarence the Cross Eyed Lion headlights and the archaic performance of the 1.8L. Priced at (depending on where you live) around the $27K mark including ORCs for the LS manual and near nigh $30K for the auto with premium paint, with the LTZ over $32K, it needs a sharper set of numbers to be a serious temptation, considering the better Captiva 5 and 7 offers at the time of writing, with the 5 at $25K driveaway and the SX 7 at $28600 driveaway as well.
To find out more: http://www.holden.com.au/cars/trax