New, affordable, exceptional daily drivers are becoming scarcer all the time. Ford got rid of its entry-level Focus and Fiesta. The Kia Rio is toast. And while we continue to salute stalwarts like Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Subaru Impreza, Detroit has been ceding this segment to its Asian rivals while it focuses on higher-profit vehicles.
But in at least one case, General Motors is hanging tough.
GM has renewed its Chevrolet Trax compact CUV for the ’24 model year and made an array of improvements that make it a very solid choice for people with around $25,000 shopping for new wheels. As we report national average new-car transaction prices nearing $50,000, delivering a respectable, attractive, useful vehicle for half that price is commendable.
The Trax is assembled in South Korea along with the Buick Envista, with which it shares a platform and powertrain. The Trax is 4 ins. (102 mm) shorter than the Envista but most other dimensions, from width to wheelbase, are the same.
Compact means it comfortably seats four, though you could manage three slender people or two adults and a young passenger in the back seat. The new, much more stylish Trax – compared with the original, which looked somewhat like a homely orthopedic shoe – is 11 ins. (279 mm) longer and 2 ins. (51 mm) wider than the original. The new Trax also has nearly 6 cu.-ft. (169.9 L) more cargo space and 3 ins. (76 mm) more rear leg room.
Every Chevrolet Trax is powered by a 137-hp, 1.2L turbocharged inline 3-cyl. and 6-speed automatic transmission it shares with Envista. The powertrain generates 162 lb.-ft. (220 Nm) of torque. The Trax is offered with front-wheel drive only. There are no hybrid or EV versions. The lack of an AWD trim is because Chevy wants to push those customers into the similarly sized Trailblazer.
With so many EVs coming out that start above $50,000, and SUVs and CUVs that sticker above $40,000, necessitating that people take seven- and eight-year loans to afford a monthly payment, it’s admirable that GM recognizes the importance and opportunity of giving the public some affordably priced, versatile, gas-powered compact CUVs.
Fuel economy for the Trax is 28/32 mpg (8.4-7.4 L/100 km) city/highway and 30 mpg (7.8 L/100 km) combined, better than Honda HR-V and about equal to the Hyundai Venue and Kia Soul. We observed 31 mpg (7.58 L/100 km).
Driving the Trax is a friendly exercise. It neither excels nor disappoints. There is no excitement here, but that’s not what Trax is about. The car is tuned for comfort, and when pushed along twisty rural roads, there isn’t excessive body roll. It’s balanced and competent; solid if not compelling. And to keep the car’s price in check, even the RS trim has no engine or mechanical changes from the powertrain that pushes the whole lineup down the road, but rather just larger 18-in. or 19-in. wheels.
While power is not great at 137 ponies, the turbo gives it pop for more than adequate acceleration on entrance ramps and from a stop and without appreciable or annoying turbo lag. Neither this car, nor the Envista, are made for lead-foot drivers, but rather those who watch the speed limit and want to keep their record clean and their insurance premiums down. Engine noise was minimal.
Inside is where the Trax really makes a driver feel like they are driving a smarter, better car than the old version or even some of the current competitors. Engineers got rid of the tunnel and corresponding floor hump, so rear seat comfort is enhanced. The dash has standard analog gauges and an 8.0-in. (20-cm) touchscreen. There is, however, an optional digital gauge cluster and 11-in. (28-cm) central screen. GM does a good job of balancing some cheaper grades of plastics where you hardly notice them, with textured surfaces where your eyes do go – on the dash and steering wheel.
Chevy equips the Trax with the Chevy Assist safety package as standard: automatic emergency braking, front pedestrian braking, lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning and rearview camera. Available options include blindspot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane-change alert with side blind-zone alert, Teen Driver controls and a rear parking-assistance system.
Infotainment options include wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, wireless charging and built-in Wi-Fi hotspot.
GM has created a great value in the redone Trax. It’s bigger and better in every way, and it actually cut the starting price to $21,495, $1,400 less than the original – and in an inflationary environment in which a couple of hamburger dinners via DoorDash will run you $40-plus. Fully loaded, the Trax rings the register at under $27,000.
Chevy has long been positioned as the Everyman brand at GM. It’s a good thing that even while the bowtie brand has Corvettes, Silverados and Suburbans priced at luxury levels, they have not forgotten their roots and heritage as a brand for the worker bees, too.