You’ve probably read about the average new vehicle selling for nearly $50,000. How about one for about a third that much?
Chevy makes one like that.
It’s called the Trax.
What It Is
The Trax is a small crossover with a very small asking price – $20,400 for the base trim – that is powered by one of the smallest engines (a 1.2 liter three cylinder engine) ever installed in a car.
That’s about half what a new Tesla 3 electric car costs. And the Trax can travel about 400 miles on a tank – while the Tesla 3 goes maybe 300 (if it’s not too cold out).
It’s also several thousand dollars less than the price of a similar small crossover such as the Honda HR-V ($24,100 to start) or the Mazda CX-30 ($24,995). These come standard with larger (and stronger) four cylinder engines – but they also cost several thousand dollars more than the Trax.
What’s New For 2024
The Trax is back with a new, larger body – and a smaller engine. Plus more available features – including some you might not expect in an entry-level vehicle, including adaptive cruise control and a heated steering wheel.
Lower base price than the old Trax.
Much more spacious than old Trax.
Better gas mileage than old Trax.
What’s Not So Good
Smaller three cylinder engine is under a lot of pressure.
All-wheel-drive (which used to be optional) is no longer available.
Standard “assistance technologies” are standard, peremptory and cannot be turned permanently off.
Every Trax comes standard with an engine that’s almost not there (which is where we’re headed as this push to eliminate engines in favor of motors proceeds).
Just three cylinders and only 1.2 liters.
The old Trax came standard with a 1.4 liter four cylinder engine.
Power is down to 137 horsepower (about the same output as the 1200 cc engine that powers this writer’s motorcycle) and torque is just 162 ft.-lbs. at 2,500 RPM. The old Trax’s four made 155 horsepower and 177 ft.-lbs. of torque.
Surprisingly, the new Trax is not slower than the old Trax.
It can get to 60 MPH in about 8.5 seconds, which is quicker by about 1 full second than the old (and more powerful) Trax. Probably because it’s about 150 pounds lighter – which is also surprising because the ’24 Trax is significantly larger than its predecessor.
On the other hand, the Trax’s mileage is surprisingly mediocre. It only manages 28 city, 32 highway – which is about the same (or slightly less) than the mileage delivered by larger-engined rivals such as the Mazda CX-30 (26 city, 33 highway from 2.5 liters, four cylinders and 191 horsepower).
The reason why is because the ’24 Trax – while lighter than its predecessor – is still surprisingly heavy (3,062 lbs.) for something that’s still as small as it is. To get a sense of this, an ’80s-era Chrysler Aries K-car – remember those? – was almost exactly the same length (176 inches) as the ’24 Trax (178.6 inches) but the K-car weighed just 2,414 lbs. Which is the main reason why it was able to deliver 40-plus MPG on the highway.
The truth is all new vehicles are overweight relative to otherwise similar-in-size vehicles of the past. This includes rivals like the Mazda CX-30 and Honda HR-V and it’s why they deliver mediocre mileage, too – even though they all have the technological advantages of port-fuel (and direct) injected engines and transmissions with multiple overdrive gears.
On the positive side of the balance sheet, the Trax’s standard transmission is not a continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission. It is a conventional six speed automatic with gears – as opposed to the CVT’s constantly varying ranges. CVTs are in common usage to make up for the fact that modern vehicles are overweight as they can increase miles-per-gallon by (typically) about 3 MPGs overall. If cars weren’t so heavy, this would not be necessary.
The problem with CVTs is that in order to continuously vary the range, a metal belt has to expand – and contract – within a pair of pulleys. Over time, this fatigues the metal the belt is made of until, one day, the belt breaks – and breaks the CVT. It is then time to replace the CVT.
You don’t have to worry about that with the Trax.
One more thing you won’t have to worry about is whether to buy all-wheel-drive because Chevy no longer offers this option with the Trax, which is now front-drive-only. Probably because adding AWD would bump the curb weight up to what it used to be – and decrease the MPGs along with it.
On The Road
Despite having such a small engine, the Trax moves out such that you’d think it had more engine.
And in a very real sense, it does.
The turbo attached to the 1.2 liter three stuffs as much – or more – air into the engine’s cylinders as a four could suck in (turbo boost is positive pressure; engines without turbos have negative pressure – i.e., vacuum) and the result is a more powerful combustion event when the additional air (and accompanying fuel) is burned inside those three cylinders. If the turbo is snugged right up against the exhaust ports – so that the boost builds almost as soon as the engine is revved (and gas is burned) then the turbo-boosted power comes on almost immediately.
Proof of the foregoing is how quickly this 3,000-plus pounder is capable of accelerating with only three cylinders pumping.
It helps that the Trax isn’t saddled with a CVT, too. The six speed automatic has a torque converter that amplifies an engine’s available torque by letting the engine rev to where it makes more power, which helps move the vehicle more smartly off the line. And the six speed’s shifts feel more natural than the continuous surge you get with a CVT during acceleration that can feel (and sound) like the transmission is slipping.
A manual would, of course, be even better – but it’s not available. Small crossovers used to come standard with them. But none do anymore, chiefly because they can’t be programmed for compliance – with government regulations. Automatics can be programmed to shift all the same, at the same time – and that consistency is the key to compliance. It’s the cost we pay for that, too.
Chevy includes all the latest “advanced driver assistance technology” – including a very annoying Lane Keeping system that you’ll feel through the steering wheel every time a tire touches the painted lines on either side of the travel lane. The wheel moves let – or right – to “correct” your line, even when the painted lines are skewed and your line is just fine.
The Trax also comes standard with Forward Collision Mitigation, a system that ostensibly prevents accidents that would otherwise result from a driver not paying attention to traffic and not noticing it had slowed (or stopped) in front of him. In practice, these systems often peremptorily hit the brakes when the driver is paying attention – and trying to get around a slow car ahead of him. These systems are typically programmed to consider anything closer that 3-4 car lengths as tantamount to an impending crash. In some cases, you can change the “sensitivity” to less overwrought. But it’s often – and increasingly – the case that you cannot turn these “assistance technologies” off.
On the plus side, most of the Trax’s regularly necessary controls – like the climate controls – are still rotary knobs that can be turned by feel (and so without looking) and they are nicely canted a little toward the driver (shades of GM design past; e.g., the Pontiac Grand Prix of the late ’60s and early ’70s).
There’s also a traditional pull-it-back (and forward) gear selector rather than the trendy touch-button or rotary wheel. They’re all drive-by-wire controls now, but it’s hard to improve on the intuitive functionality of the traditional-looking (and feeling) gear selector.
The stereo’s volume is knob controlled – but to change the station and other settings you’ve got to tap the touchscreen.
Another thing to like about driving the Trax is the oversized ball-type air vents that can be used to direct the airflow almost anywhere – and a lot of it. Chevy also thought to put a slot for your phone in between the cupholders that keeps it from sliding around and keeps it upright rather than flat.
Just be careful not to slosh your coffee.
At The Curb
The ’24 Trax looks like a more substantial – a less entry level – vehicle. The increased length – now 178.6 inches vs. the previous Trax’ 167.6 inches – is chiefly responsible for this.
Being longer also means roomier.
The previous Trax had just 35.7 inches of reaseat legroom. It was a tight fit for most adults. That made the old Trax a harder sell to people who needed a small crossover with room for adults in the back. Chevy has addressed this issue aggressively by increasing rearseat legroom in the ’24 Trax to 38.7 inches. That’s a full three inches more than in the old Trax and it’s a difference that’s obvious when you sit back there vs. trying to sit in the back of the old Trax. Someone my size – I’m six feet three – can sit in the back of the ’24 Trax in reasonable comfort, without having to tuck his legs or turn his knees sideways, to avoid them rubbing up against the front seatbacks.
There is also significantly more room for cargo in the ’24 – which has 25.6 cubic feet behind the back seats (vs. 18.7 before) and a total of 54.1 cubic feet with the back seats folded forward (vs. 48.4 before).
The sum and total of it is the ’24 Trax is now a compact crossover rather than a subcompact – and that makes it more than just an entry-level crossover. It makes it a family-viable entry level crossover.
Even though it is entry level, the Trax can be ordered with some higher-level equipment, including a flatscreen main gauge cluster (analog gauges are otherwise standard) a heated steering wheel, wireless phone charger and a pretty good six speaker audio system – and still cost less than half what a new entry level EV such as a Tesla 3 costs.
And the as-it-sits (base trim) Trax has all the essentials, including some additionals – such as a WiFi hot spot, LED headlights and 17 inch wheels. Like pretty much all new vehicles, the Trax comes standard with power windows and locks as well as air conditioning. Such features were luxury features (or at least, optional and extra cost features) back in the days when “entry level” meant stripped.
This entry-level crossover is just inexpensive.
The Bottom Line
While it’s true some people are spending close to $50k on a new vehicle, it’s not necessary to spend that kind of money on a new vehicle.
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