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2013 Chevrolet Trax (Dan Proudfoot for The Globe and Mail)
2013 Chevrolet Trax (Dan Proudfoot for The Globe and Mail)

First Drive Chevrolet Trax

Chevy Trax coming to Canada – but not the U.S. Add to ...

The Chevrolet Trax tailors American SUV styling to European dimensions.

Trax was designed for global markets – excluding the United States. It’s coming to Canada late this fall because price and fuel efficiency are thought to be as significant to us as with buyers in Europe, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, Korea, Mexico and so on.

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General Motors’ second-coming strategy has Chevy on an international brand expansion campaign, one that recognizes the rest of the world thinks smaller than previously imagined.

“You know how we Americans like our sizes to be plus-one,” said Jim Danahy, Trax chief engineer. “We sell the Equinox [and its GMC twin the Terrain] that’s made in Canada, and it’s a very successful vehicle for us in the United States.

“Whereas smaller vehicles are more popular in Canada, where the price of gasoline is higher.”

The Americans are missing out. The Trax is a treat to drive, with plenty of room for four adults, maybe even the majority of jumbo Yanks. And as the price of gasoline climbs, never say never to the Trax some day gaining traction in Chevrolet’s home market.

Utilizing the same engine as in the Cruze sedan does limit Trax appeal, even as it introduces fuel efficiency unattainable in the Equinox, because towing is not recommended. (It is permitted in most of the world, wherever Trax is offered with a diesel motor.)

The 138-horsepower, 148 lb-ft. gasoline engine pulls well both in city driving and on the freeway. The Trax demonstrates considerable vroom-vroom beyond those routine surroundings, as well, on the roller-coaster roads out of Novato, half an hour north of San Francisco.

Interest in what it holds, and how easily, probably trumps performance considerations for most purchase decisions among SUVs. This is an IKEA-worthy vehicle, albeit not for the likes of dining room tables or bedroom bureaus. It is obviously junior to the larger Chevy Equinox in cargo volume, with 785 litres of space with the rear seats folded, against 1,803 for its big brother.

As for places to put things, it’s epic. Four drinks line up between the front seats. Four! Why? Because some people count these things, one supposes. While putting in time in the passenger seat, I also counted two gloves boxes, two cavities in the doors, two slots in the dash and a bin by the driver’s left knee. There may have been more.

The rear seats don’t fold completely flat, just almost. Other shortcomings noted are the lack of dual-zone temperature control and only the driver’s window gets one-touch operation. Given the handsome two-tone upholstery and impressive quality throughout the interior, complete equipment becomes an expectation despite the Trax’s general lack of pretension.

It is clever. With the MyLink standard in 2LT and LTZ models (not base LS and 1LT), your smartphone becomes intimate with the infotainment system facilitating access to playlists and voice-initiated telephone calls. The centre screen also serves the rear-vision camera that is standard on the pricier Traxes.

The least-expensive Trax – prices weren’t determined as this was written – has front-drive and a manual transmission, with an automatic optional.

All-wheel-drive, available only with the automatic, makes the Trax a better drive through the tighter section of roller-coaster roads as a result of better front-rear weight distribution and a superior fully independent rear suspension. The all-wheel-drive engages when pulling away from a standstill, with front-drive taking over except when the going gets slippery, so this is a highway-oriented system rather than a bog-slogger.

Trax is not related to the Tracker, Chevrolet’s earlier, truck-based small SUV that expired after 2004. In fact, Trax is more reminiscent of Honda’s original CR-V, which in 1997 virtually invented the compact SUV category. Trax is considerably smaller and more nimble than current CR-Vs, Hyundai Tucsons and others.

Trax is car-based, on the platform shared with the Chevrolet Sonic and Buick’s sport-ute Encore. Although exterior stylist Rich Scheer talked about building Chevrolet’s name in world markets with boldly American styling – he emphasized the split grille, dual element tail lamps and bulging fenders as Chevy touchstones – the engineering was international involving GM Korea and even Holden in Australia as well as Detroit.

Those sold in Canada are manufactured at San Luis Potosi, Mexico – alongside Chevrolet’s Sonic and Aveo, as Sonic is still called in some countries.

The Trax is made in South Korea for the major markets for which it was designed, in Europe and Asia. Even the automotive journalists invited here indicate GM’s focus: along with several Canadians and several more Mexicans, there were Italians, Russians, Germans, Englishmen. But no Americans. All to do with size.

“The journalists from Italy tell me they don’t see the Trax as a small vehicle, to them it looks almost large, but able to drive easily through our cities’ narrow streets,” Valentina Orena, spokesperson for Chevrolet Italia, said in an aside. That was the party line, of course, yet a worthwhile perspective.

Dinah Shore used to sing “See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet” in commercials in the 1950s. Shore died in 1994. If still current and crooning, she’d now be singing, “See the E.U.-U.K. in your Chevruulhet.”

TECH SPECS

2013 Chevrolet Trax

Type: Four-door compact SUV

Base price: Not available (Chevrolet Equinox base is $26,455; Trax will be lower)

Engine: turbocharged, 1.4-litre, DOHC, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 138 hp/148 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic or manual

Drive: Front-wheel or all-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.8 city/5.7 highway (front-drive, manual); 8.1 city/5.9 highway (front-drive, automatic); AWD rating not available; regular gas

Alternatives: Nissan Rogue, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Kia Soul, Suzuki Grand Vitera, Nissan Juke, Toyota RAV4

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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