I have a nickname for the 2013 Chevrolet Trax crossover: the Proteus.
Fans of Isaac Asimov, the sci-fi writer, and actress Raquel Welch will be nodding like insiders. The Proteus was a submarine reduced to one micrometre by the C.M.D.F. (Combined Miniaturized Deterrent Forces) in the 1966 sci-fi classic Fantastic Voyage. Once shrunken, the Proteus stays small for just one hour. In the movie, the team on board – including a surgeon assistant played by Welch that had me fantasizing about surgery for years afterward – is injected into the bloodstream of a dying scientist. Their goal: use teeny, tiny lasers to blast away the blood clot killing him.
Okay, you’ve all had your laughs. Get up off the floor, wipe away the grins and take note that the highly respected Asimov wrote a novelization of the movie screenplay and Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 92 per cent rating – that’s nearing five out of five. Show some respect.
I want you to understand that, in Chevy’s world, the Trax is the Proteus. That is, the miniaturized Trax is here to get into the bloodstream of the new-car marketplace and use its teeny, tiny lasers to blast away the competition. In truth, I’m using the term “teeny, tiny lasers” as a metaphor for the fancy electronic tools the Trax has on board: the MyLink system infotainment system with its seven-inch, high-resolution, full-colour display; satellite radio/USB; voice recognition; and Bluetooth phone and audio. Did I mention the standard 10 airbags and StabiliTrak stability control?
True, the Trax is slightly bigger than a micrometre. Chevy says it will seat five, but only in Asimov’s most fertile imagination. Four adults, tops. Young slim ones, the likes of which populate beer commercials. Chevy sells both front- and all-wheel drive versions and they’re all powered by a 138-horsepower, 1.4-litre four-cylinder – turbocharged and mated to a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. Starting price: $18,495.
The Trax is what Chevy is calling a small, urban SUV. Huh? It’s enough to struggle with the notion of an urban SUV, but a Proteus-sized SUV? Well, the made-in-Korea Trax is being sold in more than 140 markets around the world. So-called “urban explorers” apparently need a little rig to haul home bookcases from IKEA without burning up the credit card at fill-ups.
I would have thought all this a voyage of fantasy if it were not shaping into a reality right before my eyes, in showroom after showroom. Mercedes-Benz sells the little B-Class wagon, which does many of the same things as the Trax. Buick has a sister vehicle to the Trax called the Encore. Fiat is launching a four-door, long-wheelbase version of the 500 called the 500L and there’s BMW’s Mini brand, which has been making a big deal out of miniaturizing for more than a decade. This may be the grandest part of the car business in the 21st century.
I like the looks of the Trax. Chevy’s designers avoided wimpiness in the exterior design. Take a gander at the centre-line crease on the hood and, like any good SUV, the roofline sweeps up. Halogen headlamps add some dressiness. The stance is wide as a squatting 300-pound football lineman, too. Except most linemen in either the CFL or the NFL are bigger than the Trax. Think of this Trax as a Chevy Traverse SUV rendered in two-thirds. I don’t want to bore you with numbers, but at 4,280 mm in length, this Chev is equal to a VW Beetle and not as wide at 1,776 mm. Very Proteus-like.
The power is okay, though the turbo four is a bit jumpy as some turbos tend to be. The front-drive Trax gets 7.8 litres/100 km city, 5.7 highway in its most efficient manual form. With AWD and a six-speed automatic, fuel consumption rates at a fairly unimpressive 8.7 city/6.5 highway. The AWD system is one of those intended to get you up a snowy driveway in the dead of winter. Don’t take this one off-roading.
But, of course, that was never the point. You’ll know this the moment you crawl into the cabin. This space is all about storage – iPads, iPhones, headphones, laptops, sunglasses, drinks and the rest of the filler we stuff into our urban runabouts. Store away. You’ll find compartments above and on both sides of the centre stack, not to mention an under-seat storage tray. The rear seat folds flat 60/40, the front seat also folds flat and there’s more room under the cargo floor. Heck, you can pack a ladder on board. Chevy says a creative sort can find up to eight different seating/cargo loading configurations.
Now like the Proteus, the Trax is most comfortable for runs of an hour or less. That’s what it’s designed for. The ride quality is fine, but the seats had me feeling oversized after an hour or so. At least it’s quiet. But I doubt Rotten Tomatoes would give it a 92 per cent rating and neither do I.
2013 Chevrolet Trax LTZ
Type: Subcompact crossover
Price: $29,330 (freight $1,550)
Engine: 1.4-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged
Horsepower/torque: 138 hp/148 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.7 city/6.5 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Buick Encore, Fiat 500L, Mercedes-Benz B-Class, Scion xB, Mini Cooper Countryman