2021 Chevrolet Trax: Testing The Limits Of Value Pricing
The Chevrolet Trax is an affordable subcompact crossover that shares its underpinnings with the Buick Encore. Both are almost ten years deep into production now, and their nominal replacements, the Encore GX and Chevy’s own Trailblazer, are already on the scene. General Motors has long kept older models on sale alongside newer ones for buyers who want them, and in the case of the Trax, buyers do. The Trax is a big seller for Chevy despite its age and shortcomings.
Chevy moved over 106,000 of the things in 2020 and almost 119,000 in 2019, which shows that a low price still matters to tens of thousands of buyers. Sales numbers could also be one reason why the vehicle has been so slow to receive updates, after a mild makeover in 2017 very little has changed. The tiny ute rolls into 2021 with fewer trims and options than before, but few other changes. Why fix what isn’t broken, after all?
This year the Trax is down to just two trim and a single engine. Every Trax is powered by a 1.4-liter four-cylinder that makes 138 horsepower and sends it to either the front or all four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. The base LS trim starts at $22,595, including a $1,195 destination fee, and comes with a 7-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, SiriusXM radio, 16-inch painted aluminum wheels, ten airbags and a rearview camera.
The upgrade LT trim starts at $24,395 and nets buyers only cruise control, tinted glass and steering wheel cruise and audio controls. But it opens up virtually all of the desirable option packages. Those include the $650 Premium Seat package, with leatherette upholstery and heated front seats, and the $495 Driver Confidence package. This latter option adds the only active-safety features available on the Trax: rear parking assist, blind spot warnings, and rear cross-traffic alerts.
Many of the Trax’s competitors make more active safety features standard, including automatic emergency braking, which is not available on the Trax, but if you’re really set on this small Chevy, the LT with this option package rings in $24,890, a figure that puts it in direct competition with the newer Mazda CX-30, Hyundai Kona, Kia Seltos and the similarly graying Jeep Renegade.
The Trax also costs about the same as the lower-end LS and LT grades of Chevy’s own Trailblazer, a more modern vehicle with a healthy raft of active-safety features standard. With the Driver Confidence package, the Trax LT is just $100 less than the Trailblazer LT, and it’s hard to recommend the older machine over the newer one at that price. Furthermore, the Trailblazer earns a Top Safety Pick+ rating from IIHS, while the Trax gets only a mixture of Good and Acceptable ratings.
The Trax’s single engine makes a lot of noise but doesn’t deliver much in the way of power or fuel economy. In town, the motor is acceptable, with enough fizz to get moving in traffic, but reaching highway speeds or passing once you’re there is a buzzy strain. There’s far too much drama and noise without enough substance, but the six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and does what it can to round out the otherwise rough powertrain. All-wheel drive (AWD) is a $620 option on both the LS and LT.
The tiny crossover rides firmly but is not harsh. It also retains fairly predictable and stable handling when the roads twist up. Nicely weighted, precise steering helps the Trax feel responsive and willing at low speeds, and body roll is well contained at higher speeds.
Inside, the Trax offers a cabin that feels more spacious than it first appears on paper. A high seating position and relatively small pillars provide excellent visibility.
The interior is simple and clean. Some people prefer utilitarian, but the Trax looks its age inside, especially compared to the more modern Trailblazer. Chevy did a good job styling the interior with nice materials higher up, where most people’s eyes will be, but below the line of sight there are many signs of cost cutting. At least the cloth upholstery is soft and feels durable and the front seats are well padded. Rear leg and head room are decent if not capacious, besting the Renegade and Fiat’s 500x but falling behind most other competitors.
Cargo space is similarly mid-pack. With 18.7 cubic-feet of space behind the rear seats and 48.4 with them folded, the Trax is about even with the Kona and CX-30 and far superior to the 500x or Hyundai Venue, but shy of the Seltos or the Honda HR-V.
The standard 7-inch touchscreen that runs Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It’s not the largest or fanciest screen around, but the Chevrolet Infotainment 3 System runs smoothly and works well. The system is responsive and features a simple interface with menus that are easy to understand. Having maps, Siri voice controls and streaming music adds a nice touch to what is otherwise a vehicle severely lacking in technology offerings.
The Trax is an old stager now, and while it still has some merits and a friendly price, it’s on borrowed time thanks to much more modern competition.