Sometimes things just work out, with fate conspiring to help you do your job. That was the case with this review – we needed a way to get from our Michigan base to Chicago to test the restyled 2017 Chevy Trax, and it just so happened there was a 2016 model available to make the trip in. It’s rare we get to do a direct back-to-back test.
If there’s one thing we learned from the 600-mile round trip in the 2016 Trax, it’s that Chevy’s smallest CUV has a lot of room for improvement. After a full day of city-heavy work with the 2017 model, it’s clear GM addressed some of its smallest crossover’s glaring flaws. This is the CUV Chevrolet should have introduced in the first place.
Those changes don’t really concern the hardware. The Trax is the same basic Gamma II-based crossover it was before, a sibling to the Buick Encore. It again comes standard with a 1.4-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder Ecotec engine with 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque mated to a Hydra-Matic 6T40 six-speed automatic transmission, with standard front- and and optional all-wheel drive. Like the Encore, the Trax rides on McPherson struts in front and a torsion-beam rear suspension, and the rack-and-pinion steering has electric assist.
While the new instruments are nice to look at, super-cheap black plastic still dominates most of the rest of the view on the dash and doors. On higher-end grades like the Premier (it replaces the LTZ trim level for 2017) there is a color strip of faux leather for the dash and door panels, and piano black trim around the seven-inch infotainment screen and HVAC controls. These changes are possible because designers purged the plethora of semi-useless slots and cubbies from the 2016 model, crafting a cleaner and more uniform dash for 2017.
Still, the improved cabin represents a net loss. Chevy sacrificed too much versatility in its quest to improve the Trax’s cabin design and materials. This little vehicle does not have a center console – there are just four cupholders running between the front seats – so by ditching the 2016 model’s cubbies and storage slots, the only compartments left in the Trax’s cabin are the glove box and a tiny change tray ahead of the shifter. Chevy makes it clear that the Trax is a car for urban millennials, but, as a millennial, your author can confirm that having convenient places to stick smartphones and other stuff is kind of a big deal.
The most expensive version of the admittedly smaller Mazda CX-3 GT comes with forward collision mitigation – not just alert – automatic high-beams, LED headlights, and adaptive freaking cruise control, along with everything on the Trax aside from Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, for $28,610 (and that’s with extra-cost paint). A fully loaded Honda HR-V sells for almost $2,500 less, if you’re willing to give up a few of those safety features. And the Jeep Renegade Limited, which lists some of the Trax’s safety items as optional extras, is just a smidge more, at $30,005. The bottom end isn’t much better – the Trax starts at $21,895, which is $1,035 more than a base CX-3, $1,630 more than a starter HR-V, and $2,905 more than a Renegade. We won’t break down all the various standard-feature differences on the base cars, but CarPlay and Android Auto are the only major things you’ll miss by choosing a more affordable rival.