First drive: 2013 Chevrolet Trax

First drive: 2013 Chevrolet Trax

Chevrolet may call its self "inventor of the SUV", but Britain has never really taken to the firm's offerings. Will their new Qashqai-sized model, the Trax, change that? AOL Cars is in Croatia to find out.

What is it?
The Chevrolet Trax – a diddy SUV that sits somewhere between Nissan's Qashqai and Juke in terms of size. Bizarrely, it's also only the second 4x4 ever to be sold by Chevrolet over here in the last decade – showing just how little we're interested in the sort of Yank Tanks they sell in other markets. If you thought it looked familiar too, then it probably does – it shares quite a few bits and pieces with Vauxhall's Mokka, which went on sale a couple of months ago.

What's under the bonnet?
A trio of engines nicked from the rest of Chevrolet's and Vauxhall's ranges. We drove two: a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol with 138bhp, and a 1.7-litre VCDi diesel with 128bhp. We hate to say it, but we didn't really like either – the petrol is just a bit on the coarse side, while the diesel wasn't much better. Of the two we'd be tempted to say that the 1.7 VCDi suited the car best – giving the Trax the feel of a scaled-down 4x4, and providing plenty of torque up hills and on the motorway.

There's also a 112bhp 1.6 petrol in entry-level cars and, although we haven't been offered a go in one, we don't have high hopes – the spec sheet suggests that it's both slow and inefficient.
What's the spec like?

Not bad at all. 16 inch alloys, air conditioning, parking sensors, automatic headlights and Bluetooth are all thrown in on the basic LS model. There's also a handy rear three-pin power socket that should make charging laptops on the move possible.

This is the first car to come equipped with Chevrolet's MyLink – a system that's a bit like Ford's SYNC, albeit not quite as sophisticated. The stereo gets binned in favour of a decent-sized touch screen that controls everything from music to the sat nav, and it certainly looks the part. It and a rear-view camera are thrown in for free on the LT trim, too – fairly generous compared to the sort of kit Vauxhall offers in even top-of-the-range Mokkas.

It does have its quirks, though. In order to keep the price low, Chevrolet have been quite canny – chopping out the bits and pieces that make normal in-car systems expensive. Sat nav for example is powered through the driver's smart phone – MyLink simply then displays it all on a nice big screen in the centre of the car. Still, it works reasonably well, so why not?

Chevrolet Trax
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First drive: 2013 Chevrolet Trax

Any rivals?

We'd put the Mokka as the Trax's biggest rival – and one that it's easy to beat on pricing alone. We think the Trax looks better, too – with Chevy's chunky corporate front suiting the car more than Vauxhall's slightly fussy one.

Aside from that, Nissan's Qashqai and Juke are certainly worth a look – managing a good balance of handling and comfort combined with chunky looks. There's no faulting Nissan's engine range, either – something that can't be said of Chevrolet. The Skoda Yeti is also a decent contender, as is Mitsubishi's ASX – both probably more capable off-road too.

What's it like to drive?

This is where things fall apart just a tad. The Trax suffers from a strange mix of a slightly firm ride and distinctly wobbly handling, meaning that you're neither particularly soothed or thrilled. Chevrolet have hinted to various parties that this is likely to change for the UK, though – with right hand drive cars set to have re-engineered suspension.

However, that still won't change the fact that the Trax's engines are a bit past their best before dates. The 1.4 Turbo needs to be worked hard, for example, and does like to make a racket above 3,500 RPM. Opt for the 1.7 diesel, drive in a relaxed manner and you'll be fine – but rivals like the Qashqai 1.6 dCi are still more refined and punchy.

The AOL Cars verdict

The Trax is a strangely charming beast. Ok, so its handling might not be inspiring, and the engine range might be ripe for replacement at this point, but it's a perfectly pleasant thing to drive around and we think it looks great too.

We even like the interior. Cheap as some as the plastics may be, none of it is badly built and at least it looks funky – something you can't say about many of its rivals, whose insides are very dull indeed by comparison.

Would we have one over a Qashqai? Perhaps not. Over a Mokka? Definitely.

The knowledge
Model: Chevrolet Trax 1.7 VCDi AWD LT
Price: £20,495 (as tested)
Engine: 1.7 litre, 4-cylinder diesel
Power: 128bhp, 300Nm
Max speed: 117mph
0-60mph: 10.5 seconds
MPG: 57.6 mpg (combined)
Emissions: 129 g/km CO2
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