New Trax ticks the day-to-day boxes
The SUV market has been the quickest-growing segment in New Zealand, with the compact SUV selling even more quickly than the segment in general.
|AT A GLANCE|
|Drivetrain: Transverse, front-mounted, 2WD 16V DOHC petrol four, with six-speed automatic.|
|Output: 1.8-litre petrol – 103kW at 6300rpm, 178Nm at 3800rpm, 174kmh, 0-100kmh 12.3secs, 6.5L/100km, 153g/km CO2.|
|Chassis: Front MacPherson struts, rear torsion beams. Electric rack-and-pinion power steering. Vented front, solid rear disc brakes.|
|Safety: Front, side, and curtain airbags, ESP, ABS, traction control, rear parking sensors.|
|Dimensions: L 4248mm, W 1797mm, H 1674mm, W/base 2555mm, Weight 1287-1429kg, Fuel 52L.|
|Pricing: Holden Trax LS $32,990. LTZ $35,490.|
|Hot: Cute styling and stance; nice dynamics; commendable space; even the base model is loaded with tech.|
|Not: Daft name. Not the best engine in the world, top-spec wheels harden up its ride.|
|Verdict: Talented newcomer steals a march on Ford's tardy EcoSport and deserves to do well.|
Thus, many of the light SUVs in the marketplace are now coming into showrooms as two-wheel drives, with the added attractions of lighter weight and an easier sticker price. This makes sense, as paying for something you may never use or need is a bit silly, while there are additional savings created by the weight loss, as fewer kilograms to carry around means less fuel consumption and emission.
In fact, in the new sub-compact SUV bracket, many crossover models have similar consumption and emission levels to the hatchbacks whose platforms supply the basis for their designs.
The new GM Mokka - already being built as a Chevrolet, Opel, Vauxhall and Buick based on the North American Aveo model - is known as the Barina in this part of the world. It now comes to New Zealand as the Holden Trax, and enters the market at not much more than the price of a family hatch. It is the first cab off the rank in a new small-SUV segment which in the next year or so will attract offerings from local rival Ford, as well as from a raft of Japanese, Korean and European companies.
It's at least six months ahead of Ford's Indian-built EcoSport, the Renault Captur and Peugeot 2008 models and competes most directly at the moment with the Nissan Juke, Hyundai iX35, Kia Sportage and Skoda Yeti.
It will be a front-wheel-drive vehicle only, with a single six-speed automatic 1.8-litre powertrain, in $32,990 LT and $35,490 LTZ versions, both of which feature huge, app-laden specification levels featuring Holden's new BringGo satellite navigation system, a reversing camera and rear parking sensors, along with the MyLink multimedia system that can stream music from the internet via a smartphone connection.
The car was launched this week at the same time that news came through that it had been awarded a five-star crash safety rating. The Trax has front, side and curtain airbags, stability control, traction control, ABS and a pair of Isofix child seat fittings on the rear outboard seats.
Despite the absence of an all-wheel-drive version - they're not available with this powertrain, evidently - the Trax does take hill descent control and a hill holder.
Both cars get air conditioning, a 18cm touchscreen, an audio system with a Bluetooth phone connection, USB connectivity, automatic headlights with daytime running lights, and a leather-trimmed steering wheel with control buttons. Both cars get alloy wheels as standard, the LS gets 40cm items, while the LTZ gets 46cm.
The Trax also has a world's first 240-volt, 150-watt three-pin plug power source in the rear centre console, which could be handy for using or charging light-duty electrical items without the need for special adaptors. We'd expect this to start a trend which, if Holden has sense, will include the rest of its product range.
LTZ adds heated front seats, plusher cabin trim called Sportec, which does a good impression of leather, fog lamps, a trip computer and a pull-out storage tray under the front passenger seat.
The Trax is developed from the Barina platform and uses the same recently refined engine and transmission as the Cruze range, producing 103kW at a 6300rpm and a maximum of 175Nm of torque at 3800rpm - just 1kW and 1Nm less than it produces in the Cruze.
Holden claims a 7.6 litres per 100 kilometre fuel economy rating for the Trax. The Australian range includes a manual version which manages 7.6L/100km.
The single powertrain is not going to change in the initial cycle for this model, says Holden, though we cannot rule out the possibility of diesel and other petrol powertrains in the future. It all depends on how well the car sells in New Zealand and Australia in its 1.8-litre guise, and how much more punters will be prepared to pay for turbo-diesel and turbopetrol power units which might offer more performance but will ask potential owners to fork out more cash for the privilege of having it on tap. That's without factoring in the extra cost of all-wheel-drive.
The new Trax range, which is built in Bupyeoung, South Korea, will reach showrooms in September, and from a few hundred kilometres behind the wheel of the two specification levels, we can report that in some areas the car is outstandingly good, and in a few mildly disappointing.
From the equipment level we have already priced and described, there's no doubt that the car offers good value, and from an initial walk-around, there is no sign of penny-pinching to get to its sticker levels.
Clever styling makes the car seem smaller than it is, with neatly crafted creases and swages over the front and rear wheel blisters and plastic protection along the sills and arches, imparting a chunky character that's almost toyish in its execution. Having said that, the front treatment is deep and solid looking, with a neatly Holdenised five-point grille and side vents below that have driving lights set into them in the higher grade LTZ model.
The side profile is cinched together visually by the roofrails featured on all New Zealand Trax models, while the hatch-line is angled forward from vertical, restricting ultimate load space as a result, and this is reflected inside, where it feels like the rear passenger space and comfort are each felt to be more important than luggage volume.
The LTZ's 46cm alloy rims fill the wheel arches well, but the LT version's 40cm items are attractive, too, and as we found, provided a much better ride quality, without discernably affecting the car's handling and cornering ability.
Inside, soft grey, smooth-to-the-touch plastics dominate the cabin, with convincing textures on the dash top, inner door panels and console area. The number of buttons featured on the dash and console is small, mainly because many functions are now taken care of through the standard 18cm touch screen and using apps like Stitcher, TunIn and BringGo to collate radio stations, music lists and navigate via your Smartphone was disarmingly simple and a full generation ahead of any comparable Japanese offerings.
The front seats are commodious and well-shaped, while the rear pair, which offered excellent legroom, kept me - a solid 1.88m frame - comfortable for the two hours I spent in the back of the car. The three-pin household-style plug in the rear cabin end of the centre console is useful - you can charge your laptop without the need to use an adaptor and even use a hair-dryer, though you wouldn't want to plug in a powerboard and try your electric chainsaw or ironing board.
That rear cabin space is obviously using some volume that the load area would have enjoyed, as we were only able to accommodate three persons' luggage, and that was only by giving over half the back seat for some of it. You get the feeling that an adjustable fore-and-aft rear seat arrangement (Toyota used this for the first Echo model) would give users some extra people/luggage flexibility.
Stowage for bits and bobs is available in every door, as well as in the centre console and two gloveboxes.
The upper glovebox contains a USB port and auxiliary input jack, as many cars do these days, but Holden goes a step further, lining the base with a soft, grippy, rubber mat, so that annoying rattle of a loose iPhone will not be a problem.
There's a rubber-lined slot each side of the touch screen for loose things like change: a clever touch that shows the level of detailing that has gone into the car.
In Europe, the Trax and its Mokka sibling are available with a choice of 1.7 turbo-diesel, 1.4 turbo-petrol and 1.6 normally aspirated petrol engines, but the Australasian markets have to make do with the old 1.8-litre Cruze motor, albeit in its latest form. The unit has its origins in the 90s and has never supplied rocketship performance in anything that has used it.
With each of the Trax models I drove this week having clocked up as little as 50km, the cars could be forgiven for being a little tight. Even in an age, when the phrase "running in" is hardly heard, most engines don't give their best until at least a 1000km.
However, the stock six-speed automatic shuffles well through its ratios, and for most intents and purposes in everyday running, the car feels crisp and quiet, and as readers will explain to me, not everyone is hard on the throttle or runs their engines to the red line all the time, particularly those with SUVs.
The engine appears to live up to its posted 7.6L/100km economy rating, as it should with a pleasingly long-legged final drive that gives the car a 2450rpm 100kmh speed limit cruising gait.
It's especially quiet when fitted with the base model's 40cm rims, which rode over the coarse chip portion of our road route with little transfer of road noise and no harsh bump-thump on holes and rills in broken surfaces.
That couldn't be said of the LTZ model's sporty 46cm items, which felt unsettled where the LT was unfazed, transferring more shock and noise to the cabin.
Both the LT and LTZ handled well, with the cars' turn-in crisp and tidy with good communication coming through the wheelrim with none of that "dead" area when moving from the straight ahead that still occurs with some electric power-steering units.
The Trax has good grip with either wheel size and the car felt especially solid and well-planted on the fire-road type offroad sections of our test. This did have us wondering how the all-wheel-drive version of the car would go, but that question, according to Holden will never be answered, as there are no plans to offer the system Down Under.
It's the same with the other engine choices, and you can see Holden's point. Most people are going for the height, the view and the accommodation in cars like this, long before offroad ruggedness is considered.
Australian research has it the Trax will appeal to younger, more active customers than the Cruze hatch on which it is based. It will probably do that in New Zealand, too, but this writer also sees empty-nesters behind the wheel of this car.
The superb level of tech will appeal to the older driver as much as the young one, and we'd expect to see the nation's dog parks dotted with Traxes, with that three-pin plug into which Rover's leccy blanket could be plugged.
The Trax is close to perfect for the school run drop-off, with good front and rear seating, good driver height for spotting parking spaces and viewing traffic, while for weekend family outings there's enough clever stuff built into the car to make sure that the inevitable "are we there yet?" is well delayed.
It's an engaging new offering, the Trax. I do have misgivings about the top model's ride quality, and the absence of a turbo-diesel and all-wheel-drive irks a bit. But the model is good to look at, pleasingly refined, ticks the day-to-day boxes for its potential owners and a few more besides - I can't wait to get my dog to test it.
It's also cheaper than most C-segment five-door hatches, with more embedded equipment as standard, even in base form, than anything else in its price bracket.
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