Car reviews - Holden - Trax - LS
Packaging, safety, high driving position, compact dimensions, direct steering, modern media connectivity, interior practicality
Room for improvement
High starting price, knobbly ride over some surfaces, raucous engine when extended, disappointing fuel economy
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22 Nov 2013
Price and equipment
LET’S get one thing straight. The Holden Trax isn’t actually the first sub-compact SUV on sale. Not by a long shot.
That honour doesn’t even belong to the Suzuki Swift-derived SX4, launched here in 2006, and somewhat underrated by most consumers and critics (but not happy owners, tellingly enough).
Instead, cars such as the Honda HR-V of the late 1990s set the trend for micro-sized soft-roaders for the inner-city set. But Holden also had a place among these first-wave early adopters.
Consider the unexpectedly successful (yet now curiously almost forgotten) Suzuki Ignis-based Holden YG (for ‘Y Generation’ – get it?) Cruze AWD of 2001 to 2006. That was a taller-riding B-segment-derived hatchback with lifestyle pretensions.
Is there ever anything truly new under the sun?Now that’s off our chest, we can tell you that the TJ Trax is the first of the next-wave of contenders, spurred into production after the runaway success of the Nissan Juke in Europe and America since 2010.
Along with the new Peugeot 2008, the Holden has narrowly beaten the tardy Juke to market in Australia, and will soon be joined by the Ford EcoSport, as well as Renault’s Captur in mid 2014, so this party is going to become pretty crowded pretty quickly.
Hampering the Barina-based Trax in base-model LS guise as tested here is higher pricing (to the tune of $1500), compared to its French and Japanese competitors.
But at $25,690 plus on-road costs, the Holden gives you a bigger 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox (as opposed to the others’ 200cc smaller unit, paired to a four-speeder in the Peugeot and a CVT in the Nissan).
Furthermore, the LS offers electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, a reversing camera with rear parking sensors, and ISOFIX child-seat anchorage points, as well as Holden’s MyLink multimedia system with a seven-inch colour touchscreen. The latter streams music from the internet via a smartphone connection, as well as via the Bluetooth set-up.
Other features include a rear-seat sited 240-volt power plug (great for recharging laptops), USB ports, cruise control, power windows, daytime running lights, auto on/off headlights, steering wheel mounted controls, 16-inch alloy wheels, and impressive 1200kg braked-trailer towing capacity.
For an extra $510 Holden will sell you an essentials pack that includes carpet mats, mud flaps, a cargo tray, and a cargo net. Metallic paint is $550 while a tow bar is $830.
However, as with the other new wave sub-compact SUVs (and unlike the SX4), no all-wheel drive version of this vehicle is available in Australia for the time being.
So, with its koala-esque nose and Tetris-style blocky design, what is the Trax like, anyway? And is it worth the $1500 premium over some rivals? Interior
One of the most positive aspects of the Trax is its interior design and layout.
Deep front and side windows help instil airiness, aided by lofty seating on firm yet supportive front chairs, as well as large face-level air vents pointing right at you.
Though narrow like a Barina, the amount of cabin space is ample for four adults, while an attractive steering wheel that tilts and telescopes encourages a happy driving position.
Like the Barina, the Trax features simple motorcycle-inspired instrumentation, made up of a large analogue tachometer on one side and a digital display for fuel, speed, and the odometer within an ugly rectangular box on the other. Some people like it, others think the whole set-up looks cheap.
We’re no fans of the unsightly scratchable plastics within the largely useless cavities either side of the central air vents either. And we’re glad for the standard reversing camera, for the C-pillar is wide, restricting vision when parking.
If you’re at all anal retentive about matching graphics, font sizes, and colours, it may annoy you immensely, since there seems to have been no attempt to coordinate these elements in the pod or with the large central screen.
There’s a non-proprietary look to that touchscreen’s look and feel, which dominates the now-familiar Cruze-like console design.
Paired with the MyLink system, it offers audio, telephone, video, and downloadable smartphone app links with Internet music providers Stitcher, Pandora, and TuneIn, as well as a 99c satellite navigation app known as BringGo, which works better than some OEM GPS systems – though a USB cable to your phone is required.
It’s all very-now in its functionality, and probably a compelling reason for some buyers to plonk for the Holden.
Most of it is simple to understand, though the volume buttons are difficult to operate when the vehicle is on the move.
In terms of comfort and support, the rear bench is fine for outboard passengers, but squeezy for three – the Barina DNA can’t be escaped – so it’s best to think of the Trax as a 4+1 seater. Entry and egress if easy, and headroom is sufficient, even for taller folk.
Again, GM’s engineers have worked hard to make it a pleasant place to be despite the base LS’ almost unrelenting monochromatic palette that gives it a low-spec and quite dour feel.
Each door contains no less than three storage spots, with windows that wind all the way down. Our test Labrador appreciated that. There are cupholders, armrests, map pockets behind the front seats, and even an AC 230V household-style outlet for charging stuff – like you might find on an aeroplane.
From a utility point of view, the Trax holds an ace with cushions that tilt forward so the split/fold backrest can drop down with maximum effect.
There are child-seat anchorage points immediately behind the rear bench so load space isn’t compromised, while the cargo floor is sufficiently low despite having a full-sized spare wheel residing underneath. It’s all fairly sizeable for the size of the Trax.
Engine and transmission
Holden says it worked for almost two years to calibrate the drivetrain to suit local conditions.
If you don’t demand anything other than basic urban commuting duties, the Trax’s 1.8-litre four-cylinder Ecotec lump will suffice.
It produces a reasonable 103kW of power at a high 6300rpm and 175Nm of torque at 3800rpm, and feels smooth enough tootling around town or around the suburbs.
In fact, even driving at 100km/h on the flat open road, with the tacho nestled down at 2500rpm, the Trax feels sufficiently endowed for most situations.
But extend the engine beyond 4000rpm – and you must if you want to hit that power maximum – and it becomes noisy and rough, completely discouraging you to press on.
Holden says a lot of time went into tuning the automatic transmission for Australian tastes. And, again, if you don’t push it, the changes occur cleanly and when they ought to.
However the Trax auto is a portly thing at 1371kg, and so plenty of right-foot pedal prodding is necessary to keep the car moving, and the inevitable result is lots of sudden down changes as the wheezy and breathless Ecotec complains hard about having to maintain the pace.
In lieu of a Tiptronic-style tip shift the lever features a thumb-operated toggle switch that’s awkward to use and, really, just a volume button to make the engine sound trashier than it already does.
Heavier than anticipated fuel consumption is the unwelcome upshot, too. Our advice is to leave it in drive and not extend the loud and fatiguing Ecotec unless you absolutely have to.
It is worth noting that the Trax is closely related to the Opel Mokka that was earmarked for Australia before General Motors pulled the plug on the brand Downunder.
Some reports suggest that Holden will release the latter’s 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo engine that was to be a Mokka exclusive later on.
We say bring it on. ASAP.
Ride and handling
The steering is another of the Trax’s better aspects, providing ample lightness at low speeds for easy manoeuvrability (aided by a tight turning circle), and yet with a pleasing amount of response, weight, and feel at higher velocities.
Coupled with a sturdy and stable chassis, the Holden handles corners with pleasing agility and control.
Only through roundabouts or during fast turns does the tallness and higher centre of gravity take their effect, instilling a roly-poly attitude. But overall the Trax’s dynamics instil confidence.
However, the ride quality deteriorates quite rapidly when the road surface does, resulting in too many shocks being transmitted inside. The Continental 205/70 R16 tyres In fact, there is also some degree of tyre roar intrusion, further eroding the Trax’s refinement on anything other than smooth roads. Add the raucous Ecotec engine, and this Holden can be quite the noisy machine.
Safety and servicing
The Trax comes with Holden’s capped price servicing scheme, valid for up to four standard scheduled visits, for the first three years or 60,000km. Price is $185 per service.
The warranty period is for three years or 100,000km, while the car earns a solid five-star ANCAP crash-test result.
The Trax has been awarded a five-star crash-test rating in the Australasian New Car Assessment Program.
Holden ought to be applauded for not only being one of the sub-compact SUV forerunners in this country, but for also palpably improving the basic German/American/Korean product for Australian tastes.
And make no mistake. Spacious, modern, and ‘connected’, the Trax is a solid effort considering its basic Barina/Opel Corsa base, ticking many of the boxes important to the intended demographic – namely youngsters and Empty Nesters.
But the entry-level LS price is steep while the drivetrain uninspiring as well as unrefined.
Nevertheless, we can see it succeeding. Holden has been in this space before with the YG Cruze, after all.
Nissan Juke ST CVT (from $23,990 plus on-roads).
Nissan really put the sub-compact SUV onto the global map, thanks to bold styling, great marketing and pert proportions. It’s also easy to drive and economical to own, though the design won’t be to everybody’s taste.
Peugeot 2008 Active 1.6 VTi auto (from $24,990 plus on-roads).
Look past the outrageously dated four-speed auto and the 2008 will impress with its good looks, spacious packaging, innovative dashboard, sharp steering and eager handling.
Suzuki SX4 Crossover 2.0 CVT (from $20,990 plus on-roads).
A bargain at this price despite the Suzuki’s advancing years, since the SX4 comes with ample power, a smooth drivetrain and airy interior. But road noise and a firm ride detract, while the cabin feels dated.
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