Car reviews - Holden - Trax - LTZ 1.4 turbo
Strong engine/transmission combination, good driver's view, comfortable seating, generous spaces
Room for improvement
Over-assisted steering, twitchy handling, cabin rattles and noises
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6 Jan 2015
Price and Equipment
The newest addition to the Trax line-up comes in at the top of the pack sharing all of the equipment of the 1.8-litre LTZ, but the 1.4 LTZ's lighter, more efficient and more torquey engine has a $1500 premium over the normally aspirated version, and is priced at $29,990 before on-road costs.
Moving down to the entry-level 1.8 LS Trax saves $6000 but that variant forfeits the turbocharged engine, automatic transmission and a chunk of standard equipment.
Standard gear in the flagship Trax includes an electric sunroof, chrome exterior highlights, fog-lights, rain-sensing wipers, trip computer, its 18-inch wheels are two inches larger than the LS spec hoops and the interior is trimmed in leather-look vinyl that Holden calls Sportec.
That list of kit might not be palatial, but it is in line with its rivals at the smaller end of the segment – think the Ford EcoSport and Nissan Juke – but the same cash does open up beefier albeit entry-level possibilities from manufacturers like Skoda and its Yeti, the XV from Subaru or the Mitsubishi ASX.
Drivers of the Trax will appreciate the electrically adjustable and heated front seats which are supportive and offer an excellent view of surroundings – including rear passengers – that even some larger SUVs would struggle to match.
Narrow A-pillars and tall windows create an airy feel to the cabin even if its skinny and lofty proportions take some getting used to.
With a respectable 356-litre boot with rear seats in place or a generous 785 litres with the back row folded, the Trax has Tardis-like interior dimensions.
About a meter of headroom in both front and rear seats, 1037mm of front legroom and 908mm in the back makes the Trax a comfortable place to be for most adults and a breeze when lugging a load of kit.
A good selection of cubbies and storage pockets adds to the cabin versatility, while the use of tough and straightforward materials will probably withstand attack from pets and children admirably.
With a high hip-height, simple interior operations and wide-opening doors, the Trax would be easy to live with if loading and unloading people and things is a regular occurrence.
The subtle tones and understated interior design do the job of any utilitarian car well, remaining comfortable and pleasant without being too showy. Even if the imitation leather seats or interior trims did sustain some damage in the course of duty, the considerate construction and design would hide minor incidents.
Despite seemingly robust and durable construction, on even relatively smooth surfaces the Trax's interior periodically clicked and rattled with a variety of unwelcome noises.
Information and entertainment systems were easy to access through Holden's constantly improving MyLink system and the 7.0 inch touchscreen looked generously proportioned in the narrow Trax dash.
Despite the likable touchscreen, Siri voice command technology, Bluetooth connectivity and application-based services, the Trax is not available with built-in navigation.
The motorcycle-like instrument cluster is a feature we were pleased to see carried over from the Barina interior, which looks modern and innovative without being too gimmicky.
Engine and transmission
The engine of the newest Trax variant is its defining feature offering an alternative to the larger, heavier 1.8-litre atmo, and its 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder is identical to the one that powers the hugely fun Barina RS.
Coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission, the 103kW/200Nm unit gets the Trax moving without complaint or cause for concern but sadly, with the extra 146kg of weight, the fizz of the warm Barina has been lost.
Its note is not as musical as the hatchback and any sporty sounds have been drowned out by a more strenuous whine which made us avoid the redline.
As a combination, the engine and transmission is a really fine pairing with slick shifting and intuitive operation but any sporty bloodline to the Barina has been severed and the likable engine has become just another four-cylinder in the Trax.
Holden claims a combined fuel consumption of 6.9 litres per 100km and we managed a figure close to that with 7.1L/100km as the result of normal driving behaviour.
Ride and handling
At low speeds the diminutive dimensions of the Trax and its elevated posture are a key advantage about town, allowing confident manoeuvring and safe negotiation of busy traffic.
We enjoyed sneaking through gaps that would scratch the paint of other high-riders and stealing parking spaces only the compact or foolhardy would attempt.
Higher speeds and more suburban motoring started to reveal the little SUV's weaknesses though, and its over-assisted steering and twitchy handling were both frustrating and distracting.
With very little steering feedback and featherweight feel it was hard to monitor what the front end was up to, necessitating erratic corrective steering instructions.
Its skinny track, almost Group-B rally car wheelbase and high centre of gravity make the Trax a difficult vehicle to drive smoothly with involuntary small changes of direction followed by annoying body roll.
We certainly aren't the first to say it, but this is the result when you take a fine handling car chassis and jack it up to the height of an SUV without major changes to the track or wheelbase.
While its height has grown by nearly 160mm over the Barina hatch on which it is based, the track has only increased by about 40mm, and its wheelbase has an even more modest 30mm added to its length.
Despite its higher ground clearance, the Trax LTZ wears a lower front apron to give it a sportier look but this extra bodywork removes some of the advantages of a higher ride-height, and we found it fouled the ground over only mild speed-humps and slopes.
Realistically, most crossover owners wouldn't ever consider taking their vehicles over anything more ambitious than a molehill but even that might prove too much for the Trax.
It is becoming increasingly rare to find drum brakes fitted to the rear axle of a vehicle even in lightweight segments and while the Trax coped fine with unloaded heavy braking, its generous storage areas could easily add significant weight potentially putting strain on the more primitive rear brakes.
We would have prefered to see the more efficient disc brakes as fitted to the Barina RS on the back end of the Trax for those occasions when its seats or luggage area are fully loaded.
Passengers have a more rewarding experience in the Trax with a compliant ride over most surfaces, but the LTZ's larger 18-inch wheels had a tendency to crash over more intrusive imperfections occasionally interrupting the otherwise respectable comfort.
Safety and servicing
All variants of the Holden Trax get a good list of safety gear with all of the mandatory electronic stability tricks including ESC, EBD and ABS, plus a descent control system for mild off-road work and six airbags with full-length curtain bags for rear occupant protection.
The little SUV scored highly in the Australasian New Car Assesment Program (ANCAP) with a full five-star rating and 35.18 points out of a possible 37.
Whiplash and pedestrian protection were listed as acceptable but side-impact protection is the Trax's strongest point with a full 16 out of 16 awarded.
Holden offers capped price servicing on all lion-badged vehicles including the Trax, which covers the first four scheduled services, the first three years of ownership or 60,000km. It will also chuck in a free 3000km inspection.
With the exception of Audi's RS Q3 and the GLA45 AMG from Mercedes-Benz, there isn’t really anything in the small crossover segment that is deserving of the S in SUV – certainly not at the smallest end of the class – and the Holden Trax is no different.
A high centre of gravity and small footprint can't defy physics and will always result in a road manner that struggles to keep up with a car of similar dimensions, but if you are after the minimal advantages of a small crossover then the Trax does everything as well as its rivals.
Its voluminous cabin will swallow people and things with ease and its comfortable seating position will put you eye to eye with all other SUV drivers and you won't be paying over the odds for it.
However, Mazda's baby SUV is on its way here and while pricing is yet to be announced it is unlikely the CX-3 package of likable styling, nimble chassis and a diesel or petrol engine choice will be priced far from the current competitors.
For now though, the Holden Trax 1.4 LTZ is an adequate car, good for light-load work about town offering low-cost and low-hassle day-to-day motoring.
Skoda Yeti Ambition 90TSI $28,290
The curiously named Yeti is a little larger than the Trax but for the same money as the top-spec 1.4 LTZ, Skoda offers a little prestige and more genuine off-road promise with four-wheel drive.
Nissan Juke $22,090 - $32,490
Nissan's offering in the segment has a more rewarding road manner and looks that may be love or hate but will certainly get you noticed. Your budget will have to stretch to the flagship Ti-S for a turbocharged engine and 4WD.
Ford EcoSport $20,790 – $25,790
With cheeky proportions and looks the Ford baby crossover is slightly smaller in size to the Trax but in top-spec trim the EcoSport gets a good list of kit, an attractive asking price and the excellent 1.0-litre turbo three-cylinder with almost the same output as the 1.4-litre Trax.
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