Steely 7-foot tall trucks define the bow-tie brand these days.
When I think “Chevrolet,” I see a big, silver-toothed Silverado steaming down on me at 80 mph, sneering and threatening to brand my backside with that giant yellow Chevy emblem in the grille.
Meanwhile, broad-shouldered Arlington, TX-built Tahoes and Suburbans regularly block the sun in front of me on The Bush, looking bigger than most of the motel rooms I’ve slept in.
But some guppy-shaped subcompact crossover called the Trax?
And a Chevy with a tiny 1.4-liter popcorn motor from a company that builds beastly, road-ripping 650-horsepower Corvettes?
Welcome to the 21st century, kids, an era deeply marked – some might say scarred – by federal fuel-economy standards and their constant push to get small.
As you probably know, the subcompact crossover segment crackles with growth – mostly because the little people-and-cargo haulers get 25-plus mpg, are stylish in a goofy sort of way and cost less than $30,000.
Their relatively low prices attract young and first-time buyers and those sales help offset the real 15-mpg monster-trucks. Just repeat after me: less is more, less is more, less is more…
Actually, you can live pretty large in one of these small boxes because they’re getting better. Honest. (The interior in the Honda HR-V, for instance, is nicer than that in the bigger CR-V, I think.)
While the metallic gray 2017 Trax Premier I had recently didn’t look much different from last year, the new model offers a much-improved interior and other enhancements to keep up with competitors like the Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade and Kia Soul.
It greets the world with a single-bar grille up high abutting large stylish headlamps and stretching above a bigger five-bar grille beneath the “bumper.”
A stubby, sloping hood flowed down onto short front fenders squared off at their tops to give them some much-needed chisel.
Not too surprising, the accommodating front and rear doors accounted for most of the body’s length, which draws its own tension from a curving character line above the door-handles.
A second line below the rear door-handle formed a shoulder atop the Trax’s stubby rear fender and the trucklet rode on good-looking 18-inch alloy wheels wearing 215/55 tires.
Now if we can just get Chevy to put more sizzle beneath the hood.
Smooth with good initial jump, the Trax’s turbocharged motor gets things moving pretty well and holds up fine through the mid-range.
But beyond 4,500 rpm, the engine and well-developed six-speed automatic just couldn’t summon much shove – sort of like me after 30 minutes on the stairmaster.
Hard nudges on the accelerator at 70 were mostly met with a few more decibels of engine noise.
Here’s the biggest issue: Though I had a front-wheel-drive model (all-wheel-drive is optional), my Trax still weighed 3,200 pounds and could rely on only 138-horsepower for motivation.
That’s a little more than 23 pounds per horsepower. Over the years, I’ve found that vehicles with more than 20 pounds of weight per horsepower almost always feel short of beans.
Still, that’s not much less power than competitors like the Honda HR-V offer (141 horses), and the Trax can still trundle to 60 in 9.4 seconds, according to Car and Driver – again, a segment-competitive number.
Subcompact crossovers savor the road rather than gulp it, I guess.
However, the Trax also gets 25-miles per gallon in town and 33 on the highway, meaning you will get to tote the gas can to the nearest station when your buddy’s three-ton Silverado starts sucking fumes.
Maybe the road will have a few curves. While the Trax is no sportster, it seemed nimble and light-footed, turning into curves with a fair amount of confidence.
Moreover, its body didn’t lean much in moderate-speed corners and the steering felt quick and well connected to the road.
Even the Trax’s ride was surprisingly sophisticated for a $27,000 crossover, stepping over bumps quietly with supple grace. Most buyers, though, will be more impressed with the little vehicle’s refurbished interior than its dance moves.
The two-tone environment in mine featured a deep, rolling black dashboard that slid down onto a tan mid-dash area with faux “stitching” on the edges.
Although black plastic accounted for most of the swoopy interior, it felt OK to the touch, with tan inserts and armrests in the door panels and tan centers in the black leatherette seats.
Like most modern General Motors vehicles, the Trax came equipped with a prominent center-stack featuring a 7-inch display-screen, as well as Apple Carplay and Android Auto capabilities.
It also included access to a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Better yet for passengers, the interior felt open and airy for a subcompact, offering good leg and headroom in back.
But can the tiny Trax continue to match the robust growth it enjoyed last year – an impressive 25 percent increase in sales?
I mean, even in our current truck-and-crossover-crazy environment, the Trax is easy to overlook.
I think it can and here’s why: The Trax is a well-developed, nicely executed small vehicle – something GM simply could or would not have done a decade ago.
Photo Credit: Chevrolet