Perception and reality head in different directions when the spotlight falls on the smallest of small sports utilities and crossovers.
Which means no-one should be surprised that the latest addition to the soft-roader ranks cold-shoulders the broader four-wheel-drive diesel SUV convention by showing up solely in petrol, front-drive form.
Holden has hard data to reinforce why it believes the Trax, a low to mid-$30,000 offering set to slip beneath the Captiva Five on its arrival in late September, will be exactly as customers want it.
Distillation of a stats-heavy presentation for this new global model, a spin-off from a Barina base, boils down to the following: In the car's Tasman Sea-bisected primary markets, sports utilities are big. Of the 110,000 new vehicles expected to be sold in New Zealand this year, no fewer than 30% will have an outdoorsy look.
As for the ''small'' SUV sector? Well, that name is a bit of a misnomer; the current cars are basically bigger than the Trax. Strictly speaking, GM's offering belongs in a just emerging sub-compact grouping that within six months will also contain the Ford EcoSport out of India and Peugeot's new 2008.
Anyway, they're all going to be appreciated.
The SUV sector has been a gold mine; and the ''small'' SUV sector as we currently know it is running at especially brisk pace - its 21% slice of that overall SUV cake is the biggest single piece.
We want more, but not to the same recipe; small SUV buyers apparently don't want diesel and nor do they care for all-paw ability. It's all about the look. Holden New Zealand boss Jeff Murray says front drive has accounted for 54% of this year's sales to date, while petrol preference is at 82%. And, yes, an urban take-up is also dominant.
That's been enough to dictate how the Trax is fettled for this part of the world. While this model elsewhere has four-wheel-drive - and that is not being discounted for future entry here - for now as a Holden it's rendered purely as a front-drive, six-speed auto 1.8-litre petrol. Mud-logical hill descent control and hill start assist system only remain because removal would be fiddly and expensive.
So, it's really not a small SUV at all - despite what Holden says - so much as a tall-standing hatchback. Certainly, it won't go any further off road than one of those.
It's a friendly-looking critter with flared arches, raked roof and a sharp window line, and the interior shows pleasing flair with a centre screen, analogue/digital instrument cluster and some silvered highlights diverting attention from hard plastics and Barina-plucked control stalks.
The LTZ is set to take most sales, although the $2500 premium over the LS is questionable. With BringGo, full electrics, air-conditioning, automatic headlights with daytime running lights, reversing camera and rear sensors, the entry car is loaded. Do you really need a trip computer that does little, an under-seat tray and the leather upgrade delivering shiny hide and harder, less form-fitting seats?
Here's something I've never seen in a car of any type before: A 240 volt three-point electrical socket, just like those in any home, at the back of the centre console. Because? While we're used to operating small phone-sized devices from USB inputs, apparently it's thought some owners might appreciate larger appliances; they specify laptops but Holden folk also mention having tried out hair straighteners and shavers, hopefully while not on the move. Will small fingers poke in other objects? There's no childsafe latch on the fragile cover plate.
More appealing to me is a new app for the MyLink telematics portal for entertainment features. Beyond the core ''smart'' features of online music and news features, the Trax delivers BringGo, an in-car navigation using your smartphone as a storage device for an inexpensive mapping download. Equally friendly to Android and Apple, BringGo interfaces with the dashboard display's touchscreen controls. It's not a vending machine for expensive 3G data use and is unaffected if phone reception dies.
This kind of forward thinking should be appreciated by the primary customer focus: young, well-funded extroverts and start-up families bunging in baby seats (into ISOfix mounts) if not the other target group, of older folk seeking a high hip point and elevated seating security.
It's a shame the Trax's forward thinking isn't carried through to the engine bay. Dating back to the 1990s, the 1.8 is GM's oldest four-cylinder by far. Installation here is undoubtedly a cost-effective convenience (it's made in Korea, as is the Trax), but weak off-line thrust, poor mid-range muscle, fussy to frenetic transmission interaction and a harsh note are known 1.8 Cruze spoilers that continue.
It would be more satisfying with the 132kW/230Nm 1.4 turbo - a mainstay for the Trax's Opel equivalent, the Mokka - or the 103kW/200Nm 1.6 the Cruze has recently moved up to.
They're more refined, more spirited, more modern and more efficient but, suggests Holden, more expensive to implement. Maybe so, but look at the potential on-road saving; the 1.4's impressive 6.8 litres per 100km average claimed for the Cruze, for instance, would surely improve in the lighter Trax.
At 4278mm long (on a 2555mm wheelbase) and 1776mm wide, the Trax is smaller than many of its segment rivals - the Mitsubishi ASX and Nissan Juke up to the SsangYong Korando and Hyundai iX35 - yet the cabin, while more comfy for four adults than five, by virtue of its extra height, offers pretty good rear leg and headroom. Lifting the tailgate reveals a 356-litre boot; this and the modest 1200kg towing capacity (with a kit still under development) are more in keeping with its size.
With MacPherson struts complemented by a torsion beam at the rear and the braking system comprising front ventilated discs and rear drums, don't take the ''sport'' part of SUV too literally.
Dynamics differ according to grade: the LTZ is firm enough for surface imperfections to transmit through the steering and sometimes jolt backseat passengers, while the LS is more compliant but loses out on some of the flagship's handling edge.
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