Trax stays on track

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This updated Trax has had exterior changes featuring a sophisticated nose that features a two-piece grille, new bumper design and slimmer headlights, which include integrated LED running lights. Photo: David Thomson

When Holden launched the Trax in 2013, it was, in some respects, a vehicle ahead of its time: a compact sports utility spawned from a front-wheel drive light car platform.

Four years on, the Trax is part of the fastest- growing segment of the passenger-car market, and one that is attracting an array of talented arrivals from all the main manufacturers.

An all-new Trax is probably still a couple of years away, which makes this upgrade of the current machine important for Holden.

This updated Trax is immediately distinguished from its predecessor by a subtle but effective exterior change - the notably bluff snout of the pre-update car has been replaced by a sophisticated nose that features a two-piece grille, new bumper design and slimmer headlights, which include integrated LED running lights.

The manner in which this brings the look of the Trax up to date was nicely showcased on the flagship LTZ Turbo variant Drivesouth sampled. This particular variant, which lists at $36,990 - like the mid-spec LT - is fitted with front fog lights and rides on 215/55 R18 tyres.

The cabin also benefits from a makeover. Although hard-touch surfaces still predominate, the quality of trim materials is much improved. On all versions, the centrepiece of a re-designed fascia is a 7.0-inch centre touchscreen. This is the base for Holden's familiar MyLink infotainment system (now providing Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, as well as Siri-based voice control).

As the range flagship, the LTZ tops the Trax family for standard equipment. In terms of creature comforts, its main point of difference over the LT is leather trim and heated front seats. Other key items shared with the LT are keyless entry and start, auto lights and wipers, along with a sunroof. The LTZ gets safety equipment denied the lesser variants, comprising blindspot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.

One curiosity on a non-4WD compact sport utility was Hill Descent Control. Perhaps this is a Holden in-joke consistent with the company labelling its Trax ‘‘the not so serious SUV''.

The updated cabin combines new-found flair with the practicality that has always been a Trax quality. The array of handy storage cubbies includes varied trays and bins, with no fewer than four cup holders between the front seats alone.

The driver's seat has a small fold-down armrest and, paralleling the Trax's stance, the comfortable driving position is high and fairly upright.

Along with ease of access, good visibility is a key reason for choosing the compact 2WD SUV over a conventional car. The Trax offers this in all but the rear three-quarter direction where, like several of its rivals, the B-Pillar and relatively high waistline can be an issue.

Thankfully, the LTZ has a blind-sport monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert system to augment the reversing camera that is range- standard. Behind the front seats, the Trax is roomy enough, but not a class leader for space or load carrying flexibility. Rear legroom is OK, but taller adults will find the sunroof constrains headroom.

On a positive note, those in the back get a 230-volt powerpoint, as well as cup holders and rear windows which, unlike some on cars of this type, retract all the way down. Boot space is a reasonable and usefully square and deep 356 litres. Split 60:40, the rear seats fold down to create a much larger cavity.

Mechanicals carry over from the pre-facelift Trax, with a 103kW/200Nm 1.4-litre petrol turbo driving the LTZ's front wheels via a six- speed automatic transmission. Producing peak torque from 1850rpm, this motor doesn't need to be revved hard to deliver.

Rather, it is at its best below 3500rpm, a fact that the transmission's shift protocols have clearly been programmed to take into account. There is also manual shift mode, but this is accessed via an awkwardly placed thumb-activated button on the gear lever. Curiosity aside, there is little reason to use it during day-to-day motoring.

Performance is easy-going with decent throttle response for round-town driving and sufficient pep to handle extended open-road trips with ease. Cruising at 100kmh, the test car's engine was ticking over happily at just 2000rpm, with tyre and wind roar the main contributors to noise levels in the cabin.

Holden had a direct hand in fine-tuning the ride and handling of the Trax for this part of the world. The LTZ was an honest and vice- free performer over the most demanding sections of the Drivesouth test route. Unsurprisingly, given it sits on Barina underpinnings, Trax handles exactly as you might expect a tall light car to do: decently mannered, but with some body roll and gentle understeer that builds quite quickly when pressed.

The steering lacks for feel but is light, and it is this lightness that gives the Trax a nimble demeanour around town. So, while there's little to stir the soul with the latest Trax LTZ, it has been usefully updated to tide Holden over in this market segment for the next couple of years.

 

Trax stays on track
At a Glance
HOLDEN TRAX LTZ
Overall: ★★★+
Design and styling: ★★★+
Interior: ★★★+
Performance: ★★★+
Ride/handling: ★★★+
Safety: ★★★★★
Environmental: ★★★★

For: Much improved interior quality, decent features
list and mechanicals.
Against: Cabin lacks flexibility of class-leading rivals.
Verdict: A useful update keeps Trax on track.

SPECIFICATIONS
Price: $36,990
Engine: 1364cc DOHC 16-valve turbocharged
four-cylinder petrol,
maximum power 103kW at 4900rpm;
maximum torque 200Nm at 1850rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Brakes and stability systems: Disc/drum brakes,
ABS, ESC, EBD, TCS, hill start assist
Safety rating: Five-star ANCAP
Wheels, tyres: Alloy wheels, 215/55 R18 tyres
Fuel and economy: 6.9 litres per 100km on
EU combined cycle, capacity 53 litres
Emissions: CO2 163g/km on combined cycle
Dimensions: Length 4278mm, width 1776mm,
height 1674mm