You might assume that a car with a quintessentially American name like Chevrolet would begin life in the U.S. marketplace. But that would be a risky assumption in these global times, especially if you are talking about the Trax, Chevy's nifty and new small SUV.
When the Trax begins appearing in U.S. showrooms this month, the United States will become the 67th country where this affordable subcompact crossover is sold. It is already peddled in Europe, Asia and Australia, as well as Mexico and Canada.
Designed primarily by General Motors of Europe and styled largely by the company's Korean subsidiary, the Trax doesn't mark the first time GM has borrowed from its foreign automakers for home-market consumption; the European-born Cadillac Catera and Saturn Astra come to mind. But I don't remember any of them making so many stops before they got here.
You can, of course, argue that while the Trax debuts as a 2015 model, it has been here since 2013, wearing a more upmarket disguise. The Trax, it turns out, is the corporate cousin of the Buick Encore, with which it shares its structure and mechanicals. Happily, for the youthful audience at which it is aimed, the useful and economical Trax's starting price of $20,995 is $4,000 beneath that of the more deluxe Encore. (And for only $1,500 more, they can graduate from front-drive to all-wheel-drive.)
The Trax finally got here for an obvious reason, suggests Al Manzor, the engineer in charge of adapting this global car to Americans' needs, tastes and roads: "We saw how successful the Encore was here and the Trax in Canada."
The short, maneuverable Trax will be pitched as an ideal urban steed. Its audience is obviously perceived as a young one. Steve Majoros, Chevy's high priest of marketing, told me the media buys would be directed at a college-educated crowd between 24 and 34 that skews female and earns $55,000 a year. Obviously, some marketing research is involved in these demographic conclusions, but I can't help thinking some of it derives from the seat of the marketer's pants.
But, as I learned during a recent press introduction, there is a lot about the Trax to appeal to young people with very average incomes. In addition to a low price, it offers good fuel economy. The front-drive model has EPA mileage ratings of 26 city and 34 highway, while the all-wheel-driver is 24 and 31. The front-driver's 34 highway is best in segment.
Although it is a diminutive 168.5 inches long, the Trax is relatively tall and wide, leaving it surprisingly roomy and airy. Cargo room with all seats up is 18.7 cubic feet, suitable for a large sedan. Fold the rear seat down and storage grows to 48.4 cubic feet. Fold the front passenger seat flat and you can get something eight feet long in there.
The Trax also has a number of standard connectivity features, including OnStar 4G LTE with a built-in WiFi hotspot that slashes data charges. Among the car's 15 storage areas is a two-tier glove box whose upper tier contains a USB port and auxiliary jack.
The safety scene is also well-covered with measures such as 10 airbags and a standard rear camera.
I drove the Trax in both its front- and all-wheel drive configurations. Handling was competent, the ride a bit firm. The cabin was reasonably quiet.
But with a 1.4-liter, 138-horsepower turbo and a six-speed automatic, a speedster the Trax was not.