Trafficking without the offence

Trax navigates the urban snarls without anyone getting lynched

ASH WESTERMAN

SYDNEY is known as the Emerald City, and thereís no question she is a glittering seductress who tempts with her great beauty and promise of opportunity. But the Sydney Iím seeing is increasingly more like a mutant red-eyed taipan that snakes into the distance, a snarl of brake lights and bumpers and smartphone-distracted drivers moving at a glacial pace.

Most big cities have traffic problems, and Sydney can surely consider itself a proper player. Itís become one of those dull, default conversations, much like property prices, where everyone has a personal-worst journey time sure to trump the next person: ďGet this; it took me 55 minutes to travel seven kilometres to work the other day, and there wasnít even a breakdownÖ and did you know that a garden shed in my street sold for $1.2 million blah blab blahÖĒ You get the point.

Itís in these tailback conditions that any fundamental flaws Ė in powertrain take-up, an awkward seating position or pretty much anything, really Ė can send you postal.

I remember doing a two-hour bumper-tobumper crawl at the end of a long weekend in, well, letís just say a premium hatch from within the VW Group. Its dual-clutch transmission was so dopey in its calibration, so lurching in low-speed operation, that I quietly wanted to pull over, set fire to the thing and walk home.

Thankfully the little Trax suffers from no such low-speed retardation. Itís actually pretty well behaved in the daily grind, especially the nicely calibrated throttle tip-in, which sees the engine respond with complete linearity to the initial application of the go pedal. Likewise the transmissionís upshift calibration, where the first-to-second change occurs pretty much exactly where youíd opt for it if you had manual control. (At higher road speeds, especially on downhill gradients, itís often reluctant to upchange, so letís not get too carried away with love for the six-speed torque convertor autoÖ). The seat, its high-ish position, and the surprisingly punchy audio system also help to make the inevitable traffic snarls something survivable.

The biggest shortcoming, as Iíve mentioned previously, is the lack of torque in stop-start driving. Just keeping up with the traffic flow on inclines, or making it into that gap thatís perfectly Trax-sized, means weighing in with plenty of throttle, to the detriment of consumption.

Can a turbo come to the rescue? Iím about to find out as this blue atmo 1.8 Trax makes way for a silver 1.4 turbo jigger, bristling with 200Nm of twisting goodness.

HOLDEN TRAX LTZ

Date acquired: July 2014 Price as tested: $30,320 This month: 1134km @ 11.6L/100km Overall: 4152km @ 11.4L/100km acq mo

Evil comes in many forms

UP UNTIL a few days ago, the Trax had delivered a zerofault performance, if we overlook a few rattles and buzzes from cabin plastics. That perfect score slipped when I went to lower the audio volume via the rocker switch on the wheel. It depressed once, then locked solid, leaving my Axemen of Evil playing at a level no-one should have to sit through, and me quickly stabbing at the Down arrow on the touchscreen.

SENIOR MOMENT

Old Ecotec 1.8 and six-speed auto work well in town, but noisy and breathless when asked to tackle hilly conditions