Time to make Trax, stage left

Curtain comes down to a polite ripple rather than a standing ovation

ASH WESTERMAN

IF CARS were capable of feeling emotions, I wonder how the Trax would have coped last month. A former Wheels staffer and long-time mate was getting married in Melbourne, so rather than fly down for the wedding, my girlfriend and I decided to drive and make the most of the long weekend by taking the scenic route home to Sydney.

Thing was, I passed over the Trax and borrowed James Whitbourn’s more frugal, way more comfortable Mazda 6 wagon that was nearing the end of its stint on the fleet.

If the Trax could have understood this brushing, would it have been sooking in the garage, hurt and rejected that it had been passed over for one last road trip? Or quietly sighing with relief, perhaps penning me a polite note saying, “Ash, thanks for sparing me that long grind down the Hume, and I would have wilted like a bastard being thrashed over the Alps. Besides, I hate Victorian unleaded.”

I suspect the latter. While there’s nothing to stop a sub-compact SUV taking on a 2000km haul over three days – people have completed way more arduous journeys on horseback, for Chrissake – the fact is it does fall slightly outside the basic design brief.

The bluff front and high ride compromise aero efficiency at freeway speeds, increasing both wind noise and consumption. Higher sustained speeds also expose the effects of the Trax’s chubby sprung weight on a short wheelbase, exaggerating the sharp pitching and heaving of the body over undulations.

So the little Holden sees out its stint where it started, and where it functions best; in the suburbs and on the commuter trail.

Had my Trax time been limited to the blue atmo 1.8 I started with, heartfelt praise would have been difficult. This silver Turbo example has made the overall experience far more positive, as it has ample virtues.

The boost in mid-range response made a big difference to general driveability; it just didn’t translate into much improvement in consumption, which remains a serious weakness. On smoothly surfaced roads, the Turbo LTZ is not devoid of driving enjoyment, and the ride, which still lacks suppleness, was mysteriously not as crashy as that of the atmo Trax wearing 18s.

The reliability of both cars was almost perfect, a faulty volume switch on the atmo car’s steering wheel the only glitch. Plus points common to both are good cabin space within a compact footprint, a commanding driving position, seat comfort, HVAC efficiency and instrument legibility.

My Trax’s last duty during its Wheels’ tour was this month’s small-SUV comparo (see p.78). I’ve not driven its rivals, so I’ll be reading the comparo as eagerly as you.

Regardless of what emerges as the best subcompact SUV, there’s one thing of which I’m pretty certain – none will be better than a similarly priced VW Golf or Mazda 3.

THIRSTY

Consumption is a serious weakness for the Trax considering its size. Our previous atmo averaged 11.4L/100km, this turbo 10.8

Downhill racer

IN THESE days of draconian speed enforcement, where a bloke can be tasered and dragged behind a highway patrol car for a minor velocity indiscretion, a cruise control that can’t hold your preset speed on downhill sections seems a bit like a door lock that opens when a burglar says “open!” When the Trax’s cruise control, pre-set at 60km/h, allowed me to hit 80 on a steep downhill section on a double-demerits weekend, I knew it was time to resume manual control.

HOLDEN TRAX LTZ 1.4 TURBO

Date acquired: December 2014 Price as tested: $30,540 This month: 1652km @ 11.4L/100km Overall: 3024km @ 10.8L/100km