Back when there was only a glimmer of hope that the small SUV segment would really take off, the Holden Trax lobbed as one of the first contenders in the class.
In 2013 the Trax competed against the dud Ford EcoSport, ordinary Mitsubishi ASX, flawed Nissan Juke, and underdone Suzuki S-Cross. You may have gathered by now that the class was fairly 'green' at the time. Only the Peugeot 2008 impressed.
Then the $20,000 to $30,000 high-riding pumped-hatchback segment started to flourish, first with the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3 in 2015, then with the Toyota CH-R this year.
For the Trax, though, it's facelift time. Behind the restyled face the anaemic 1.8-litre non-turbo engine has been ditched for a 1.4-litre turbo in all automatic versions. A reconfigured cabin also scores a new infotainment system and extra kit. But is this facelift on-point enough to keep Holden's littlest SUV on-Trax for class leadership?
Vehicle Style: Small SUV
Price: $26,490 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 103kW/200Nm 1.4 turbo petrol four-cylinder | six-speed automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.7 l/100km | Tested: 8.7 l/100km
Holden's 1.8-litre non-turbo four-cylinder clearly shows more spirit and determination facing death than it ever had in life. After serving in Astra and Cruze models over two decades, the ancient and noisy unit is only now only installed in the five-speed manual Trax LS, at $23,990 plus on-road costs.
Picking the six-speed automatic Trax LS (as tested here) now requires forking out $26,490 (plus orc) – $300 higher than before, but now with a 1.4-litre turbo upgrade previously reserved for the $30K flagship.
In addition to the 16-inch alloy wheels, leather-wrapped steering wheel, auto on/off headlights, cruise control and rear parking sensors with reverse-view camera already standard, the Trax LS now adds projector headlights, rear disc brakes (formerly drums) and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto phone projection as standard.
The auto-only Trax LT, at $28,890 (plus orc), adds 18-inch alloys, foglights, keyless auto-entry, part-leather-look seats, driver's armrest, digital radio and even a sunroof; while the Trax LTZ, at $30,490 (plus orc), adds leather-look seats with front heating, rain-sensing wipers, LED tail-lights, rear cross-traffic alert and a blind-spot monitor.
- Standard Equipment: keyless entry, power windows and mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel, multi-function trip computer, manual air-conditioning, cloth trim and cruise control.
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB input and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto phone projection.
- Options Fitted: None.
- Cargo Volume: 356 litres (minimum), 785L (maximum).
Front-wheel drive small SUVs typically can be engineered more efficiently than their larger all-wheel drive counterparts, without packaging provisions for a rear driveshaft that pushes the back floor higher to the detriment of passenger and luggage space.
Indeed, the highlight of this Holden is its packaging.
Despite measuring just 4257mm from its stubby bonnet to its pert behind, this LS offers outstanding rear legroom and a competitive 356-litre boot. A similarly-priced Holden Astra hatchback stretches 129mm further, making parking more difficult, yet it affords less rear legroom and offer only a marginally larger (360L) boot.
The Trax is also 189mm taller than the Astra it shares dealership space with, which helps provide the lofty driving position SUV buyers apparently love, as well as generous headroom front and rear, and excellent visibility all-round.
It really is a matter of how much mere millimetres means to you, though, because an Astra otherwise trounces the Trax for seat comfort, cabin quality and value.
Buying an Astra R+ saves $2500 but adds rain-sensing wipers, digital radio, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and a huge tally of safety features – forward collision alert, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane-keep assistance – all unavailable here.
Although the Trax's new dashboard is nicely styled, the perception of quality is off the pace. Hard and shiny plastics dominate, even on the entire door trims where no cloth inserts are found.
The new high-resolution touchscreen is impressive, smartphone connectivity is sound, while storage and utility measures are fine – including a powerpoint socket for rear riders, decent-sized door pockets and several cupholders.
The rear bench even offers one of the simplest seat-folding mechanisms around, effortlessly tilting upwards to rest against the back of the front seats (split 60:40 and not as a single squab) and permitting the backrest to fold flat.
Either way, the Trax LS feels like a sub-$25K model, not a $26,490 (plus orc) one.
A Honda HR-V VTi, at $24,990 (plus orc), even includes climate control air-conditioning; although it misses a leather-wrapped steering wheel and rear sensors.
A Mazda CX-3 Maxx, at $24,390 (plus orc) further adds satellite navigation, with a blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert and low-speed AEB a $1030 package.
The Toyota CH-R may start at $28,990 (plus orc), but it adds larger 17-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, integrated sat-nav, rain-sensing wipers, active cruise control, AEB, lane-departure warning with lane-keep assistance, rear cross-traffic alert and front parking sensors.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 103kW/200Nm 1.4 4cyl turbo petrol
- Transmission: six-speed automatic, FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front and torsion bar rear
- Brake: ventilated front and rear disc brakes
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering
Holden now offers a 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine in both its small hatchback and small SUV offering. But the Trax utilises an older design, with 103kW of power at 4900rpm and 200Nm at 1850rpm. The Astra makes 110kW/240Nm.
This LS is 72kg heavier, at 1376kg, and thirstier, with a claimed combined cycle fuel consumption sticker of 6.7 litres per 100 kilometres, versus 5.8L/100km.
But the biggest difference between the new Holden and this facelifted one concerns refinement more than performance and economy.
Thanks partially to an excellent six-speed automatic – save for the dreadful +/- manual-mode switch versus the Astra's tipshifter – the Trax usually feels peppy.
Generous torque allows this small SUV to waft through traffic while basically idling, as the auto seamlessly shuffles through its ratios. When accelerating quickly, however, the engine turns coarse. A lack of sound deadening is also to blame, because vibrations filter through the driver's seat and steering wheel as revs rise.
The silky and quiet Astra feels boutique by comparison.
Holden's locally tuned steering and suspension also proves a mixed bag. The former is responsive on the centre position, with a tightness and sharpness that helps the Trax feel agile. As lock is wound on, though, the overly light weighting reveals a vagueness at odds with the initial immediacy.
Despite being shod with chubby 70-aspect 16-inch tyres, ride quality is firmly disciplined at best, but downright lumpy at worst. Body control is excellent, particularly on rough roads where the Trax always tracks true, and the tight suspension clearly helps deliver grippy, Continental-tyre-backed handling.
However, around town the Trax jolts and bangs around, while even on the freeway it remains restless. It lacks the sweet dynamic fluency of the CX-3, 2008 … or Astra.
The Trax was tested by Euro NCAP in 2013 and it scored 35.18 out of 37 points.
Safety Features: Dual front, front-side and full-length curtain airbags, ABS and ESC, rear parking sensors and reverse-view camera.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km.
Servicing: Lifetime capped-price servicing program includes annual/15,000km checks at an extremely affordable cost of $229 for each of the first four dealer visits until four years or 60,000km.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The HR-V is the one for space, but it's not a hugely enjoyable small SUV to drive. The CX-3 certainly is, although it conversely lacks space. Surprisingly, the CH-R is the value star of the class, while the 2008 starts at the same price as the Trax LS and with near-identical equipment – but it's lighter, roomier and more fun.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Holden Trax remains vastly superior to the bottom-feeders of the small SUV class, such as the EcoSport, ASX and Juke. However, both its value and core ability are now lacking against the newer, refreshed contenders mentioned above.
Unless there's an absolute need for reduced body length when parking, or increased seat and ride height as small SUV buyers apparently crave, the Trax is also not a patch on the high-quality, smooth riding, quiet, powerful, efficient and more value-packed and engaging Astra hatchback it shares Holden showroom space with.
Yet there's still a core competence that impresses on a basic level with this entry LS.
If it has a sub-$25,000 pricetag then its cleverly thought-out cabin packaging, unrefined but fun chassis, and noisy but sprightly drivetrain would impress in isolation and without need for comparison against loftier rivals that offer a broader skill set.
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VISIT THE SHOWROOM: Holden Trax Models - Prices, Features and Specifications