One of the aspects of being a car writer that most people don't realize is that we are loaned so many high-end luxury vehicles or tricked-out vehicles with every possible option that it's easy for us to get out of touch with the world of lower-cost and entry-level vehicles. As I write up this review of the Chevy Trax, I'm driving my next loaner, a $165,000 BMW plug-in hybrid. How does it compare to the $23,000 Trax? Well, in a lot of ways it's like comparing a single room in the local college dorms to a custom-built mansion. But in other ways, it's still a vehicle and it's still something of interest to actual car buyers. In fact, lower-cost vehicles might be more interesting than the more aspirational top-end options.
After purchasing your very first car, the value of your current vehicle is also part of the economics of deciding what you can afford for your next car: Even a 50% value trade-in can knock a lot of cost off an upgrade, and so many people do dealer trade-ins or sell through third-party channels like Craigslist or eBay Motors. But that first vehicle. Do you buy used, taking the risk that you're just acquiring someone else's headache, or do you buy new, hoping you can find something in your price range?
Enter the 2024 Chevrolet Trax ACTIV with its modest $23,900 base price. Even with no down payment and a 6.4% APR interest rate on a 6 year loan, that's $400/mo. Expensive, but affordable for most people just starting in their careers. Drop $5K out of savings and those payments are just a smidge above $300/mo. The good news? The Trax has lots of great features and amenities so it's not going to feel at all like you settled for something bare-bones while waiting to increase your earnings power.
In fact, it's a darn nice vehicle, and in Mosaic Black Metallic, it has good curb appeal too:
While there are a number of classic Chevy touches in the design, it's also an attractive and modern appearance too, particularly the aggressive vertically oriented headlight cluster and the wavy front grill. But the wheels are big for the vehicle size too, giving it a more aggressive appearance and solid traction while driving. It has a solidity that lets you shrug when someone slams the door or you have to jam to a quick stop due to the poor driving of the person in front, a characteristic not always found in lower cost vehicles nowadays where the challenge of lightening the vehicle for fuel efficiency leaves too many feeling weak and flimsy. It's a heavy vehicle too, even for its size, weighing in at over 4,000 pounds.
The engine is modest, an Ecotec 1.2L turbo with 6-speed automatic transmission, but it doesn't feel underpowered for its weight, other than from a stop, when it can require a bit of patience for the Trax to come up to speed in a merge situation. Experienced drivers will learn to anticipate this, but if you're expecting to rabbit from a stop, this isn't going to be satisfying in that regard.
The interior design is surprisingly attractive, featuring a big 11-inch LCD display with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a neat and well-organized front dash:
This is a driver's car too, as is immediately obvious to the passenger who notices that the center display and controls are all tilted to face the driver. My 19yo daughter was surprised by that design aspect, but as the driver, I appreciated the extra steps taken to ensure that my experience with all of the controls was optimal. With over a hundred years of car design, Chevrolet might not be offering up many innovations in its dashboard design, but it was one of the easiest cars to figure out when first sitting behind the steering wheel. No mystery icons, no puzzling button clusters.
Well, except for the main gauge cluster, which was startling austere compared to most other vehicles:
If density is the enemy of information processing - particularly important when flying along at 80mph - then the display design is a splendid example of simplify, simplify, simplify. For example, if you have your speed shown in big digits front and center, do you really also need a speedometer? If your odometer can be shown with a color ribbon wrapping around the speed indication, do you also need a full-blown tach? It took a bit of getting used to, but no question, the display really let the driver focus on the most important stats while driving.
The infotainment display offered a lot of vehicle information too, however, including fuel efficiency:
You can see that for the current jaunt I was averaging 30mpg, but both Trip 1 and Trip 2 had logged 32.1mpg as an average fuel efficiency, actually a smidge better than the EPA figures (28/32). Big, comfortable, and very good fuel efficiency. Lots to like about this 2024 Chevrolet Trax ACTIV.
Similarly, the climate control cluster was entirely functional and logical, though the three unlabeled buttons did make me wonder what could have been added to the environmental controls:
Speaking of straightforward design that has been around for rather a while, the center console offered a great gearshift and simple layout:
No zig-zag gear, no weird buttons, no tiny shifter stick hidden behind the steering wheel, a simple, straightforward gear shift that had a button for shifting and moved forward or backward depending on desired gear. Notice also the notch between the two cup holder spaces; presumably it was for a cellphone but alas, my iPhone 14 Pro was a bit too wide. Undoubtedly it's tough to keep up with the ever-changing size of mobile devices nowadays.
Speaking of simplicity, after writing about the puzzle of finding the door handle in both Land Rovers and Range Rovers, the placement of the lock/unlock button and door handles in the Trax were excellent:
Easy, comfortable, and convenient. Well done, Chevy.
Having talked so much about the design, there were still some issues, one of which was a common one across too many vehicles nowadays: legroom. Moving the front seat forward, there was acceptable legroom for an adult:
But if you have a tall driver or front passenger, the second row is going to be pretty cramped. Think seat-reclined-on-budget-airline level cramped. For kids that's probably okay up to a certain point, but for adults? It might be a bit of push/pull tension to get everyone happy and comfortable. This is, however, by no means unique to the Trax: Car makers have long ago decided that the cost of stretching the interior cabin is too high versus loss of storage space, cargo space, wheel length, weight, etc.
Speaking of cargo space, it's not great, but not terrible either. With a 60/40 second row, you could always fold down half the back for skis, but you'll definitely want a bike rack rather than try to Macguyver a bike into the vehicle itself. The top cover is a hard, molded plastic, which I didn't like, particularly since there's no way to store it in the back if you don't want to utilize it.
All in all, I was surprised by how much I liked the drive experience and design of the 2024 Chevy Trax ACTIV. It's reassuring to know that there are such good vehicles in the under-$40K category, and while it might have been a bit underpowered from a stop, every other aspect of its drive experience was very good. If you're looking for a new car and want to be thoughtful in your expenditure, this is definite a smaller "Crossover" SUV to check out and evaluate.
2024 Chevrolet Trax ACTIV with EcoTec 1.2L Turbo and 6-speed automatic. BASE PRICE: $23,900.00. Options Included: Sunroof Package, Driver Confidence Package. AS DRIVEN: $25,445.00
Disclosure: Chevrolet loaned me the Trax for a week in return for this candid writeup. Thanks, Chevy!