Turbo Trax blows right in
Holden has addressed the one issue surrounding its small SUV the Trax – lack of power. Rob Maetzig files from the launch of its new turbocharged version.
New Zealand’s compact SUV market is experiencing spectacular growth, with sales so far this year almost double those over the same period last year – which in itself was a record 12 months.
The segment is very much priceled, with models with recommended retail prices over less than $40,000 easily outselling those priced more than that amount. But performance is playing a major role too, which helps explain why easily the most popular model is the Hyundai ix35 with its 2.0-litre petrol power.
So far this year more than 3200 small SUVs priced under $40,000 have been sold in New Zealand, with the Hyundai commanding a 28 per cent share. And in the middle of the bunch battling for the minor placings is the Holden Trax, launched this time last year and currently holding about an 11 per cent share.
The Trax actually deserves better than that. It’s a very good small SUV that is built using the platform of the Barina hatch, and in terms of ride quality and interior dimensions it is entirely competitive not only against the Hyundai but also against such opposition product as the Suzuki S-Cross, Mitsubishi ix35, Nissan Juke and Ford EcoSport.
But ever since its launch the Trax has been criticised for its powertrain, the 1.8-litre engine from the Cruze which develops 103 kilowatts of power and 175 newton metres of torque.
While Trax performance with this engine is pretty good – I’d describe it as adequate rather than outstanding – the criticism has revolved around the fact the Cruze can also be purchased with turbocharged petrol engines, which have transformed that car’s performance credentials. Initially the turbo engine was a 1.4-litre unit and this has since been upgraded to a 1.6-litre engine with the 1.4 still available as an option on the entry model.
All this has invariably led to the big question as to why it isn’t also available in the Trax.
Well, the good news is that it now is. A 1.4-litre turbo LTZ has been added to the Trax selection of 1.8-litre LS and LTZ models, and it enters the market with a retail price of $36,990. This price is $1500 more than the 1.8 LTZ, but for the extra money the buyer gets a sunroof, different 18-inch alloy wheels – and the superior performance.
Holden New Zealand managing director Jeff Murray is expecting the turbo Trax to generate 20 per cent growth in the model’s sales, which may be sufficient to move the vehicle up to No 2 spot on the small SUV sales ladder.
Asked why the turbo wasn’t part of the Trax model mix in the first place, he said Holden launched the vehicle last year with whatit considered to be the most appropriate engine.
‘‘But we are committed to building on the early successes of Trax and we’ll continue to respond to customer needs,’’ Murray added.
The new engine aboard the Trax is the same as that under the bonnet of the Barina RS hatch, and it is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. While its peak power of 103 kilowatts is much the same as the normally aspired 1.8, the big difference is its torque of 200 newton metres which peaks from a low 1850 rpm and remains so to 4900 rpm, and that flat torque curve makes this Trax a more effortless drive than the other models.
At the Australasian media launch of the turbo Trax in Melbourne last week, Holden’s vehicle development manager Jeremy Tassone said the availability of the torque across a wider revolutions range means it is all available at the engine speeds most drivers operate at almost all of the time.
‘‘It all results in improved engine response in the city, and calm and controlled performance at the higher speeds. Overall, this Trax offers a more refined and effortless driving character,’’ he said.
That’s a good way to describe this latest Holden. A drive programme out into the Yarra Valley and over the Dandenong Range quickly showed the vehicle to be considerably better than the 1.8 models, which can quickly become quite breathless when pushed. This model zipped over the winding road through the Dandenongs with ease.
The engine’s performance speaks volumes about the quality of the engineering team at Holden, which is now responsible for calibration of that powertain for General Motors’ worldwide operation. There are around 25 people working on developing the engine for more than 20 markets.
The setup for Australasia doesn’t make the 1.4-litre iTi engine the most powerful of the global selection, but the transmission does have a shorter final drive ratio – it’s the same as the Barina RS – to give it a bit more go. The vehicle also has the best fuel economy of the Trax lineup, at 6.9 L/100 km.
Introduction of the 1.4 turbo concides with a slight refreshing of the Trax range. While the LS remains much the same, the LTZ models now get rain-sensing wipers and a driver’s armrest, while the turbo version has the new alloys and the sunroof. There’s also a new ‘‘hero’’ paint colour called Blaze Red.
Trax also benefits from Australasian tune of its suspension and steering to better suit local conditions. The rear suspension mounts have been changed so the ride is slightly softer, while the electric power has been recalibrated for improved oncentre feel.
Perhaps the best way to describe introduction of the 1.4-litre turbo engine is that it has transformed the Trax into a rather energetic small SUV, which is exactly what is needed if Holden is to achieve its sales aspirations for the vehicle. Little wonder then that the marketing strapline for the turbo is going to be a quite appropriate version of an old English nursery rhyme - Trax be Nimble, Trax be Quick.
Much improved engine performance, solid ride and handling.
Road noise can be pronounced via the 18-inch tyres.
Turbo addition to the Trax range should result in an improved Holden performance in the small SUV sector.
Trax be Quick: The Holden Trax 1.4 iTi, a turbocharged addition to the Trax range.
Inside story: Turbo Trax has leather upholstery and a high level of standard specification including electric sunroof. Powertrain: Front-driven transverse-mounted 1.4-litre turbocharged DOHC 16-valve four cylinder petrol engine, with sixspeed automatic transmission with Active Select. Outputs: 103 kW at 4900 rpm, 200 Nm at 1850-4900 rpm, 6.9 L/100km. Chassis: MacPherson strut front suspension, compound crank axle at the rear. Electric power steering. 18-inch alloys with 215/55R18 tyres. Connectivity: Six-speaker MyLink infotainment system with 7-inch colour touch screen, Smartphone app integration, Bluetooth audio streaming, USB input with iPod connectivity. Safety: Stability control with ABS brakes, brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution and traction control, hill start assist, descent control. Front, side and curtain airbags. Reversing camera. Dimensions: L 4278mm, W 1776mm, H 1674mm, W/base 2555mm.