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.

Central Otago Mirror - - MOTORING -

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.

$36,990.

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.

Pho­tos: SUP­PLIED

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.

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