The Great White North

Earlier this year, I had a series of road trips, and one of them included a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Being a long-time resident, I’ve often wondered why the UP is actually part of our state, since it’s not actually attached to Michigan by land, but by a bridge. I’m told it’s because we gave up Toledo to Ohio, when borders were being drawn, so there it is. On this particular trip to the UP, I figured it would be fairly mild, weather-wise, as it was already April and the winter in the part of Michigan where I live (very far south), had been mild. Turns out not-so-much, but more on that later.

I was coming off a west coast trip and an airline snarl that had left me stranded in Los Angeles for a couple of days. For this adventure I flew from Detroit’s Wayne County Airport, to Marquette where I where I would pick up up a rental car and drive the rest of the way. The rental desks at MQT are tiny, as are the fleets. I hadn’t requested any particular vehicle, so I knew I was rolling the dice as far what I’d be driving. I was only going to be in town for one overnight and one day, but the drive from MQT to my eventual destination is about two hours, so I was hoping for something good. The young lady behind the rental desk said “We’ve upgraded you to a Chevy Trax”. I know what a Chevy Trax is and I wondered what I was being upgraded ‘from’. I took the keys (two of them cabled together as usual) and concluded that they just say that to every customer.

It was cool and damp, a definite chill, walking out to the rental aisle. The Trax is plain-looking, but wholly adequate to the task of hauling my carcass and my bags to the hotel in Houghton. It’s size didn’t inspire me to offer rides to anyone if a bunch of us were heading to a restaurant for lunch or dinner. The inside was basic (it is a rental), but relatively comfortable. I do like a hatchback, and opening the back of the Trax revealed more than enough space for my daypack and wheel-aboard luggage. It would be more than adequate for several bags of groceries or a medium-sized dog (although probably not good for both at once). Given it’s relatively short wheel base and 4-cylinder engine, it’s probably a great rig for use in cities or as a commuter car when you have another vehicle roomy enough to haul your friends and the rest of your stuff around. If this is your only car, you will get to know your friends VERY well.

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Photo by author.

The overall feel of the Trax is cozy. It shares it’s basic platform with the Chevrolet (Made by Daewoo) Sonic, which is classed as a subcompact. When I talked to my wife on the drive, I likened it to a Little Tikes Club Car. I think it’s the effect of the roof pillars curving in as they go up and the relatively tall windows, combined with the car’s narrow stance. The 70” width of the Trax is almost four inches narrower than my Jeep Wrangler and more than an inch narrower than a Honda Civic. If you’re a relatively small person, this shouldn’t be an issue, but my bulkier frame definitely fills things out. I expected these proportions to make the car feel tippy, but despite some enthusiastic driving it felt stable. The ride and handling were comfortable and the two-hour drive (over Michigan roads no less), was a breeze.

It snowed overnight (the radio said 7”) but even with that the Trax rolled over the patches of hard-packed snow and ice unperturbed. Arriving at the airport, I snapped a couple of pictures for this article. It’s a fairly plain-jane vehicle, as most Chevrolet’s are. There is an upgraded trim level.  I’ve seen one in a more interesting blue color.  The LS AWD trim (like this one) lists for $22,500, so it’s squarely in the entry-level category.  If you like this form-factor of vehicle with a bit more garnish, Buick offers it dressed in more sophisticated clothing as the ‘Encore’ for about $2,000 more.

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Photo by author.

I’ve often wondered why someone would choose a little cross-over over a sedan or hatchback of approximately the same size. I think the answer is in two parts. The more upright seating position gives the driver or passenger room to stretch out vertically. And the larger wheels and tires offer the ability for a small chassis to ride like something bigger despite the shorter wheelbase. Whatever the reason, after this trip I started seeing more of these, along with the Buick Encore, so there are definitely folks who have embraced them.

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