Chevrolet Philippines could really use a win. Actually, they sorely need a win.
Times have been tough on this importer/distributor comprised of good people. The models they offered in the last 10 years have been promising but often fell well short of expectations. They finally had something with the Colorado pick-up and the 7-seat Trailblazer PPV, but even that didn't last; GM sold the factory to Great Wall Motor, putting an end to what has to be their most popular and most successful models yet in the country.
They needed something to uplift their spirits, a model from Chevrolet that makes a statement that everything will be alright. The Tracker that they launched earlier this year promised to be that model, as its introduction was brilliantly timed to capitalize on the prevalent market shift to subcompact crossover SUVs that are priced like subcompact sedans.
The Tracker could have been their savior if it was a good and competitive model given the trends that we're seeing in the segment.
Unfortunately, the Tracker falls short. Way short.
Before I dive into why I'll need to put it out there that the experiences I have are limited to the Chevrolet Tracker demonstration car that was sent to me. It's an LT Redline model in gray. My experiences may or may not be the same as with other units, so if you own a Tracker, please do chime in if you agree or disagree.
First: the look. This is easily the best aspect of the Tracker. Sitting in my garage for the first day, I can't help but think that Chevrolet's designers really came through. The Tracker looks lean and mean for a little soft-roader. The shape, the profile, the rear; it all looks good. Even when you compare it to the model that served as Chevrolet's smallest crossover in the country (the Trax) this new model is above and beyond in style.
The details of the car are sharp and proper. The headlights, the grille, the taillights; it really does look good. And if you toss in the black and red details of the “Redline” trim, then this really does have the potential to capture a younger target market that Chevrolet really needs to have on their side.
The interior is likewise interesting. As expected, there are a lot of hard plastics, but that's the norm in the class. I do like how Chevrolet laid out the dashboard. The way that the center stack is canted towards the driver gives the feeling like you're in a cockpit. The steering wheel does feel nice in my hands, the gear selector feels good (and has +/- for those that want to select gear ratios), and the gauges are clear and easy to understand.
The seats are comfortable with good cushioning, decent bolstering, and nice red accents. This one comes with a nice Chevrolet MyLink system with six speakers and Apple Carplay; no Android Auto yet because there's something going on with Google. This also gets an automatic climate control system that is quite powerful, but keep in mind that it also comes with a panoramic glass roof. Such a roof is nice, but your A/C will work a bit harder unless you put a good quality window film up top.
There is a long list of safety features in the Tracker. The usual things are there like dual front and dual side airbags (no curtain), ABS, traction control and stability control, but there is so much more. Actually, they decided to put everything on the spec sheet like rollover mitigation, torque vectoring (via the brakes), hill start assist, tire pressure monitoring, and cornering brake control.
There are also things I'm seeing for the first time in a spec sheet for customers like low or no vacuum brake assist, fading brake assist, mini spare detection (for when you have the donut spare mounted?), and even enhanced understeer control. That last one is strange; I'd like to listen in on a salesperson explaining what understeer is to an average customer.
Nevertheless, more safety is good, but comfort and convenience are what people pay a premium for. The rear seats have good legroom, good cushioning, and even a center armrest. There are no A/C vents in the back, but given that it's a small vehicle it shouldn't be a big problem. There are also USB ports for the rear seat occupants, but those are a bit low on the floor.
The cargo area is perhaps a good example of what Chevrolet can bring to the table. The Tracker has a good amount of boot space at 390 liters even with the rear seats up. Those seats, however, can fold nice and flat, expanding the cargo area to 845 liters. Chevrolet also has a “Folded to Roof” figure at 1278 liters, but we're not quite sure what that means; maybe factoring in roof cargo on a roof basket?
Now we come to the important part: driving. And that is where the Tracker LT Redline has us baffled.
On paper, the 1.0-liter 3-cylinder engine behind that handsome face really looks promising. With 116 horsepower, it has power comparable to a 1.5-liter VTEC four from Honda and with more torque at 175 Nm. The Tracker can hit those figures because it's a turbo intercooler (BTW: air-water intercooler, similar to the GR Supra). It's also mated to a six-speed automatic driving the front wheels; there is no all-wheel-drive option, but with a ground clearance of just 161mm, it's best to stay away from dirt paths anyway.
The real issue with the engine is that while it looks good on paper, in execution it's not. The vibrations are expected so that's not a problem, but the issue is that it just feels slow to respond even in sport mode. The turbo has as much lag as a 90s dial-up internet; coupled with the response of the 6-speed auto, which makes for a rather uninspiring combo. You can select gears manually via the buttons on the gear lever, but it would have been better if there were paddles or a +/- gate on the shift base.
Once the turbo does kick in, it's fun and fast, but definitely not linear. When you look at when the max torque comes in, then it's easy to understand: it's at 4200 rpm. That's pretty high for peak torque to come in for a modern gasoline turbo engine. A few of these kinds of engines develop max torque at about 2000 rpm and hold it to around 3500 or 4000 rpm.
The ride quality of the Tracker on concrete roads is alright; not great, but not bad. It gets bumpy when you take it onto EDSA, and I would advise avoiding rough patches of road like the battered C-5 truck lane. What really is unusual is the tire noise which does resonate in the cabin, as well as the slight knock from the front suspension when going over a speed bump in the village. At least fuel economy in the city is decent: 9.9 kilometers per liter at an average speed of 19 km/h.
Here's the thing though: I had the Tracker for almost a week, but I only decided to drive it for that one day. The rest of the time, it just sat in the garage. And there is an important reason for that: the brakes.
For the first inch of brake pedal travel, there was almost nothing. Only at about 3/4 or even halfway did the brakes actually bite. This runs counter to how the brakes of modern cars feel. For safety, most (if not all) carmakers usually calibrate their brakes to bite as soon as the driver's right foot touches the pedal. That's why it becomes a kind of muscle memory for your right foot to adjust how you apply the brake pedal to compensate and be smoother. In this one, it's totally reversed.
The point where you get significant braking performance is well about the halfway mark or just a little before. I noticed it the first time I had to brake for a speed bump in the village and adjusted my driving accordingly. But if a new driver doesn't recognize it fast enough, they could end up rear-ending another vehicle.
I had given Chevrolet Philippines the feedback on this particular Tracker last week. My logical explanation for this spongy brake feel is air in the brake lines, and that's what they're checking now. But there's also the possibility that this was how the brakes of the vehicle were calibrated at the factory abroad. If that is the case, then I've got a lot of questions about the R&D and verification testing that went into the vehicle.
And that brings me to an important point about the Tracker: it's made by GM's partner in China. That would be SAIC or the state-owned Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation.
I've had quite a few experiences with SAIC products in the past because apart from Chevrolet they also produce Volkswagen, MG, and Maxus. So far my experience reviewing SAIC vehicles has been hit or miss. Unfortunately, it's mostly the latter.
Sometimes it's minor like the steering feel, the look of the plastics, ergonomics, the design, the feel of certain switches, and the like. Sometimes it's somewhat more moderate like a rattle with the suspension, cabin noise, or transmission smoothness. This, however, is the first time I encountered a brake-related issue, and this cannot pass.
If this is limited to just this vehicle, then it's a simple bleeding procedure to fix, and I'll gladly review the vehicle again and give it a second chance. But if the brake is operating as SAIC-GM intended, then I think their R&D and verification departments need a shake-up if they want to hit the right notes at export markets.
I just don't see this being the win that Chevrolet Philippines needs. And given that prices start at PHP 1,142,888 for the lower grade LS up to PHP 1,242,888 for this LT Redline, the price isn't right either.
- Make: Chevrolet
- Model: Tracker 1.0 Turbo LT Redline
- Engine: 1.0-liter DOHC 12-valve Inline-3 Turbo Intercooler
- Max Power: 116 PS @ 5800 rpm
- Max Torque: 175 Nm @ 4200 rpm
- Transmission: 6-speed AT with manual mode, FWD
- Price as Tested: ₱1,242,888