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HENRY PAYNE

Payne: Chevy Trax tastes better with AWD

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

"Everything goes better with bacon." Everyone has their own favorite condiment. Some folks like bacon. Others ketchup. My favorite is guacamole. Sure, it's popular with chips. But a smear will improve just about anything from burgers to beans.

All-wheel drive is like that on autos.

Racers know that AWD is the supreme advantage — which is why it is banned in most forms of motorsport. For off-roaders, AWD is a must. Jeep swears by it. AWD gives modern supercars better grip off the line. But like guacamole, I find AWD valuable beyond its traditional places.

Everything goes better with AWD. Take the 2015 Chevy Trax I've been driving.

It's one of a herd of subcompact SUVs that has carved out a new segment right before our eyes. It's hip. It's growing. It attracts young people to the brand. It's . . . sooooo boring. Don't get me wrong. I don't mean "boring" as in nothing to offer. The Trax is cute. Loaded with amenities. A very practical entry-level car. But its highest purpose is affordable transportation. It only comes with a 138 horse, 1.4-liter turbo engine, for goodness sake. It has the low-end torque of a gerbil wheel. I've seen better 0-60 times from lawn tractors. It moves slower than the last two minutes of an NFL championship game.

And without a sporty, SS version there's no horsepower savior on the horizon. But opt for the Trax's affordable, $1,500, AWD option and this unsalted cracker comes to life.

Throw the Trax into a 90-degree right-hander and it rotates like a champ. Like Dumbo on skis, it slides, but stays on course. The more you do it, the more addictive it becomes. At 3,208 pounds (700 pounds lighter than a BMW X1!) the Trax is predictable, throwable — its weight never causing undue body roll despite its upright stance.

The experience heightens your senses and awakens you to the metal egg's other idiosyncrasies.

Like storage. The Trax has more hiding places than a jewel thief. Two smart phone holders on either side of the center stack — a lidded compartment above it. Two gloveboxes like a VW Bug. Slide your hand under the passenger seat and a drawer pops out. The doors contain more bins.

If my kids were little, we'd do Easter egg hunts in the Trax.

Now play "Find the USB." For all the storage Trax offers it only provides one USB port to recharge your phone. Where would you put it? Behind the shifter? Above the console? The upper glovebox? Bingo.

The only place the Trax doesn't have a storage is between the seats because the Trax is so darn narrow. My long knees and tall noggin are comfortable in the front chairs, but put another tall guy next to me and it's claustrophobic. Like airline seats that share an arm rest, you'll be fighting for elbow room the whole trip. If you're overweight, forget it. Mike&Molly couldn't do their show in this car. Molly would have to sit in the back seat.

At least she wouldn't create visibility issues. The Trax already has the worst blind sport in any small vehicle I've driven. The president's energy policy doesn't have blind sports this big. Mind the (standard) rear park-assist camera or you'll be backing over your mailbox every two weeks.

Technology is a mixed bag. The 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot is brilliant. Infotainment ergonomics not so much. The touch screen is slow, the ON-OFF button is Son of Cadillac Cue. It's so vague, I nearly broke my finger jabbing at it.

But all is forgiven when I fling the AWD bowling ball through another bend. Subcompacts were never this much fun. Remember them? Cars like the Chevy Sonic get good gas mileage. Front wheel drive. No AWD. Booooring. But add bacon and guacamole and it's transformed. Here's the Trax recipe: Take Chevy Sonic chassis. Jack it up. Add AWD. Call it a ute.

Bang! You're selling 4,000 a month.

Just like the Buick Encore. Buick gets the premium crowd, but the Trax is plenty of subcompact for $4 grand less. It sports a surprising amount of rear room — even for giraffes like me — thanks to its hatchback configuration. Need storage? Flatten the front and rear seats and you can throw in a dining table.

Which we'll need for that Final Four feast we're planning. Pot luck style. I'll bring the guacamole. Can someone bring 50 more horsepower for the Trax?

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

2015 Chevrolet Trax

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front and all-wheel drive, five-passenger SUV

Price: $20,995 base ($27,405 LZ AWD as tested)

Power plant: 1.4-liter, turbo inline 4-cylinder

Power: 138 horsepower, 148 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 9.4 seconds (Car & Driver)

Weight: 3,048 pounds base (3,283 AWD as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway/27 mpg combined

Report card

Highs: LOL AWD fun; Storage galore

Lows: Vague screen controls; Accleration of a garden snail

Overall: ★★★

Grading scale

Excellent ★★★★

Good ★★★

Fair ★★

Poor ★