Added September 9, 1999


Chevrolet Tracker - A Reasonable SUV

The more intelligent designs, in my mind, shrink sport-utes into more maneuverable, garageable, and useful vehicles - like the Chevy Tracker. After spending a week with a four-door Tracker, my family and I found it to be a serious people and cargo hauler with genuine off-road capabilities.

 

 
 I don’t understand the SUV craze, especially the interest in monster-sized road hogs like the Lincoln Navigator or Toyota Land Cruiser. They’re enormous, outrageously expensive, and they barely get 10 mpg in city driving. The more intelligent designs, in my mind, shrink sport-utes into more maneuverable, garageable, and useful vehicles - like the Chevy Tracker. After spending a week with a four-door Tracker, my family and I found it to be a serious people and cargo hauler with genuine off-road capabilities.

 

Get into the Tracker and you notice the seats are about minivan height, which is fine because you can just slide into place rather than climb up into place. The next features you notice are the vehicle’s height and headroom. You could wear a hat (if people wore hats) with space overhead to spare. It’s relatively small on the outside but my family of four found it comfortable with room for groceries or camping gear behind the rear seats. And those seats fold down to open up a lot more storage space than sedans or small station wagons provide.

While the compact SUV is comfortable, it’s no speed demon. This truck is built for work. Merging with freeway traffic takes some thought and timing. However, if you insist on jackrabbit starts, the Tracker will oblige with accompanying noise and vibrations. Power comes from a modest but capable 127-hp, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine. The two-door version carries a 97-hp version.

Shifting into four-wheel drive is simple - flip a lever and you’re ready. Bouncing across rutted roads and through soft soil was no great challenge on our sole off-road sojourn. Driving it through a snowy midwestern winter would have been a more practical test.

When bouncing around off-road, the Tracker never once gave forth a squeak or rattle. Chevrolet engineers say that’s because the vehicle uses a full ladder frame, one with boxed side rails and seven members for added reinforcement. The frame resists twisting for better durability and a solid, stable ride on and off road. And major components are protected within the frame. A steel cross-truck beam underneath the instrument panel contributes to the rattle-free ride and stabilizes the instrument panel and steering columns. An antiflex bar in the engine compartment mounts between the front suspension towers. The bar increases the rigidity of the body structure for a more solid feeling and a firm, road-gripping ride. Unfortunately, it’s only standard on vehicles with the two-liter engine.

Optional skid plates on the 4x4 models protect the front differential and transfer case from rocks and large obstructions while 8 in. of ground clearance on 4x4 models let the Tracker roll over rough terrain. (Two-wheel drive models have 7.2 in. of ground clearance.) A fuel-tank shield is standard on all models.

Chevrolet says several upgrades from the previous year include a wider body for more passenger room, and more storage areas throughout the vehicle, such as a sunglass holder in the dash, seat back storage, and door pockets. One feature that I appreciate are the replaceable pollen filters that, Chevrolet says, removes allergens and dust from the passenger compartment

Rear visibility is disappointing because it’s limited by the large head rests on the back seats and portion of the rear door-mounted spare tire that arches across the bottom of the window. Chevy partially makes up for that with larger-than-usual side-view mirrors.

The Chevy Tracker has a lot going for it. It’s the right size, not expensive (local newspapers ads are asking less than $14,000) , and it’s manufactured in North America by CAMI Automotive Inc., in Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada, a joint venture between General Motors and Suzuki Motor Co. Ltd. It goes on my list as a candidate vehicle for when my minivan wears out.

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