Friendly as Fido, languid as a tortoise.
by Jill Amadio
Friendly as Fido, the unpretentious little Tracker sport-ute places its emphasis on the utility part of its vehicle classification: a practical, durable runabout that is infinitely easy to fit into parking places and bang around town in, with occasional forays into woods or desert. It's definitely to be treated as a member of the family that wants to please people, and needs no special care beyond feeding with fuel now and then.
Dramatically redesigned last year, the 2000 version has little new to add aside from a few metallic colors. Everyone was hoping to see a larger engine this year but Chevrolet will not budge from powering the Tracker with a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder until 2001. On the plus side, the 2.0-liter engine in my four-door test car, with 127 horsepower, passed muster on dirt trails in a national park but, with two-wheel drive, I wouldn't take it down into canyons to straddle boulders or ford the rapids although it has an eight-inch ground clearance and a steel fuel tank shield plate.
Weekend camping, yes, because this sturdy compact has cargo space for the basic needs if you don't bring a six-person tent or six persons, and in the middle of a meadow there's no one to whack when you open the tailgate door that swings out to the right. Downtown, you'd probably hit a pedestrian or two.
The four-wheel drive model has a shift-on-the-fly system that allows you to shift in and out at any speed below 60 mph. The two-speed transfer case has four-wheel low gearing that aids grip on uneven terrain. My tester had a four-speed automatic transmission, which costs extra. The standard is a five-speed manual with a fifth gear overdrive.
Speed isn't in the Tracker's vocabulary. While it grumbles along the freeway at 75 mph when pushed, it is most comfortable at a steady 60. Horsepower is rated at 127 ponies for the larger engine, and 97 with the base engine. Enough to get you where you're going if you're not in a hurry.
No carlike sissiness
One tends to denigrate small, economy SUVs. I've heard all manner of nasty remarks about most of the low-priced models but, taken for what it is, a small, serviceable SUV, the Tracker satisfies young people - its biggest market - who need a set of rugged-looking wheels in the tradition of an off-roader. The exterior is as trendy as this category gets, but if you opt for the surfer-styled Hang Ten Edition convertible ragtop you might feel you're driving something with a lot more flair.
Sides, roofline and front and rear on the hardtop version have a wagon-like look while the grille is way understated for an SUV. Rocker panel moldings on the lower body are welcome standard equipment to ward off flying debris while you're battling the elements or chipping through gravel.
Built on a full-length, ladder frame that acts as a foundation for supporting the body and powertrain, the Tracker is a true truck. None of this carlike sissiness, thank you, although it is easy to drive and handle mostly because the previous version's recirculating-ball steering has been replaced by a more precise power rack-and-pinion system. With a nice wide stance, 2.5 inches more than the 1998 model, and a new suspension that gives you a smoother ride, the driving experience provides a lot more confidence than its predecessor.
Inside, there's plenty of room to flap your elbows, and unless you wear a stovepipe hat, you'll find headroom for the most bouffant of hairstyles. The no-nonsense dash holds the usual suspects - audio, climate controls, gauges, and vents. Except I'd like to see a couple of them reversed. The air conditioning unit is placed above the radio, which means to change stations or fiddle with your tapes or CDs, you have to reach farther down than you'd like. Cupholders are a bit bizarre - square, rather than round. Chevrolet says it's easier to store french fries in a rectangular holder. Of course.
There's only one interior color throughout, gray, but it's a warm, light, unobtrusive shade. Seats are reclining buckets, cloth with vinyl, with a split rear bench that folds flat if you need extra space. Several storage nooks and crannies hold maps, sunglasses, flasks and books.
To make it livable, the Tracker still needs quite a bit of dressing up with $3000 or $4000 worth of extra equipment. For example, my model added several options including air conditioning, cruise control, tilt steering wheel, rear wiper/washer, automatic transmission with overdrive, anti-lock brakes, CD player, and a spare tire cover for a total of $3416 over the $15,150 price.
How safe is the Tracker? The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently tested it, compared to other small SUVs, and gave it an overall A (Acceptable) rating for front offset crashes at 40 miles an hour. Injury measurements to the head also earned an A, while injuries to the neck, chest, legs, and feet were rated G (Good). (A Good rating is best. Marginal and Poor are at the bottom of the ratings scale).
If you want to compare before you shop, the four-door Tracker's competitors include its twin sister, the Suzuki Vitara, and Toyota's RAV4, Jeep Wrangler, Isuzu Amigo, the Kia Sportage, the Subaru Forester and Honda's CR-V.
2000 CHEVROLET TRACKER
Price as tested: $18,966
Engine: 2.0-liter DOHC four-cylinder, 127 horsepower
Transmission: four-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 97.6 in
Length: 162.6 in
Width: 67.3 in
Height: 65.6 in
Weight: 2866 lb
Fuel economy: 24 city/26 hwy
Major standard features:
Rear window defogger
Delayed off interior lighting
Cargo net and cargo area cover
© 2000 The Car Connection