From Santa Fe, the OnStar Road Trip moved south to El Paso, where I indulged in a 5-meat, all-you-can-eat combo called The Cadillac at State Line BBQ. (As a side note, I didn’t eat again until the following morning.) At this point, one destination was left on my itinerary: White Sands National Monument, which is about an hour and a half northeast of El Paso, on the other side of the San Andres mountain range.
I wandered the snow-like dunes for a while, snapping photo after photo in the late-afternoon sunlight. It’s a truly magical place; I wish I could have spent the entire day out there. As the sun began to set, I pointed the trusty Chevrolet Trax toward Los Angeles and set the cruise control as high as I dared. If I drove all night, I could be back in Los Angeles for breakfast.
Twelve hours and a bunch of caffeinated beverages later, I had somehow managed to pull it off.
Riding the Trax Home
The Trax performed admirably throughout the trip, as noted in my Day 3 report, but its fuel economy turned out to be somewhat disappointing. Over the course of the 2,180-mile trek, the Trax’s 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine drank 72 gallons of regular unleaded, which comes out to 30.3 miles per gallon. That’s about 4 mpg shy of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s 34-mpg highway estimate. Given that the vast majority of driving took place on open roads with generous speed limits, I expected to see 34 mpg or even better. Perhaps the explanation is partly that the little 1.4 has to work relatively hard at 75 miles per hour speed limits common to southwestern freeways, so there’s more of a drop-off than with, say, the much more powerful 2.0-liter turbo-4 in my wife’s 2013 Volkswagen GTI (32 mpg on a similar jaunt last year, beating the EPA’s highway estimate by 1 mpg). Still, 30 mpg is nothing to sneeze at, particularly in the compact-crossover class.
Is OnStar Worth It?
As for OnStar, which I knew very little about before setting off on this trip, it left me with some food for thought. The 4G LTE Wi-Fi, first of all, is an unequivocal win for people who work from the road, as I experienced firsthand in New Mexico when I had an assignment due and my hotel’s Internet went down. Ordinarily, I would have had to get an extension, but thanks to this GM service, I just went out to the Trax with my laptop and submitted the piece using its Wi-Fi network. The service loses much of its appeal if your smartphone is set up to function as a mobile hot spot (mine isn’t), but even then, it’s still pretty cool to tell your passengers that you have wireless Internet built into your car. As long as the pricing makes sense for your budget, I think it’s a no-brainer.
Notably, you don’t have to be an active subscriber to enjoy 4G LTE Wi-Fi, since GM offers separate data plans for nonsubscribers. I think that’s the right move, because I’m not convinced that the rest of OnStar’s current features are worth the significant monthly expense. Consider the basic Protection plan, which costs $19.99 per month or $199.90 per year. If you look at AAA’s offerings, the priciest membership costs $104 per year, and the cheapest, which still provides roadside assistance and vendor discounts, is $48 per year. But as things stand, I don’t see enough added value to make me reconsider my present smartphone-plus-AAA solution. In fairness to OnStar, I’d also have to include services like LoJack for theft services and aftermarket systems that can detect a collision and send help for it to be a truly direct comparison.
Nonetheless, the service did save my bacon when I ran out of gas in the desert, and for that I’ll be eternally grateful. I also like the idea of having an operator on call who can do my Internet research for me while I’m behind the wheel. If OnStar could keep my credit card on file and make hotel and dinner reservations for me based on Yelp or TripAdvisor reviews, for example, that might be something I’d consider. When that day comes, I’ll be eager to hit the road again and put the service to the test. I just might opt for a smaller meat platter next time.