SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide
I am admittedly not a fan of the recent onslaught of larger-than-life SUVs taking over our highways and main streets. One reason I dislike them is because most people who buy them only do so because they are a status symbol and have no idea how to handle a car of that size. Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly understand the practical uses of these vehicles for couples with children, but I find it difficult to comprehend why someone would purchase one of these monsters when they could attain the same status with an automobile the likes of the Chevrolet Tracker.
For starters, smaller SUVs are so much easier to maneuver on busy city streets and small town roads, as well as into the garage at the end of the day. An active traveling lifestyle would also not be compromised by excessive size, since vehicles like the Tracker receive better fuel economy(18 city, 20 highway average), and I'm quite sure highways would be safer with less poorly driven giants on them.
Okay, I've done enough venting about SUVs. Let me get back to discussing the qualities of the 2001 Tracker. There is nothing exceptional about the exterior of the Tracker that makes it either stand out from its competitors nor make it unique from its design introduction in 1999. This design seems to have been adopted by most smaller vans and is almost identical to the Honda CR-V, Suzuki Vitara, and the Kia Sportage.
The Tracker comes available in a two-door convertible or the four-door hardtop, the latter being our test drive version. Our vehicle was sunset red metallic, but the new colors for this year are white and silver metallic. Standard LT models come with a chrome grille and accents, silver body-side cladding, running boards, 5-spoke aluminum wheels, wider tires, spare tire cover on a full-size lockable tire, a roof rack, and standard color-keyed power mirrors.
The grays used for the dash and leather seats (an option for the LT) worked well together for a stylish interior. We were fortunate to take the Tracker on an extended highway trip and found the seats to be very comfortable for both the passenger and driver and particularly liked the front safety belt shoulder-height adjusters. Important to note about the interior is its ample headroom and the ability to fold and stow the rear seat to increase storage area.
From an accessory standpoint, the Tracker is a beautifully designed vehicle with exception to its audio system. Aesthetically, the radio package leaves a lot to be desired, and the volume and tuning knobs seemed loose. My husband and I both found it difficult to achieve a quality sound combination from the speakers while using either the CD player or the radio. The buttons, however, are easy to read and access while driving. An AM/FM stereo with cassette is standard on most models, while the CD player is standard on the LT.
This vehicle is thoughtfully designed for people like me who live in their cars, having large and varied storage areas. The front door pockets are large, deep, and come with a divider. The small pocket above the air vents on the dash is a great place to store sunglasses, and there is a small set of slots to the left of the steering wheel for coins. The great fact about both of these features is that they actually hold their cargo while the car twists and turns, unlike most areas designed for such a purpose in other cars. The size of the mid-console is compromised by the 4X4 gear and hand brake, but some area is salvaged by two small pockets below the radio and in front of the gear shift.
Some of the features I most enjoyed were the large side mirrors similar to those found on trucks and the visor extenders that fit above the rear-view mirror. The steering wheel is comfortable, the instrument panel is easy to read, and the climate controls are simple and effective. Trackers also now come with standard CFC-free air conditioning. The automatic window and power lock controls on the door and the rear windshield wiper button on the dash left of the steering wheel are logically placed. This Chevy contains two power outlets-one under the radio disguised as a lighter and an auxiliary on the mid console-which are a necessity for anyone with any of today's many electronic accessories. These little items really make a difference in driver comfort.
For safety and security you can rely on the driver and right front passenger air bags and the steel side door beams. With parents in mind, the rear doors have been equipped with child safety locks, and a child safety seat top-tether anchor has been added to the cargo area. My sister attached her car seat using this anchor and found it was difficult to adjust and limited the cargo area when the strap was in use, however it served its purpose and maintained a strong hold on the car seat. The delay entry light system has been improved to shut off when the ignition key is turned to the ON position, and daytime running lamps with "auto-on" exterior lamps come standard.
I had the ultimate opportunity to test the control and handling of this Chevy when I drove it to my friend's mountain cabin. Small SUVs are known to have a higher rollover risk, but this was not apparent in the way the Tracker handled on the entrance and exit ramps of the highway, nor as it traversed the steep mountain turns to the cabin on slick, rain-soaked roads. This improved handling could be a result of the greater tread width on the tires and the full-length ladder-type frame normally seen only on the larger Chevy SUVs. The Tracker also comes equipped with a 4X4, shift-on-the-fly four wheel-drive system, which is a nice feature for times when more traction is needed quickly. This system makes two-wheel or four-wheel drive available, as well as 4LO for off-road situations.
The LT four-door model for the first time is equipped with a standard 2.0 liter DOHC 24-valve V-6 engine. The base Tracker models are equipped with the 2.0 liter DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder engine. The 1.6 liter engine has been discontinued, no doubt to its impracticality. Our LT was an automatic transmission, which I felt had weak acceleration for a V-6 engine. I think this problem could be remedied with a manual transmission.
The vehicle that I drove, the LT hardtop, has a base price of $21,230. Two option packages, each $595, equipped our car with its 4-wheel anti-lock brake system and its gray leather seating surfaces. Along with a $425 destination charge, our total vehicle price is $22,845. This would be a great vehicle for a young couple upgrading their compact sedan looking to start a family and who understand the reality that a larger SUV would be an impractical investment.