- The Washington Times - Friday, November 16, 2001

The Tracker sport utility vehicle started life 13 years ago as a Geo model but seems to be enjoying newfound success wearing only the Chevrolet badge.
A major redesign two years ago and a V-6 engine, new this year, certainly helped. With calendar year sales of Tracker on a record pace this year, Chevrolet's smallest SUV is showing just how hot the small SUV category is.
According to automotive researcher J.D. Power and Associates of Agoura Hills, Calif., small SUVs account for nearly 1 in 5 new SUV sales, up from 1 in 8 in 1997.
And while new names in the segment like Ford Escape and Jeep Liberty are attracting attention, Tracker's low starting prices help keep it a contender.
The manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination, for a base, 2001 two-door convertible Tracker is $15,885 while a four-door, hardtop model starts at $16,505.
Chevy dropped the Geo nameplate from the Tracker in the 1998 model year. Geo had tried to differentiate certain vehicles in Chevy showrooms to appeal to more import-oriented buyers.
This year, Chevy added two new, four-door Tracker models: A sporty ZR2 and a high-line LT, which was my test vehicle. Both come standard with a new V-6 that helps give this long-running SUV better performance than ever.
It took a while for Chevy to get this 155-horsepower, 2.5-liter power plant. It's made by Suzuki in Japan and has, until this model year, been the exclusive V-6 in the popular Suzuki Grand Vitara SUV.
There's a close relationship between Suzuki's Vitara models and Chevy's Tracker. The Tracker is a sibling of the Vitaras, and Tracker assembly is done at a joint venture General Motors Corp.-Suzuki plant in Ingersoll, Ontario. GM is Chevy's parent corporation.
But the resemblance isn't immediately obvious.
For one thing the LT tester comes standard with new exterior cladding and bumpers that are silver-colored and add a distinctive, more upscale look. Too bad the matching running boards can be more awkward than useful.
The V-6 provided good power once I got up to speed in the tester with four-speed automatic transmission.
But torque of 160 foot-pounds at 4,000 rpm wasn't quickly evident. On highway merge ramps, cars in front of me would accelerate and pull away, even as I floored the Tracker's gas pedal and waited for power to come.
Fuel economy isn't terrific, either, at 18 mpg in the city and just 20 mpg on the highway with the automatic transmission.
The V-6 isn't the only engine change for 2001. The base Tracker now comes standard with a 127-horsepower, 2-liter, four-cylinder engine. The anemic, 97-horsepower, 1.6-liter four is no longer in the lineup.
In this day when so many SUVs are melding car platforms with an SUV look, it's important to note the Tracker retains a full ladder-type frame like trucks use. That helps contribute to a sometimes-bouncy ride on rough, patched pavement, and riders feel some vibrations over other, lesser bumps. But on smooth asphalt, the Tracker ride can be quite pleasant.
The Tracker has an independent McPherson strut suspension up front and a five-link, solid axle at the rear.
Wheels and tires are 15-inchers that squealed easily on curves and didn't convey as much grip of the road as I would prefer. Standard wheels on competitors like the Suzuki Vitaras and redesigned, 2001 Toyota RAV4 are 16-inchers.
Power rack-and-pinion steering in the Tracker could feel vague, even at highway speeds.
Still, ground clearance for the Tracker is a real-SUV-like 8 inches in four-wheel-drive models.
Tracker's part-time four-wheel drive is a bit of a throwback in this day of automatic four-wheel and all-wheel-drive systems.
A Tracker driver must shift manually into and out of four-wheel drive selecting either high or low gear when warranted. While this is appreciated by off-road devotees, it's not typical of mainstream automotive trends.
I did find that the shifting between two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive in the test Tracker was easy, and a diagram next to the shift lever that showed the shift pattern helped.
Drivers can shift between two-wheel drive and four-wheel-drive high at speeds of less than 60 mph as long as the front wheels are in a straight-ahead position.
I enjoyed the Tracker's command position seating, easy-to-see gauges and easy-to-reach controls. The large side windows and ample headroom help create an appealing, airy feel.
The standard AM/FM stereo with CD player also has better sound quality than expected.
But there are signs of cost-cutting. The tester had optional leather seats, for example, that didn't have a rich feel; the front seatbacks were busy with seams and zippers.
And there isn't as much sound insulation as I'd like. At highway speeds, the test Tracker had a lot of "woo-woo" wind noise that seemed to emanate from the roof where the standard roof rack was positioned.
I liked the fact that head restraints adjusted up and down and locked in place. But the middle rider in back didn't have a head restraint or shoulder belt, only a lap belt. It's a tight squeeze for three adults back there, anyway, and the rear doorways are narrow.
Cargo capacity in the Tracker is a maximum 44.7 cubic feet when the split, folding back seats are down, and the low load floor makes hauling items in and out easy.


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