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There's a lot more than just fun in the latest edition of Chevrolet's suburban machine. It has new features to meet all passenger car safety standards. These include side door guard beams and rollover roof standards. Other '94 improvements include colorful new interiors and a center console with cup holders.
Produced for Chevrolet by Suzuki, the Tracker is sold by Chevrolet to compete with 4x4s such as the Suzuki Samurai. Yes, somehow this makes sense in a marketing sort of way. After all, there are many more Chevrolet dealers than Suzuki dealers. Like any good auto manufacturer, Suzuki didn't agonize over the logic of competing with itself. It just made more money on what is basically the same product.
The base sticker price for the Tracker 4x4 Convertible we drove was $12,135. Options such as air conditioning, 15inch alloy wheels and a package that included power steering and a premium sound system brought the total to $14,294, plus destination charges, prep and taxes. While this makes the Geo Tracker 4x4 Convertible substantially more expensive than many well-equipped compact cars, it is a fairly low price for a 4WD vehicle. Four-wheel-drive power trains do not come cheap. Neither does meeting safety standards for an off-road-capable convertible.
The Tracker 4x4 Convertible does say "fun." Its looks say, "Jump in and let's go blast over sand dunes or play in the snow." The short-86.6 inches-wheelbase puts the wheels virtually at the corners. An integrated rollover roof bar gives the vehicle a beefy, go-anywhere look. Our Tracker was finished in Tropical Green Metallic with the optional wild child black charcoal "Expressive" cloth interior and multicolored inserts on the seats. The black convertible top folds down behind the rear seat and fits snugly against the rollover roof bar when up. A removable black panel fits over the driver/passenger area.
Flared fenders, black bumpers and black bodyside and rocker moldings complete the muscled, utilitarian look. We had the optional 15-inch alloy wheels. Black mirrors flare out on either side of the hood. Overall fit and finish is very good. Choose the more expensive LSi 4x4 Convertible and you get some bright metal inserts plus body-color bumpers and mirrors, special moldings, tinted glass, power steering and AM/FM stereo.
The highback front bucket seats are split by the new center console with cup holders. The center console also carries the shift lever (we had the five-speed manual transmission) and parking brake. Extending into the instrument panel, the console holds the sound system and the heating/cooling system. Analog gauges, tachometer and speedometer are centered over the steering wheel. Control placement was average, but we especially liked the big sound system controls and station/time display. The sound system quality was very good.
A rear bench seat has room for two people who will get to know each other fairly well even on a shopping center run. The rear seatback folds down and the whole rear seat assembly folds forward for 32.1 cubic feet of storage there is just over 8 cubic feet of storage with the seat up. Folding the rear seatback, then pivoting the whole seat assembly forward proved to be a real chore with the top in place. It is more easily done standing outside the vehicle with the top down. We would hate to do this in bad weather with the top up.
The front seats were comfortable and supportive. This was true even in our off-road jaunts and, given this is a sort of no-frills 4x4, we found the comfort a pleasant surprise. The back seat-as even in more expensive off-road-capable vehicles barely met our meager expectations for basic support.
We got some surprises here. Good ones. We weren't surprised that our Tracker 4x4 Convertible handled well in traffic situations. It is high on maneuverability. You can see all four corners of the vehicle easily. Parking and close-quarter handling were ideal. The 1.6-liter single-overhead-cam, multi-port fuel-injected four puts out 95 hp. Applied through the five-speed manual, it had good acceleration and passing ability. Like most small engines, it tended to run out of steam at speeds above 60 mph.
Handling was superb, with power steering, wide stance and the tried-and-true suspension combination of front MacPherson struts and rear coil springs with a solid rear axle. The brakes were front discs and rear drums with an anti-locking system in the rear. They performed well, with little fade. One complaint is the rather small brake pedal-in fact, all three pedals seemed too small.
A rain storm enabled us to put the Geo Tracker 4x4 Convertible through some seriously muddy ruts on our off-road course. We locked the manual front hubs, shifted the transfer case into 4WD low and took off. It was a blast. The Tracker powered through the muck and mire with ease. There was jouncing and bouncing, but no more than we expected. In fact, a lot less than we expected. The Tracker seemed to float over a lot of the mess. We tried our hill climb slope in the rain and the Tracker handled it with no problem.
We shifted the transfer case to 4WD high and tried a slippery two-track. No problem here, either. We suspect our modest off-road course wasn't much of a test and that really adverse conditions might daunt the Tracker.
Naturally with the rain, we had the top up. We expected some loud wind and rain noise. Instead, we were surprised that it was so calm inside. Later, on a sunny day, we put the top down and enjoyed the outdoors. We found putting the top up and down very manageable--we accomplished it every time without scrapes, bumps or torn fingernails. Top-down travel in a Geo Tracker 4x4 Convertible, especially off-road, tends to make one giddy. We had all the fun we expected and more. Lest we lose all semblance of objectivity we must admit this is not a vehicle we would want to live with in the wilds for long periods, but it sure makes the occasional off-road jaunt fun.
We admit to some prejudice when we approached the Geo Tracker 4x4 Convertible. We looked at it as a suburban toy. Maybe it is, but it is really fun to drive on- and off-road. It handles well, performs up to admittedly modest expectations and looks good doing it all. We wouldn't want to take it trout fishing in Montana or bear hunting in Alaska, but to get around town or for trips to the beach or in the country, it's just fine. We also are hard-pressed to add more to it. While $14,000 is a lot of money when compared with a compact car, it's at the low end of the 4WD market. If you're looking for this kind of fun and can pay for it in spite of limitations, in comfort, convenience and capacity, the Geo Tracker 4x4 Convertible deserves your consideration.
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