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The first human being to recommend traveling light was probably hiking through the forest with his belongings on his back. Or maybe she was trying to cut through rush-hour traffic on the way to soccer practice. In either case, bulk was not an advantage.
And so it is with SUVs: A hulking, 5,000-pound, $40,000 behemoth may look impressive in your driveway and yeah, we know it could tow City Hall if it had to. But that doesn't make it the most ideal companion for the backwoods, or even the back streets. Chevrolet's Tracker, on the other hand, is a fully trail worthy SUV that's not much bigger than the car-based compact SUVs. A real truck, it's built on a ladder frame, and its four-wheel-drive system offers a low range. Yet it's not much more expensive than a well-equipped compact car.
The current-generation Tracker, which debuted in 1999, is far more refined than before. Now, the 2001 models offer attractive new trim options and an all-new V6. The Tracker makes a lot of sense for a lot of people.
The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is smooth and provides enough power to entertain when coupled with the five-speed manual. With its relatively broad power band, the Tracker can pass with confidence on Interstates, and there's no fear of getting run over when pulling away from busy intersections. The Tracker's five-speed manual shifts smoothly, and combines with a light clutch for easy drivability. A four-speed automatic transmission is a $1,000 option.
The V6 revs smoothly and builds power quickly. Like the four-cylinder engine, it's a dual overhead-cam unit (four cams total) with four valves per cylinder. It produces 155 horsepower at 6500 rpm, and 160 pound-feet of torque at 4000, both representing a significant increase over the 127 horsepower and 134 pound-feet offered by the four-cylinder.
Built like a truck, the Tracker rides and handles like one. The tires squeal easily, even when making a low-speed U-turn. Like many small SUVs, the Tracker lacks grip on wet pavement; the rear tires tend to spin when turning and accelerating briskly away from a stop sign. We suspect the Uniroyal Tiger Paws may be the culprits. Shifting into four-wheel drive can cure this, but you'll need to shift back into two-wheel drive when approaching tight quarters or the front and rear tires will fight each other as the drivetrain binds up. The independent front suspension does a good job of damping out tar strips and other medium-sized bumps, and improves the Trackers agility. The ride quality is not bad for a vehicle with a short wheelbase. The track, the distance between the left and right tires, is 2.4 inches wider than in the old Geo Trackers, which improves stability.
The latest Tracker's rack-and-pinion steering does provide a more precise feel and better responsiveness than the recirculating-ball system used on the old Geo models. Still, as with many SUVs, the steering response is a little mushy on center. That's probably due to the wide P205/75R15 tires that come with the 4X4, but those tires offer a good compromise of off-road traction and on-road grip.
Braking is a pleasant surprise, with firm pedal feel. The optional anti-lock brake system adjusts brake pressure to the front and rear wheels during hard braking situations, helping the driver maintain steering control by minimizing wheel lockup.
The four-wheel-drive system is a snap to employ. A lever to the left of the transmission shifter allows the driver to choose rear-wheel drive, four-wheel drive or low-range four-wheel drive. It's a shift-on-the-fly system with automatic locking hubs, which means drivers don't have to stop or get out of the vehicle to engage four-wheel drive. The four-wheel-drive system directs power to both axles equally, as opposed to all-wheel-drive or some on-demand four-wheel-drive systems that send power to the wheels with traction. A two-speed transfer case provides a four-wheel-drive low-range setting for driving through deep mud or snow or for traversing steep inclines.
Chevy's Tracker would make an enjoyable economy car even if it came without the wagon body and off-road gear. But with its tall roof and 4X4 capability, the Tracker makes a strong case as an all-in-one vehicle that suits a wide range of needs.
The Tracker handles off-road duty, hauling small loads of furniture, and the daily commute. It's a manageable size, making it easier for daily use in today's crowded world. And it comes with a manageable price, making it easier to afford.