Every time we turn around, the auto market has spawned some new niche. The latest to gain buyer’s attention is the mini-sport-ute convertible. And the latest addition to that niche is the 1999 Chevy Tracker convertible. But while a soft-top Tracker is nothing new, for ‘99 GM’s smallest sport-ute has been redone both inside and out.
With so much that’s changed, we can easily endorse the redesigned 1999 Chevrolet Tracker two-door convertible as a now serious contender in the mini-ute drop top battle.
A new, lower roofline and more rounded corners give the Tracker a strong ranking in the styling category. With an 86.6 inch body-on-frame wheel base, the open Tracker is equal to the class benchmark unibody Toyota RAV4 convertible. Track is within two-tenths of being the same, although Tracker looks wider than RAV4, and at 8 inches, has slightly more ground clearance than the Toyota. A big improvement over the previous Tracker has the spare tire mounted lower on the tailgate for better rearward visibility.
There’s also an improved choice of powerplants under the hood. In addition to the standard 1.6 liter, 4 cylinder, there’s now a 2.0 liter, DOHC, 16-valve, 4 cylinder available. It produces 127 horsepower and 134 pound-feet of torque. This matches Toyota’s RAV4 in ponies, but the Tracker’s 2 liter delivers more torque at significantly lower rpms. And running through the optional 4-speed automatic tranny pushed us to 60 in 10.6 seconds and on through the quarter mile in 18 seconds at 76 mph.
Our Tracker Convertible also came with optional 4 wheel ABS. With discs up front and drums in the rear, we managed stops from 60 in a longish 138 feet. But stability and ABS feedback are good.
Another upgrade for ‘99 is the Tracker’s new longer travel 5-link rear suspension holding the live axle in place, while the front continues with MacPherson struts and coil springs. This set up does a fine job of keeping the Tracker firmly and comfortably planted both on road and off, while the part time 4-wheel-drive system now has automatic locking hubs for shift-on-the-fly capability and a 2-speed transfer case for when low down grunt is needed.
A new rack and pinion steering system replaces the recirculating ball unit. It has better on center feel, but our drivers felt it was overly heavy and slow.
There’s plenty of new design work on the inside of the Tracker, as well. Controls are now more ergonomically friendly, and the front seats have been reworked for added comfort. They face an optional tilt steering wheel and a freshened gauge cluster.
Climate controls are dated but functional, and the AM/FM/CD player sound quality really kicks. Too bad the wind noise from the soft top obliterates most of it at cruising speed.
Rear passenger room is what you’d expect; tight and not for the long haul. And the seat needs to be folded, and the lockable storage compartment removed, to achieve any useful cargo space.
As for the top with more zippers, snaps, and velcro than a catalog from Frederick’s of Hollywood, the majority of our staff had little patience for the labor intensive operation.
Much less painful is the price. Base price on the 4-wheel drive, Tracker two-door convertible is $14,735. With the 2 liter engine and an options package that includes air conditioning and upgraded stereo, our tester weighed in at $19,270. A 2-wheel drive model is also available.
Solid body on frame construction, rugged 4-wheel drive system, and a proven track record already make the fun and sun filled 1999 Chevrolet Tracker a serious challenger to the RAV4 in the mini-ute soft top niche.
Its newly refined looks, friendlier interior, sure-footed ride and more powerful engine might just even tip the sales in its favor.
Engine: 2.0 Liter Dohc 16-valve 4 Cylinder
Torque: 134 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 10.6 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 18 Seconds @ 76 MPH
60-0 MPH: 138 Feet