Chevrolet Traverse – GM’s newest large crossover

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

It was no surprise that we instantly liked the all-new Chevrolet Traverse.

Our first experience with the full-sized Chevy crossover came on a flawless autumn day hauling four adults and all the goodies necessary for a college football game tailgate party. The only downside to brilliant sunshine, moderate temperatures and fun with friends was the home team losing on a last-minute touchdown.

The Traverse, however, did prove a winner. A loss was not expected because the Traverse is the fourth large crossover vehicle to come from the so-called General Motors Lambda platform that has earned solid reviews including thumbs up in this corner. The only surprise is that it took GM so long to add the Traverse to the large crossover fleet, which includes the Saturn Outlook, GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave. The other surprise, now several months later and with excellent hindsight - why does nearly every division in GM need basically the same vehicle? Must be part of the cultural problem!

Giving the General’s largest division a share of the success seemed a no-brainer because Chevy’s huge dealer network will probably push the Traverse to the head of the line. That in turn pushes the slower, lower volume selling divisions deeper into the abyss.

However, the tailgaters were delighted to find that the Traverse comes with an immense interior. There are 69 cubic feet of space behind the second-row seats available to haul, in our case, a large ice chest, folding chairs, a tailgate tent and food for a week. The second-row passengers commented on their stretch-out room. And if all the rear passenger space is needed for cargo, the seats fold flat in a single motion with the headrests folding out of the way revealing a 118-cubic-foot area. If three rows are needed for passengers, there is still a healthy 24 cubic feet of storage way back. To put it in perspective that’s more interior space than the full-sized truck-based Chevy Tahoe.

Our passengers expressed pleasure with a compliant ride while at the same time we were forming a favorable opinion of the big crossover’s handling traits and good on-center feel. The interior solitude was also a brief topic of interest on the trip to the game.
Discussion of the merits of the Chevrolet took a back-seat to football talk on the return trip. Saturday night quarterbacking, if you will!

But the Traverse was a good place for spirited talk, never having to raise a voice in the crossover’s quiet environment.

The overall shape of the Traverse naturally mimics the look of its siblings, but the new model speaks loudly of Chevrolet, particularly its distinctive split mesh grille used to great success by the Malibu. The taillight treatment also has Chevrolet traits with partially circular taillights.

Inside, the dash has been revised with two rectangular pods housing the gauges. It also gets a hint of the Malibu’s dual-cowl theme and its two-tone layout. The center stack comes straight from the General Motors parts bin, but that being said, it’s a solid, handsome, easy-to-use design.

We think General Motors has come up with a good compromise between horsepower and gas mileage considering it takes a significant number of horses to propel 4,700 pounds of automobile.

The only engine available is a 3.6-liter V-6 that produces 281 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque. If you opt for the top-of-the-line LTZ trim level, horsepower increases to 288 and torque to 270 pound-feet thanks to a dual-outlet exhaust and direct fuel injection. Performance as measured by 0-to-60 times is excellent, 7.6 seconds for the all-wheel drive model. The measured stopping distance from 60 wasn’t quite as noteworthy at 135 feet, but certainly in the acceptable range.

Gas mileage, while not stellar, is certainly acceptable at 17 mpg city, 24 mpg highway for front-wheel drive and 16/23 for all-wheel drive on regular gas. That matches up well with its direct competitors such as the Mazda CX-9, Ford Flex and Toyota Highlander, especially when you consider the Traverse has the most cargo and passenger space in the segment.

If you need seven-passenger space, the Traverse makes sense considering a horsepower-comparable-Tahoe and a Ford Expedition get 20 percent and 35 percent less mileage respectively.

The Traverse comes in three trim levels and in either two-wheel or all-wheel drive starting at $29,725 including destination charge for the base LS. The LT starts at $31,545 and the LTZ begins at $39,810. Figure about $2,000 for all-wheel drive.

Standard equipment is abundant and particularly noteworthy is Chevy’s standard safety package. The base price brings antilock brakes, traction and stability control, front-seat side-impact airbags, full-length side-curtain airbags and tire-pressure monitoring. Also standard is one year of GM’s OnStar system including turn-by-turn navigation.

We applaud the company for those features and to Chevrolet’s credit the Traverse earned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's top five-star rating for passenger protection in head-on and side-impact crashes.

Our LT1 test vehicle came with such standard features as full power accessories, 18-inch machined aluminum wheels, front and rear air conditioning, steering wheel controls, cruise control, audio system with CD player and XM satellite radio, and tilt and telescoping steering wheel.

Such modern goodies that more and more people favor including navigation, rear entertainment, leather seating, heated and cooled seats and 20-inch wheels can be purchased as options. Most of those things come standard on the LTZ package, but rear entertainment, dual-skyscape sunroof and a second-row console are optional on all trim levels.

Despite the Chevy’s size and weight (all-wheel drive adds 200 pounds), we were impressed with its ability to navigate the crowded stadium parking lot and its overall agility. Not quite a running back but not an interior lineman either.

We were also impressed with the vehicle’s 5,200-pound tow rating, which should give families with boats and other recreational goodies plenty of towing capacity for weekend activities.

We do wish the Traverse had come in a bit less on the porky side - the nearly same size all-wheel drive Mazda CX-9, for instance, is 300 pounds slimmer, but we were impressed with the overall package.

The only thing we’d change is narrowing the choice of four similar vehicles to the max of two. And the final score of the football game.

Base price: $29,725; as driven, $31,810
Engine: 3.6-liter V-6
Horsepower: 281 @ 6,300 rpm
Torque: 266 foot-pounds @ 3,400 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3/3
Wheelbase: 118.9 inches
Length: 205 inches
Curb weight: 4,790 pounds
Turning circle: 40.4 feet
Towing capacity: 5,200 pounds
Luggage capacity: 24 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 118 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 22 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 24 mpg highway, 16 mpg city
0-60: 7.6 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Ford Flex, Saturn Outlook, Toyota Highlander

The Good
• Passenger-friendly seating for up to eight. Easy to drive. Top safety rating and abundant safety equipment.

The Bad
• Rearward visibility below average. Heavyweight status affects performance, gas mileage.

The Ugly
• Yet another 8-passenger truck from GM; could this be a bailout killer?