The Chevrolet Traverse is a large crossover SUV able to haul a truckload of cargo or up to eight people. Built more like a car than a truck, Traverse uses front-wheel drive and is much lighter than a Tahoe. As a result, Traverse rides like a car, handles well and gets decent fuel economy for its size.
All-wheel drive is optional to improve stability on winter roads and, if only a by a bit, expand the range of surfaces the Traverse can traverse.
The 2013 Traverse gets new front and rear styling, updated infotainment systems and cabin materials, and on many versions offers a front-center airbag that keeps two front occupants from hitting each other in a side collision. Traverse was launched as an all-new model for the 2009 model year.
We found Traverse to be an excellent family vehicle. It is the modern station wagon.
Underway, Traverse feels more like a big sedan than a truck. It rides comfortably and is much more stable than truck-based SUVs, which tend to lean in corners and bound over undulations. The steering is direct and responsive, very light in effort, and the brakes are easy to modulate for nice smooth stops. Drivers moving out of a compact or midsize SUV will find it bulky when parking, while folks trading down from full-size truck-based SUVs will find Traverse surpassingly carlike and nimble. It can tow a bass boat but isn't equipped for heavy trailering.
Fuel economy for the 2013 Chevrolet Traverse is an EPA-estimated 17/24 mpg City/Highway with front-wheel drive, and 16/23 with all-wheel drive. That's hardly stellar, but it has to be measured against the ability to traverse with six or seven of your friends without being seen in a van.
Power is provided by a 3.6-liter V6, specifically 281 horsepower with a single exhaust or 288 with dual exhaust. The V6 delivers strong horsepower though it does not have the torque of a V8. A smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic is standard.
Inside Traverse you'll find plenty of space, more than a Tahoe but less than a van, both of similar outside dimensions. Room in the first and second rows is plentiful, and the third row is bigger than most and is even plausible for adults. Cloth or leather, the front seats are comfortable and supportive. The second- and third-row seats fold flat to open up a generous cargo area. Even with all the seats up, there is enough room behind the third row for a week's worth of groceries, and an available power liftgate makes access easy.
The controls are easy to reach and operate. The rearview camera, which comes standard, makes backing this big vehicle up easier and safer. The dashboard is attractive, even if there's more obvious plastic inside than we'd like at this price point.
For more deluxe cabin surroundings, consider the Buick Enclave or GMC Acadia, which dress the same mechanical platform in fancier furnishings. Otherwise, the Traverse may be just your ticket for moving people and cargo. More stylish and thirsty than a minivan, more efficient than a truck-based SUV, it's kind of like a big family sedan with a glassed-in cargo bay in back. Now what did we used to call them?
Chevrolet Traverse LS ($30,340), AWD ($32,340); LT ($32,225), AWD ($34,225); LTZ FWD ($39,075), AWD ($41,075)
Chevrolet Traverse shares its architecture with the Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia. It's built using unit-body construction similar to that of a car rather than bolting the body to a heavy truck frame. Also, it's a front-wheel-drive platform. Traverse is longer but a finger-width narrower than the Chevrolet Tahoe full-size SUV.
Up front, the Traverse features the horizontal-dominant Chevrolet grille. The headlights start next to the grille and wrap into the front fenders. Horizontal fog lights mirror the headlights about six inches lower. A black air dam below the grille gives the front end a dark lower face. A peak at the center of the hood continues down through the grille and fascia, adding a touch of character.
From the side, the Traverse appears to have short overhangs for an SUV. The window line rises to the rear and that angle increases at the rear windows. A character line is located about a third of the way up each door, and the black front fascia is picked up along the sides by black plastic over the rocker panels. Large wheels and tires keep everything in proportion. Up top, the Traverse has optional roof rails and an available two-panel sunroof with a fixed rear panel and an opening front panel.
At the rear, the Traverse features dark tailgate glass that dips down toward the center. The tailgate lifts up and does not have a separate opening glass. New tail lights use inset clear-lens elements to channel the Camaro's tail lights, and the new license brow give it a trimmer look. The total design is well thought out, smooth and stylish.
Inside, the Chevy Traverse makes great use of its best-in-class space. It's a good blend of people and cargo hauling.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive, whether trimmed in cloth or leather, with lots of head room and leg room.
The second-row bench seat fits three adults easily and there is plenty of head and leg room. For greater comfort, buyers can opt for second-row captain's chairs; and a second-row center console is available in the LTZ model.
The third row is easy to access because the second row tilts and slides forward. With the second-row captain's chairs, there is a handy walkthrough to the third row. Three children can ride comfortably in the third row, and there is also enough head and leg room for two adults to fit back there. Adults won't be comfortable during long trips, though, because of the low height of the seat cushions.
Cargo space is plentiful. Traverse is big by class standards, so it has more cargo space behind the third-row seat (24.4 cubic feet) than most crossovers. Underneath the floor is a handy, though shallow storage bin. With the second and third rows folded down, cargo volume is an impressive 116.4 cubic feet (for comparison, that's seven more than a Chevy Tahoe and 32 less than a Honda Odyssey, which are both shorter). Those two rear rows fold easily, each with the flick of a lever, creating a nearly flat load floor. A strap on each section of the split third-row bench makes it easy to pull the seatbacks upright from the tailgate area. An available power rear liftgate also eases access to the cargo area.
Getting in and out is easy, again the Traverse sits lower than traditional truck-based SUVs and higher than vans. Still, the driver is perched higher than in a car and therefore has a clear view of the road ahead. Visibility to the front is generally good, but the Traverse is bigger than it feels, so it can be tough to see over the driver's right shoulder and objects immediately behind might be hidden from view. Wide-angle elements in the outside mirrors and a backup camera help.
Up front, the driver is surrounded by an attractively designed dashboard that has nice graining and has been updated with softer, more inviting textures and finished. The instrument cluster has two deep-set pods with electroluminescent gauges on a black background. It's easy to read and never washes out in bright sunlight.
The center stack features a navigation screen or the radio, plus the climate controls. All of the controls are clearly marked and easy to reach. The standard radio has an audio input jack but no iPod interface. In a messy Chicago winter, the camera lens became speckled with dirt and salt, making the image hard to see in the rearview mirror.
There is plenty of storage for small items throughout the cabin. The front center console has a deep bin on the bottom and another shallow bin on top. The top section slides forward and back to act as an adjustable armrest. There are cup and bottle holders galore, including two on the center console, one in each front door, and two in each rear door.
Chevrolet Traverse is big, closely matching dimensions of SUVs like the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition. However, lacking the truck foundation of an SUV, the Traverse is about 500 pounds lighter so it handles and rides better, and gets slightly better mileage (1-2 mpg) than a Tahoe.
Despite its two-and-a-half ton curb weight, the Traverse is surprisingly nimble. It handles more like a family sedan than like a Tahoe. While the steering is somewhat light, it is direct and responsive, not flaccid and slow like most four-wheel drive SUVs.
The all-wheel drive system is transparent to the driver and will aid accelerating traction in snow (it won't stop any better) but it is not designed for off-road use.
The ride is comfortable and stable. The Traverse lacks the floppiness and bounding common in truck-based SUVs, but load both to their limit and the Traverse gives up more. It does not pound over bumps, even with the available 20-inch wheels. It falls right where you expect between van comfort and SUV utility. The brakes are easy to modulate and provide worry-free emergency stops of average distance.
Still, the Traverse sits fairly high and weighs a lot, so occupants notice some head toss in turns and the highway ride is less stable than in a family sedan or a smaller, sportier crossover. The overall size also makes it somewhat bulky in parking lot and parallel parking, as its turning ability is inferior to the Tahoe, Odyssey and some full-size pickup trucks.
Power comes from GM's dual-overhead cam 3.6-liter V6, which makes 281 horsepower. In the LTZ, the engine has dual exhausts, which raises output to 288 horsepower. Coupled to a 6-speed automatic transmission, the V6 motivates the Traverse quite ably. Throttle response is predictable and smooth. Shifts are also smooth, but the transmission is sometimes too willing to shift to the next gear, and reluctant to downshift, leaving you wanting more power when you need it for passing or hills.
The 3.6-liter V6 also provides better fuel economy than you'll get in most truck-based SUVs. EPA fuel economy ratings for front-drive models are 17/24 mpg City/Highway. With all-wheel drive, those numbers drop to 16/23 mpg.
Towing capacity is 5,200 pounds with two people and no cargo. If you plan on towing more than 4000 pounds with a load, pay extra for a Tahoe: Its V8 engine has 30 horsepower and 65 pound-feet of torque over the V6 at a cost of 1-2 mpg, it tows 3000 pounds more, carries more people and cargo weight, and offers ground clearance and low-range 4WD for your remote campground or boat ramp.
However, if you don't need that 4WD or towing ability (or 9 seatbelts), and you don't want the space and fuel-efficiency of a van, the Traverse's pleasant road manners and interior space will get the job done.
The Chevrolet Traverse is a good family vehicle and reasonably priced. If you're buying a family mover, these vehicles are more stylish than a minivan and more practical and efficient than a truck-based SUV. They make truck-based SUVs practically unnecessary for anyone who doesn't need the towing capacity or off-highway ability.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Kirk Bell reported from Chicago; with G.R. Whale reporting from Los Angeles.