The Chevrolet Traverse is one of a new generation of large crossover SUVs making big, clunky, truck-based SUVs practically obsolete, at least when it comes to moving people and cargo. More stylish than minivans and far more fuel and space efficient than truck-based SUVs, crossovers like the Traverse are excellent family vehicles.
The Chevy Traverse shares its powertrain and platform with the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook. It offers seven- or eight-passenger capacity and plenty of cargo space.
For years, buyers have sacrificed fuel economy and driving pleasure for size, ride height, and cargo capacity. The Traverse offers a fine blend of all those traits.
On the road, the Traverse is surprisingly nimble. It handles a more like a family sedan than a Chevy Tahoe. The steering is direct and responsive, if light, and the brakes are easy to modulate. The ride is comfortable and much more stable than that of large SUVs, which can often bound and lean. The Traverse is large, though, so it can be bulky in parking lot and parallel parking maneuvers.
Power is more than adequate. The Traverse comes with a 3.6-liter V6 that moves it ably from a stop and provides decent passing punch. It makes 281 horsepower or 288 with the available dual exhaust system. The Traverse comes standard with a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy numbers are better than those of most truck-type SUVs, but they're less than your average family car. Given the Traverse's spacious interior and eight-passenger capacity, the fuel economy is quite good. Though no lightweight, the Traverse is significantly lighter than the Tahoe, allowing the Traverse to deliver superior fuel economy and handling.
Inside, the Traverse offers best-in-class space. 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 it easy to access those groceries.
The controls are easy to reach and operate. Cloth or leather, the front seats are comfortable and supportive. Room in the first and second rows is plentiful, and the third row is bigger than most and is even useful for adults. The dashboard is attractive, but there's more plastic inside than we'd like at this price point.
If you're coming out of a Ford Explorer, Chevy Tahoe, or Dodge Durango, you'll be quite pleased with the Traverse. It's much more pleasant to drive than those vehicles, thanks to dramatically improved ride and handling. Plus, it gets better mileage and is more space efficient on the inside. In short, the Chevy Traverse is an excellent family vehicle.
Chevrolet says the Traverse is a midsize crossover SUV, but it's bigger than even its midsize truck-based competitors and is only slightly shorter than a Chevy Tahoe full-size SUV.
The Traverse shares its architecture with the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, and Saturn Outlook, and they're all based on GM's Lambda platform.
Though large, the Traverse trades the bold and upright looks of traditional truck-based SUVs for a softer, sleeker, more modern look.
Up front, the Traverse features an attractive version of Chevrolet's split grille. The headlights start next to the grille and wrap around 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 black 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 separate opening glass. The center peak from the front is repeated here, as is the black lower fascia treatment. The total design is well thought out, smooth and stylish.
Inside, the Chevy Traverse makes great use of its best-in-class space. Cloth or leather, the front seats are comfortable and supportive, with lots of head 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 the seat cushions are set too low.
In terms of cargo space, the Traverse has more room behind the third-row seat (19.7 cubic feet) than in any midsize SUV, and GM provides a handy, though shallow, under-floor bin. With the second and third rows folded down, cargo volume is an impressive 116.4 cubic feet, near the top of the class and almost eight cubic feet more than in the full-size Tahoe. 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 because the Traverse sits lower than traditional truck-based SUVs. 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 can hide. With this in mind, it makes sense to get the rearview camera. Not only does it add an element of safety, helping avoid the tragic mistake of backing over a child, it also proves to be highly useful in everyday parking situations, making maneuvering in tight quarters easier and quicker.
Up front, the driver is surrounded by an attractively designed dashboard that has nice graining but uses more hard plastics than customers might expect for a $30,000 vehicle. 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 radio has an audio input jack but no iPod interface. Models equipped with the navigation system and rearview camera show the camera's image on the navigation screen. The rearview camera is available without the navigation screen, in which case a smaller image is shown on the rearview mirror. We've found this type of setup of little use. In a messy Chicago winter, the camera lens became speckled with dirt and salt, making the image hard to see in the rearview mirror. A larger image on the navigation screen would have been easier to see and more helpful. We recommend the full navigation screen/rearview camera system.
Small items storage throughout the cabin is plentiful. 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.
For years, buyers have sacrificed fuel economy and driving pleasure for size, ride height, and cargo capacity. Now, you can have it all, or at least most of it. Riding a 118.9-inch wheelbase and running about 201 inches in length, the Chevy Traverse is among the largest in the midsize SUV class, and it approaches the full-size Chevrolet Tahoe in overall size. It is also among the heaviest midsize SUVs, but it weighs 600 pounds less than the Tahoe. That's a big difference, and less weight means better fuel economy, better handling, better braking.
Anyone coming out of a full-size SUV or a truck-based midsize SUV, will find the Traverse much more pleasant to drive. Despite its two-and-a-half ton curb weight, the Traverse is surprisingly nimble. It handles more like a family sedan than a Chevy Tahoe. While the steering is somewhat light, it is direct and responsive, not flaccid and slow like in the Tahoe, Yukon and Suburban.
The ride is comfortable and stable, and it lacks the floppiness and bounding common in truck-based SUVs. The Traverse does not pound over bumps, even with the available 20-inch wheels. The brakes are easy to modulate and provide worry-free emergency stops.
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 maneuvers.
Power comes from GM's best V6 engine, the “high feature” dual-overhead cam 3.6-liter, which it puts out 281 horsepower. In the LTZ, the engine breathes better thanks to dual exhaust, which raises output to 288 horsepower. Coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission, the V6 motivates the Traverse quite ably. Throttle response is linear, with smooth tip-in. Shifts are also smooth, but the transmission is sometimes too willing to shift to the next gear, leaving you wanting for power when that blue-haired lady moves over to let you pass.
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 mpg city and 24 highway. With all-wheel drive, those numbers drop to 16/23 mpg. By comparison, the Ford Explorer is rated at 13/19 with a less-powerful V6, and the least powerful Tahoe (a 295 horsepower V8) gets 15/20 mpg.
Towing capacity is 5200 pounds, which means light boats, maybe a car. Truck-based SUVs such as the Chevrolet Tahoe or TrailBlazer, Explorer or Expedition, Nissan Armada, or Toyota Sequoia can tow up to 9000 pounds, making them superior for bigger boats, heavier car trailers, and enclosed trailers. Given the Traverse's pleasant road manners and efficient use of interior space, the extra towing capacity is the main reason to buy one of those larger truck-based alternatives.
The Chevy Traverse and its Saturn, GMC, and Buick cousins are excellent family vehicles, and the Traverse is the most reasonably priced of the bunch. If you're buying a family mover, these vehicles are cooler than a minivan and more practical and efficient than a truck-based SUV. In fact, they make truck-based SUVs practically unnecessary for anyone who doesn't need the extra towing capacity.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Kirk Bell filed this report from Chicago.