The Chevrolet Traverse is a large crossover SUV that seats seven or eight. Built more like a car than a truck, the Traverse is surprisingly nimble, with handling more like that of a family sedan than a big SUV.
We found the steering direct and responsive, if light, and the brakes easy to modulate for nice smooth stops. The ride is comfortable and much more stable than that of truck-based SUVs, which tend to lean in corners and bound over undulations. Though no lightweight, the Traverse is significantly lighter than a Chevrolet Tahoe, allowing the Traverse to deliver superior fuel economy and handling.
Traverse comes with a 3.6-liter V6 that moves it ably from a stop and provides decent passing punch. The V6 makes 281 horsepower, or 288 with the available dual exhaust system, and it comes with a smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is available for improved stability in wintry conditions.
Fuel economy numbers are better than those of most truck-type SUVs, but they're less than for the average family car. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 16/23 mpg City/Highway with all-wheel drive or 17/24 mpg with front-wheel drive. Given the spacious interior and eight-passenger capacity, the fuel economy is quite good.
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.
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 obvious plastic inside than we'd like at this price point. The controls are easy to reach and operate. An optional rearview camera makes backing this big vehicle up easier and safer.
Chevrolet Traverse shares its powertrain and platform with the more upscale Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia, so take a look at them if you want fancier furnishings. Benefiting from a strong unit-body structure similar in concept to that of a car, these big crossover SUVs make truck-based SUVs obsolete in terms of simply 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 Traverse is large, though, so it can be bulky in parking lot and parallel parking maneuvers. Conversely, if you're towing anything bigger than a bass boat, you'll want the Tahoe. Otherwise, if you're coming out of a truck-based SUV, you'll be quite pleased with the superior ride and handling of the Traverse. Plus, it gets better mileage and is more space efficient.
In short, we think the Chevrolet Traverse is an excellent family vehicle.
For 2011, changes are minimal. Aside from some new colors, the optional USB port has been relocated to the storage bin in the upper instrument panel. It connects portable music devices to the vehicle’s audio system and charges batteries of some hand-held items. Heated cloth seats are offered on the 2011 Traverse LT.
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 narrower than the Chevrolet Tahoe full-size SUV.
Though large, the Traverse has a soft, sleek, modern appearance.
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 optional 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 a 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. It's both a superb people hauler and a terrific cargo hauler.
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 aplenty. Traverse has more cargo space behind the third-row seat (24.4 cubic feet) than any midsize SUV. 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, near the top of the class and almost eight cubic feet more than what's available 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 might be hidden from view. 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 vehicle in this price range. 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. 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 limited value. 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 with the rearview camera system.
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 larger than the midsize SUVs, more closely matching the full-size SUVs, such as the Chevrolet Tahoe, in overall size. Traverse rides on a 119-inch wheelbase and measures about 205 inches in overall length. Traverse weighs more than the midsize SUVs but nearly 600 pounds less than a Tahoe. That's a big difference, and less weight means better fuel economy, handling and braking.
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 in the Tahoe, Yukon and Suburban.
The ride is comfortable and stable. The Traverse lacks the floppiness and bounding common in truck-based SUVs. It 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 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, 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 mpg City and 24 Highway. With all-wheel drive, those numbers drop to 16/23 mpg.
Towing capacity is 5,200 pounds, which means light boats, personal watercraft. Truck-based SUVs such as the Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford Expedition, Nissan Armada, or Toyota Sequoia can tow 7,000 to 9,000 pounds, making them better for towing 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 Chevrolet Traverse is an excellent family vehicle and is 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. 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.