The Chevrolet Traverse is designed for the ego of the American family man. It can transport the same cargo as a minivan without calling to mind the term "soccer mom."
This family-class crossover is more stylish than the Toyota Highlander, less bulky than the Honda Pilot and is as functional and innovative as either of those imports. American competitors in this seven- to eight-seat segment are the Ford Flex and Dodge Journey.
Traverse shares an architecture with the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook, but each has a different face and features, and the Chevrolet has a lower starting price. These crossovers are General Motors' answer to the minivan, which typically gets better fuel economy and is a better people mover -- but is less adept at moving egos.
That's no problem with Traverse, which carries the new Chevy design language that weaves through the Malibu sedan, Camaro and 2010 Equinox, the redesigned compact crossover.
Sold in front- or all-wheel-drive models, Traverse capitalizes on American preferences for power, quiet ride, and head and shoulder room.
There is one powertrain choice: a 281-horsepower V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission. (Highlander V-6 and Pilot have five-speed automatic transmissions.)
Pricing ranges from $29,990 to $42,750 for the LTZ that has all-wheel drive, leather-trimmed seats, 20-inch alloy wheels and a dual exhaust, which adds 7 horsepower. Consumers who own a General Motors vehicle can take advantage of a $1,500 loyalty incentive.
I tested an eight-passenger 1LT ($31,770 after a $750 incentive) and a seven-passenger LTZ ($44,880). For those who don't care about the power or deluxe extras of the LTZ, an upgrade to the LT 2LT ($34,490 with $750 incentive) comes with second-row bucket seats and such extras as power tailgate, rearview camera in rearview mirror, Bluetooth phone connection and automatic climate control.
And there are some interesting extras, such as the Dual Skyscape Sunroof, ($1,400) and a center console between the seats in the second row ($300).
The bullet points of Traverse are good, or even "Very Good" as it was judged by Consumer Reports in a ranking of 18 midsized SUVs with three rows of seats. It was just behind the Highlander and Highlander Hybrid.
Power: The aluminum V-6 uses direct fuel injection and has double overhead cams and variable valve timing.
While Traverse weighs a couple ofhundred pounds more than Pilot, it gets 1 mpg better fuel economy on the highway. The front-drive model is rated 17 mpg city, 24 highway, and all-wheel drive is rated 16/23. The Highlander, which has less horsepower than Traverse, matches it for highway fuel economy, but gets 1 mpg better in the city.
Ride quality: For such a large vehicle, Traverse is tight and solid. The sturdy platform rolls over speed bumps or lumpy intersections without a creak or flex. The four-wheel independent suspension limits head-toss when pulling into driveways, keeping back-seat passengers upright and happy.
Drivability: This is a big American-class cruiser. The steering weight is light and the throttle rolls on easily. Large four-wheel disc brakes -- 12.8-inch front, 13-inch rear -- give a firm response and will handle the 5,200-pound towing capacity. Tire sizes range from 17 inches for the base LS to 18 inches for LT to 20 inches for LTZ.
Ergonomics: Driver controls are smartly arranged and a tilt-telescopic steering wheel accommodates drivers of all sizes. Sightlines are good and the 2LT comes with a rearview camera in the rearview mirror. Front parking-assist sensors would be helpful, but aren't available. But a rear park assist is standard on LT models. LT2 and LTZ models also have blind-spot mirrors integrated with the outside mirrors that are useful, especially when trailering.
Function: There is room to comfortably spread out for the long drive to the soccer tournament. Back-seat occupants have a good view from two rows of raised seats. Storage is plentiful and of usable proportions.
The second row has a flat floor with some fore-aft seat adjustment. A multiaction, flip-and-fold design allows fairly simple access to the third row. But keeping the seat tracks free of debris for easy operation could be a concern.
The third row has cup holders and will be most comfortable for youngsters. Despite six air bags, including side curtains, the third row center position does not have a head restraint.
What's next? Traverse has been on sale less than a year. The 2010 model arrives in late summer or early fall but with only one upgrade of a USB port on premium radios. Located in the center console, it connects portable music devices to the vehicle's audio system and charges batteries of some hand-held items.
2009 Chevrolet Traverse LT
Body style: midsize, seven-passenger crossover in front- or all-wheel drive
Engine: aluminum, DOHC 3.6-liter, direct-injection V-6 with variable valve timing
Horsepower: 281 at 6,300 rpm
Torque: 266 at 3,600 rpm
Transmission: six-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy estimates: 17 mpg city, 24 highway; 87 octane recommended
Front head/leg/shoulder room: 40.4/41.3/62 inches
Second row head/leg/shoulder room: 39.4/36.8/61.3 inches
Third row head/leg/shoulder room: 37.8/33.2/57.6
Length/wheelbase: 205/118.9 inches
Curb weight: 4,720 pounds
Standard equipment includes: remote locking, dual-zone climate control, power mirrors with integrated blind-spot mirrors, Ultrasonic rear parking assist, Smart Slide second-row seats, rear cargo organizer, 18-inch wheels, power mirrors with integrated blind-spotmirror
Safety features include: six air bags, including side curtain air bags that deploy over all three seating rows, electronic stability and traction controls, four-wheel disc brakes
Base: $31,770 after a $750 incentive, including $775 freight charge
Where assembled: Spring Hill, Tenn.
Competitors: Dodge Journey, Ford Edge, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander
(set image) May071409-visual.jpg (end image) (set caption) The 2009 Chevrolet Traverse is a big, American-class cruiser with seats for seven or eight. Sold in front-wheel-drive models, the midsize crossover exceeds expectations in function, drivability and styling.
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