2009 Chevrolet Traverse
– Superb fuel economy
– Cabin space and features
– Fairly comfortable ride
– Too long to park easily
– Some hard cabin plastics
– Barely suited for soft-roading
Minivans are born uncool. Actually, some recent minivan models are actually pretty cool, but then they were made uncool again by fleet-buying hotels. Nevertheless, when you desperately need a vehicle to carry your wife and five overgrown kids, stop wishing you had better self-control back in your younger days and start looking at the new crop of overgrown “crossover” SUVs that have hit the market. The sort-of-all-new Chevrolet Traverse was created specifically for a guy like you. And while it is a minivan in disguise, it looks cool enough for passing soccer-moms to think you are driving an ultra-premium 4×4 as you drop your kids off at school.
That’s because the Chevy Traverse really does look rather expensive. Some uninformed nincompoops might even call it “German-looking” because it looks like a nicer version of the bug-ugly Audi Q7 in a sandstorm. But for all its flashiness, with its chrome trimmings, suave shoulders and 20-inch mirror wheels, the Traverse only costs about as much as a Toyota Prado or a Nissan Pathfinder. And those familiar with the boringly-styled Acadia might be interested to know that the Traverse is basically an upgraded version of that GMC crossover. Not that it’s a bad thing.
That’s because the annoyingly lengthy exterior houses an enormously roomy interior, easily besting every other SUV in its price range except maybe for the costlier Ford Flex. Headroom and legroom are immense in the first two rows, and enough in the third row for adults to be comfortable. Our tester was set up to seat seven, although an eight-seater version is also available. The seats in the first two rows are wide and designed for couch-potato cruising. The two separate seats in the second row can be adjusted front and back to become lounge chairs, fold frontward to offer remarkably easy access to the third row, or fold down completely flat along with the last row to create enough cargo volume to shame a FedEx van. Even with all the seats up, there is just enough space to stuff in a week’s worth of family groceries. And there are enough cup-holders for the entire family too, along with two large storage cubbies, one between the front seats and another between the second-row chairs.
The cabin design is, simply put, excellent. With flowing lines on the doors and fancy pods in the gauge cluster, it easily looks better than anything the Germans have put out in recent years. But start knocking on the panels, and it becomes obvious that costs were cut when it came to materials. The dashboard is all hard plastic, but minor amounts of padding on the doors keep the interior from feeling too economical. The leatherette seats are nicely done, as are the leatherette bits on the doors and armrests, while metal-look plastics and chrome keep things interesting.
The Traverse we drove is loaded to the gills with traditional gadgetry. That means it comes with power windows, electric mirrors, electric front seats, above-average CD/MP3 player, dual panoramic sunroofs, rear ceiling-mounted DVD screen, cruise control, reverse camera and a not-too-confusing navigation system, among other things. The three-zone a/c has separate digital controls for the front as well as the rear passengers, and worked very well during our warm February test, with various vents spread about the cabin. Alongside the rear a/c controls were secondary stereo controls, various audio/video input jacks, car-charger point, and some sort of foreign 3-pin plug-point to possibly connect your American blender or whatever. And as usual, Chevy dealers continue to stuff a stupid fire extinguisher in the front-passenger footwell.
While the General really didn’t have to give this people-carrier a powerful engine, they have to be lauded for doing just that, with the smooth new 3.6-litre V6 making 288 hp at 6300 rpm and 366 Nm at 3400 rpm, which makes it a bit more powerful than the slightly-older Acadia. We managed to coax a 0-to-100 kph time of 8.8 seconds for the 2177 kg hauler during our February afternoon testing. Its 16.2 litres per 100 km of as-tested fuel consumption wasn’t too bad either. The 6-speed automatic is smooth, with a manual tiptronic feature using buttons on the shift-knob itself, although we don’t remember using that much.
It was during our acceleration run, with stability control off, that we realised we were driving a front-wheel-drive model, given away by the screeching tyre-spin on hard take-off. Considering this low-riding bus isn’t suited for any type of off-roading, the optional all-wheel-drive feature isn’t really needed, as the standard stability control should perform just fine in wet conditions. The handling is very good for a vehicle of this size, with less-than-expected body-roll and no floatiness over bumps. Indeed, its suspension seems set up to give a car-like feel, instead of the boat-like sickness that is the Honda Pilot. It can be thrown around corners at will, within reasonable limits of course, and can be manoeuvred rather easily with its soft lifeless steering and decent ABS-assisted disc brakes, provided there is enough room.
But parking the Traverse can be a major hassle in tight parking lots at shopping malls, obviously due to its limousine length. The rear camera and sensors help a lot, so we were not completely helpless. The Traverse is best left to cruising highways on cross-country trips, with its excellent suppression of wind and road noises, as well as a comfortable suspension does not wallow on large potholes, while still retaining its non-SUV handling character. Of course, it’s a bad idea to wear out those grippy tyres too quickly, because those wide 255/55 rubbers riding on your 20-inch rims can be quite expensive to replace.
The Traverse is practical replacement for the traditional minivan or large SUV, if all you are looking for is a people-mover. It is a bonus that it comes with a good engine and a solid suspension tune. While we will never approve of crossovers that look like SUVs but can’t go off-road, the attractive Traverse should be uplifting in a niche that traditionally suffers from low self-esteem.
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