Butch and easy

Posted on 01 Jan 2009 at 9:45am
By CASEY WILLIAMS | Auto Reviewer crwauto@aol.com

The Chevy Traverse boasts the friendliness of an SUV with some real brawn


CROSSOVER SUCCESS | The Traverse has the horses to out-pull most other vehicles in its class.

Most crossovers are soft-roading wusses that can handle snow adequately, but are essentially high-riding station wagons that carry five passengers. They achieve excellent fuel economy ratings and drive great, but can hardly tow a lawn mower — and forget a boat, car or RV. To do that, you still need a full-size, full-framed SUV.

Unless you’re driving a Chevy Traverse.

Chevy’s crossover displaces enough air to qualify as a full-size SUV, but rides on a refined chassis designed specifically for GM’s large wagons (including the similar Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook). Given its interior capacity, improved fuel economy and great handling, Traverse will cannibalize more than a few Tahoes and Suburbans as well.

Exterior styling blends the sexy fuselage shape of the Enclave with the basic simplicity of an Acadia. Coke-bottle bodysides play on the Camaro’s heritage while the crossbar front grille connects Traverse to other popular models like the Malibu and upcoming Cruze compact. Gray lower body cladding, 18-in. machined aluminum wheels, chrome doorhandles, foglamps and quad taillamps give the big wagon an athletic, yet buff appearance. Ample ground clearance passes the vehicle over unpaved roads, but probably not over rough trails.

Malibu designers apparently had an affect on the Traverse’s interior, too. Its dual-cowl dash design complies with the new Chevy standard and looks upscale with two-tone shading. Large blue-lit analog gauges look like they came out of an Audi, as does the silver finish center console that holds enormous cupholders. Heated leather seats, dual sky sunroof, second-row captain’s chairs, Bluetooth phone connectivity and XM Satellite Radio add convenience and luxury. The captain’s chairs can collapse against the front seats and the rear bench folds flat. Enough storage cubbies to rival a locker room are carved into every available space. Up to seven people can be seated to move an entire party from restaurant to club.

Traverse’s passenger packaging and design are only part of its allure. The way it rides and handles defy its size. Contrary to truck-based SUVs like the Tahoe, Traverse rides on a four-wheel independent suspension system that handles curvy and hilly roads with aplomb as well as gliding over rough pavement with a hushed rumble. From the helm, variable-assist steering is precise and set at the right firmness for comfort and control. Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, StabiliTrak stability control system, traction control and available all-wheel-drive devour poor weather.

It is hard to drive the Traverse and not be impressed with its powertrain. LS and LT models come standard with a direct injection 3.6-liter V6 engine that produces 281 horsepower and 253 lb.-ft. of torque, enabling a towing rating of 5,200 lbs. Moving a boat or muscle car would be no problem. All models move energy through a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission, posting a respectable 17/24-MPG city/highway for front-drive, 16/23-MPG with AWD. (By comparison, a Chevy Tahoe Hybrid only achieves 20/20-MPG city/highway.)

Besides all of the stability and control systems, engineers stuffed in dual front, front side, and three-row head curtain airbags. Front passenger seats have a sensor to keep the airbag from deploying on small children. Ultrasonic parking assist and a rearview camera that appears in the mirror protect those around the vehicle. This should be one of the safest vehicles available.

You shouldn’t have to choose between having all the space and capability you need and excellent fuel economy. It also should not be necessary to drive a hulking truck just to pull your fancy toys. Step up from the usual compacts into Chevy’s Travie for the best full-size crossover ever built and enjoy a worker bee that rides like a luxury sedan. Prices start at a very reasonable $28,990 and came to $37,500 for our loaded LS with front-wheel-drive.

Competitors include the Honda Pilot, Ford Flex, Toyota Highlander and Dodge Caravan.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 2, 2009.

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