Competition in the full-size SUV/CUV world just got a lot tougher. The Chevrolet Traverse (pronounce it like reverse) enters the fray with a seven-eight seater that offers a remarkable mix of luxury, performance, technical features, seating flexibility and fuel economy that should cause some headaches at Toyota, Infiniti, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz.
It has been designed to meet a multitude of tasks, from the weekly chores of commuting to work, shopping at the mall, trips to the big box store, hockey and soccer practice or heading out on a cross-continent adventure. With its massive flat floor cargo capacity of 117 cu.ft. (with second and third row seats folded) and seating that is both comfortable and flexible, it can do the work of two or more vehicles.
New for 2009, the Traverse comes with FWD or AWD in four models starting with the base LS ($35,260), 1LT ($37,860), 2LT ($41,860) and the fully equipped LTZ ($52,595). Our tester was the AWD LTZ finished in Silver Ice Metallic with Gray leather interior. Power for all models is provided by a 3.6-litre V6 with direct injection and variable valve timing, teamed with a smooth-shifting, 6-speed overdrive automatic transmission (there's a manual shift mode button on the side of the gearshift). The LTZ engine is rated at 288-horsepower with slightly less (281-horsepower) for the other models. Despite its commanding presence on the road, the Traverse manages to avoid the bulky look of some of its competitors. In fact, it has the most aerodynamic body in this segment, helping it return 8.8 L/100 km in highway driving. The taut, one-piece nose features the bi-level honeycomb grille of the Malibu that is now the ID of the Chevrolet family. Dual, jewel-like halogen projector-style headlights and standard fog lamps are neatly integrated into a front fascia that flows back along smooth bodysides that are happily devoid of unnecessary 'styling' bulges. Stylish, 20-inch, five-spoke machined, ultra-bright aluminum alloy wheels (LTZ model) fill the slightly flared and shaved wheel wells while the sloping roof features integrated roof rails, a power moon roof and rear section skylight.
When Chevrolet introduced the latest Malibu sedan, it featured an interior with a style and quality usually found only in more expensive European or Japanese imports. With the Traverse, Chevrolet has moved the bar even higher. From the inviting dual cockpit design, to the perforated leather seats with French double-stitched seams, this is an interior that ranks with competitive vehicles costing thousands more. The dashboard's two-tone grey surfaces are highlighted by brushed metal accents that sweep across from the upper doorsills to frame the centre stack.
Chrome finish for door handles, bezels for the main gauges and cupholder rings add a solid luxury touch while the leather-wrapped tilt-telescoping steering wheel and gearshift are further highlighted with brushed and bright metal accents.
Our seven-seat LTZ came with two captain's chairs in the second row and a 60/40-split, occasional third row seat for three (a three-wide second row gets the full eight-passenger capacity). The two captain's chairs can slide and fold forward with one simple motion to provide easy access to the third row or you can fold the seatbacks forward to create a full floor cargo area. Both front seats are heated and ventilated with power adjustments and lumbar tensioners. Both the front and second row consoles provide massive bi-level storage bins in addition to the numerous cubbies and cupholders elsewhere. The quality of materials and the fit and finish are excellent.
The usual list of power amenities includes keyless entry, power rear liftgate, power windows (driver express down), programmable door locks, tri-zone automatic climate control with rear seat controls, driver info centre plus Bluetooth, hands-free interface and audio/cruise steering wheel controls. A back-up camera display and audible warning system is standard as is one year of OnStar 'turn-by-turn' assistance and three months complimentary XM Satellite radio and XM routing functions. Our LTZ also came with several options including the DVD-based touch screen navigation system with voice recognition, overhead 8-inch LCD screen with two wireless headphone sets and a Bose premium 10-speaker audio system with 5.1 surround sound. The optional two-panel sunroof has a power, sliding front glass panel and fixed rear panel with power sunscreen.
I liked the power, heated outside mirrors with integrated turn signals and smaller inset mirrors that cover the 'blind' spots on either side.
The V6 has plenty of gusto, pulling away from rest with enthusiasm, shifting seamlessly through the six gears. At 100 km/h, the engine is turning over silently at a quiet 2,000 rpm for maximum cruising efficiency. But push hard on the loud pedal and it moves out briskly for overtaking moves. The Traverse comes with some serious dynamic enhancements like Stabilitrak electronic stability control system, All Wheel Drive with Traction Control, four-wheel independent suspension, four-wheel power disc brakes with ABS, front-to-rear brake force distribution and Brake Assist.
The ride is firm, flat and smooth while the power-assisted rack and pinion steering is immediate, with excellent feedback and a strong on-centre feel. For a vehicle of this size and weight, it is remarkably agile and easy to maneuver in heavy traffic. Safety is an important factor and the Traverse meets the test with a five star rating for front and side impacts. Inside, occupants are protected by dual front seat airbags, front seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags for all three rows. Child seat anchors are also standard.
While the Traverse can handle just about any family chore, it's a vehicle that gets you dreaming about that long haul trip you always promised yourself . . . maybe to Mexico for the winter?
"We've been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Chevrolet Traverse," said Bill Shorter of Tom Harris Chevrolet Cadillac. "It will complement the other offerings from GMC and Buick. The more affordable Chevrolet Traverse should become the high volume, full-size crossover we've been waiting for. A test drive will convince anyone that Chevrolet has a winner with the Traverse."
Alan McPhee is a Canadian automotive journalist and is former editor of Carguide Magazine. His articles appear each week in this space.
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2009 CHEVROLET TRAVERSE
Type: AWD full-size SUV/CUV
Engine: 3.6-litre V6
Horsepower: 288 @ 6,300 rpm
Torque: 270 lb-ft @ 3,400 rpm
Fuel economy: City - 13.1 L/100 km; hwy - 8.8 L/100 km
Base price: $52,595
Price as tested: $58,090
Vehicle provided by Tom Harris Chevrolet Cadillac Ltd.
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