Crossovers are all the rage these days - at least compared to conventional sport-utility vehicles. Promising carlike ride/handling qualities, crossovers also consume less fuel than typical SUVs.
Starting with the 2007 model year, General Motors issued a trio of midsize crossovers: Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, and Saturn Outlook. Now, for 2009, it's Chevrolet's turn to make it a quartet with the new Traverse.
Like its GM stablemates, the Traverse is fitted with a 3.6-liter V-6 engine that employs direct-injection technology. This means gasoline is sprayed directly into the engine cylinders, where it blends with air to form the combustible mixture. In conventional engines, air and fuel are mixed before they reach the actual cylinders.
When equipped with a dual exhaust system, the V-6 develops 288 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. Traverse models with a single exhaust are rated at 281 horsepower and 266 pound-feet. The engine drives a six-speed Hydra-Matic transmission. A Traverse may have either front-wheel or all-wheel drive.
Towing capacity rates as high as 5,200 pounds. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gives the front-drive Traverse a fuel-economy estimate of 17 mpg in city driving and 24 mpg on the highway. AWD drops the figures by a notch, to 16/23 mpg.
Design details are said to be inspired by Chevrolet's Malibu sedan, as redesigned for 2008. Built on a relatively long (118.9-inch) wheelbase, with wide front and rear track dimensions, the Traverse measures 205 inches long overall. Chevrolet promotes the wagon's passenger and cargo capacity, claiming it rivals that of a larger SUV. Either seven- or eight-passenger seating may be installed. Smart Slide second-row seats ease entry into the third row.
Three trim levels are offered: LS, LT, and top-of-the-line LTZ. Available features include GM's latest OnStar system with Turn-by-Turn navigation and Destination Download; Bluetooth phone connectivity; XM satellite radio with real-time traffic information; a power liftgagte; heated/cooled front seats; and heated power mirrors with integral blind-spot mirrors. Two different rearview camera systems are available, as an alternative to rear ultrasonic parking assistance. Available rear-seat entertainment includes second-row controls. A Panoramic sunroof also may be installed.
Six airbags are standard, including curtain-type airbags that cover all three seating rows. All-disc antilock braking is standard, too, along with GM's StabiliTrak stability-enhancement system. Tires may be 17-, 18-, or 20-inch size, depending on model.
Apart from an occasional odd creaking around the steering column of the Traverse that was tested, this wagon operates quietly, behaves capably on the road, and delivers a generally enjoyable experience. Smooth engine response is a bit more energetic than some competitive crossovers, though short of startling, and the automatic transmission is especially well-behaved. Acceleration is assertive enough from a standstill, but less so at speed - though clearly acceptable for this class.
Though easy to maneuver and to drive, the Traverse isn't as easy to judge as some rivals. Ride quality is satisfying most of the time, but harsh obstacles may produce some overreaction - even jolting and jarring. Steering feel is good, if on the light side. Though uninspiring, the Traverse handles confidently enough - though it doesn't seem quite as sure-footed in curves as some vehicles in this class. Apart from the comparatively high driving position, there's no sense of truckiness.
Step-in is somewhat high, but front-seat space is abundant. Second-row legroom could be better, and cargo volume is fairly modest if the third-row seats are up. Of course, that's an inevitable flaw in most three-row vehicles. Green-lit gauges are excellent, though they dim somewhat at twilight when the headlights go on. Available blind-spot mirrors aren't especially helpful, due to their small size. The same is true of the rearview camera system that places the image in a corner of the inside mirror.
More utilitarian than joyful, the Traverse lacks the polish of the closely-related Buick Enclave or GMC Acadia, and doesn't feel quite as refined overall. Closer overall to the Saturn Outlook, Chevrolet's version is nevertheless a reasonably appealing alternative.
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