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2009 Chevrolet Traverse

Bringing Value To Big Crossovers

    We’ve already reported that the General struck close to the bulls-eye with its first two big crossovers out of the gate, (GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook) and we’re willing to go on record saying the Buick Enclave is currently the best looking crossover in production. Since the Chevrolet brand is far and away the volume leader it should have surprised nobody when the Traverse debuted with design cues from the successful Malibu and displayed a window sticker with an impressive spec list and a very reasonable number at the bottom. The good news for GM: that’s a recipe for success.
     We knew pretty much what to expect from the Traverse thanks to our time in its corporate cousins, but the Chevy came featuring GM’s new 3.6-liter Direct Injection V6 that posts 288 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque while running on regular gas. On paper we doubted 13 extra hp and 19 lb-ft of torque would be enough to cure the excessive gear hunting we experienced in the earlier, less powerful models, but these horses must have been on a steady diet of Wheaties because they made all the difference on the road. Actually, most of the difference is a byproduct of the direct injection system, which results in an improved torque curve and a horsepower peak 300-rpm lower. The new engine doesn’t protest when run to its nearly 7,000 rpm redline, returns a smooth mechanical sound when pushed, and quiets to a hum when cruising.
     The standard six-speed automatic shifted smartly and didn’t flip between 5th and 6th as much as we feared the 4,720-pound full-sizer would do—a problem that has become more common these days as engineers are trying to maximize fuel efficiency. GM also includes a manumatic function allowing drivers to toggle a rocker switch on the shift lever to manually lock in any gear. It won’t get used often, but it’s a nice bonus that many competitors don’t offer. We used our tester like the typical buyer would and averaged just over 20 mpg during our week with the Traverse. The EPA says you should expect 17 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. Opting for all-wheel drive shaves 1 mpg from both ratings. For a vehicle with more interior space than a Tahoe and a stout 5,200-pound tow rating, we tip our hat to GM’s engineers for posting such strong numbers. Ford’s Flex, for instance, weighs less, has less power, less cargo space and a lower tow rating and still can’t manage any better.
     The Traverse also runs near the front of the class in the ride and handling department. The long 118.9-inch wheelbase inherently provides a stable platform to deal with Michigan’s sorry-excuse-for-roads. From there engineers were able to tune a compliant suspension without the wallowing feel that some vehicles this size are cursed with. The Traverse feels stable in all conditions and honestly about spot-on for the demographic Chevy is targeting. Our tester’s standard 18” wheels looked great and in our experience anything larger (20” designs are available) generally begins to degrade ride quality and they’ll make your wallet beg for mercy when it comes time to replace a set.
     Fortunately, Chevy doesn’t stick it to your wallet when selecting the well-equipped 2LT version of the Traverse. Our tester offered all the customary power amenities and added luxuries like BOSE audio, remote start, tri-zone climate control, Bluetooth, power rear liftgate, ultrasonic rear parking assist and a standard rearview camera system that displays in the rearview mirror. We expected to dismiss the system thanks to its tiny screen, but we absolutely loved it after a few uses. The screen placement is natural, the picture is sharp and we can’t think of many features you’ll get more use out of during the life of a vehicle. Our tester replaced the 2nd row Captain’s Chairs with a bench to provide 8-passenger capacity and for certain families that’s a smart move, but even with the $495 savings, we’d expect most owners (and their passengers) to prefer the 7-passenger setup. Either way, the 2nd row folds and slides forward easily to allow quick access to the back of the bus. Compared to a Tahoe or even Suburban it’s downright comfortable back there.
     The Flex takes the crown in interior materials quality, but despite the hard plastic, the Chevy is ergonomically sound, with great cupholders, lots of storage space and good views in all directions. A few complaints popped up in the logbook about seats that were too hard and a dash design that was too boring next to the high standards of the newer Equinox. The blind-spot mirrors are also a very useful low-tech solution that worked so well we wondered why the entire segment hasn’t adopted them.
     For big families looking for a safe, comfortable, fuel-efficient transport the local Chevy dealer should be the first place they look. Traverse excels in all of these areas, offers a 5-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, and well-equipped models like ours sticker for just $33,755. We’re happy to report there is now impressive value in the big crossover class, and its called Traverse.

The Good:
Sharp styling, quiet inside, strong powertrain, impressive features, commendable fuel economy.
The Bad:
Hard plastic makes up the dash and doors, stiff seats, gray interior doesn’t exactly spice up the design.
The Verdict:
Proving that crossovers can go big and still impress.
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