Home > Reviews > 2010 Chevrolet Traverse LTZ

2010 Chevrolet Traverse LTZ

Traversing the Chasm Between Station Wagon and Suburban.

     As Senior Editor Muxlow readied himself to depart with my Olds Custom Cruiser wagon, I gently reminded his infant son that ‘this is not your father’s Oldsmobile’ just to be sure I would actually get it back. The logistics of delivering a test vehicle often require a vehicle swap among editors, so when Muxlow dropped off a Red Jewel tintcoat (think maroon) 2010 Chevrolet Traverse LTZ, I offered up the trusty wagon in trade. Considering these two family vehicles are separated by nineteen model years, the Chevrolet Traverse had me asking the question, “How did we get here?”.  The Traverse is a V6-powered, front or all-wheel drive crossover with uni-body construction. Isn’t this configuration the combination of the worst of the car and truck worlds? Surely a vehicle with the construction of a car and the high center of gravity of a truck is a recipe for mediocrity. But to fully understand the answer to this question we must back up a few years.
     Having passed up the trendsetting garage-able van twins–the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager–in 1984, my parents chose the largest and most luxurious station wagon the industry offered that year as the new family car, an eight passenger Buick Electra Estate Wagon. A 1992 GMC Suburban was deemed the worthy successor when the family outgrew the Electra. While truck based, the only real deficit with this vehicle as a family hauler was that there were certain aspects that could be considered nothing other than overkill. My family never needed to tow anything and simply didn’t need the extra mass that the truck frame added. What if the industry could produce a vehicle that functioned as a cross between that old Electra Estate Wagon and a Suburban, and still manage to avoid the stigma of the perpetually unfashionable minivan?
     Fast forward 15 years. It seems that General Motors had been contemplating just such a challenge. In response, GM rolled out a trio of vehicles that had nearly the space and versatility of a Suburban without all the extra bulk that comes from the truck platform. The fourth variant of GM’s lambda platform crossovers, the Traverse joined the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, and (now discontinued) Saturn Outlook.  To no one’s disappointment, the Traverse turned out to have much of its exterior sheet metal entirely bespoke:  the only shared exterior panels are the doors. The face of the Traverse bears a fortunate resemblance to the well-received Malibu.
     The Traverse makes seven or eight passenger seating available by means of two rear captain’s chairs followed by a three person wide third-row bench or dual three passenger bench seats, much like the larger Suburban. The leather captain’s chairs in our test vehicle proved to be comfortable and provided easy access to the third row of seats either by passing between or folding forward. Oddly enough, the third row split bench is not leather and Chevrolet gave no explanation as to the composition of this mystery hide. Though smaller than the Suburban’s exterior, the interior is exceptionally roomy. In fact, it was possible to situate the three rows of seats in such a way that my six-and-a-quarter-foot frame could sit comfortably in each row without readjusting the seats. The biggest deficiency in the versatility of the Traverse’s interior is  that the cargo area behind the third row of seats surely couldn’t hold luggage for eight within its 24.4 cubic feet. If it is just cargo that needs to be carried, the Traverse borrows a cue from the Electra Estate Wagon by cleverly providing a completely flat load floor when the rear two rows of seats are folded. One interior oddity is that cup holders for all five rear seat occupants (or six, depending on equipment) are the low-tech molded-in-place style.  Better make sure there’s a lid on that Big Gulp when you slam the door!
     Driving around Southeastern Michigan showed off the Traverse’s strengths. Highway ride was comfortable enough to put one of the passengers to sleep within minutes of departure, which is also a testimony to its quiet interior. The 6-speed transmission always seemed to be in the appropriate gear and smoothly selected ratios without announcing the change. The Traverse also inevitably ventured onto some of Michigan’s washboard dirt roads. Expecting severe jarring, the Traverse’s suspension and 20” rims soaked up the rough roads so well that we wondered if our eyes were really seeing the washboard pattern at all. Though not intended for an autocross, the steering was still precise enough to instill confidence on the open road without having to input minor corrections on the straights.
     While most of the interior surfaces are a bit hard to the touch, the fit is good and the appearance is pleasing, but clearly not as good as some of GM’s more recent products, especially the Traverse’s little brother Equinox. The overall look is reminiscent of the dual-cockpit style introduced on the Malibu. The unique instrument panel was a bit surprising considering that Chevy and GMC interiors typically share everything but the badge on the steering wheel, an area where our recently reviewed Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain failed to differentiate.
     Instrumentation was easy to read and offered the driver temperature, amperage, and fuel gauges in addition to the tachometer and speedometer. The trip computer is nicely nestled between the cam-shaped dual gauge bezels but is inconveniently restricted from the view of the front seat passenger. Perhaps the computer wasn’t intended for the passenger, but aside from speed, what information needs to be kept confidential from a back seat driver? It took a few guesses to figure out how the rear climate control functions could be delegated to the control of rear seat passengers. Radio controls were mildly challenging in that it took a dedicated passenger several attempts to simply find the ‘fade’ function.
     In providing access to the rear cargo area Chevrolet has unfortunately chosen to offer a power operated rear hatch opening. For taller drivers, like me, the power feature can be a nuisance because it requires standing back once the close button is pushed in order to risk bumping one’s head. Why has the industry switched to the overhead hatch opening for the tailgate? How about offering a two way tailgate, or perhaps dutch doors like the old Chevy Astro van? Granted, the center post from the old barn doors used on vintage Suburbans blocked valuable rear visibility, but this vehicle was already equipped with a back up camera (standard on LT and LTZ). Since it seems the complexity of a rear view camera is what the market requires it is significant that Chevrolet has integrated this seamlessly into the rearview mirror. The camera allows the driver to use the mirror and the backup camera simultaneously without requiring the driver’s eyes to dart from the mirror to the instrument panel.
     Equipped with GM’s corporate 3.6-liter SIDI V6, the Traverse had no trouble merging into highway traffic or passing on a two lane road. The direct-injection V6 is rated at 288 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque, which is a few more horses and pound feet of twist than the non-LTZ models, thanks to dual exhaust. The trip computer in our AWD-equipped Traverse averaged 19.6 mpg. That’s a far cry from the 23 mpg EPA highway rating but comparable to the 20 mpg the 5.7-liter V8 returned in our old family Suburban–and that was a two wheel drive model. That V6 is curiously hidden beneath a plastic cover complete with false allen head fasteners. The rest of the engine bay is finished to give the appearance of simplicity by hiding most everything from sight.
     At $42,675 with destination the Traverse is priced like it is targeting the same buyers that once would have defaulted into choosing a Suburban or Yukon XL. So how does Chevrolet’s Traverse do in bridging the gap between car and jumbo-SUV? By offering the comfort of the family wagon with the advantages of the passenger volume of an SUV, the Traverse might just be the right vehicle for large families that compel yet another generation to see the USA in a Chevrolet.     

The Good:
Comfort, capacity, convenience of a Suburban.
The Bad:
Interior starting to look dated; unintuitive audio and HVAC controls.
The Verdict:
90% of the utility of a Suburban without all the overkill.

Photos by Jason Muxlow

  1. Jim D
    June 29th, 2010 at 09:44 | #1

    My neighbor was in an interesting dilema last fall, having Honda Odyssey, looking to upgrade to a 9-seat vehicle (with, at the time, child #5 on the way) with a budget of < $10k. I steered him towards the Suburbans/Yukon XL's of the 2000-2005 timeframe, but finding one with 3 rows of bench seats was troublesome. After much searching, we did end up finding an '03 'Burban with ~80k miles within this budget, which he purchased.

    While this has served well in terms of utility (he's said he's moved 9 people on multiple occasions, as well as taken his own family of 7 camping), he's not real happy with the truck-like driving characteristics (namely the stiffness of the suspension on long drives). He and his wife told me they really would have liked something that handled more like their old vehicle.

    Which brings us to the Traverse. This should be the vehicle to get under such circumstances. The family utility (plus real doors) of the Suburban, but the ride quality closer to a… car or wagon (I won't say the m-word for Erich's sake). But of course, you can't get 9-seats in a lambda vehicle. I've got no vehicle to guide him to 5 years from now when they look for another 5-10 year old used vehicle that seats 9.

    I realize there probably is no business case for an optional bench seat in the front of these vehicles. The take rate would be too low, eating into GM's much needed profits. The modern gussied-up appearance of captains chairs and center consols large enough to store a small child also gives it an upscale look, worthy of it's up to $45k price tag. But what's the cost? My neighbor is still in a GM vehicle (due to the lack of alternatives for 9-seaters), but in talking to friends with slightly smaller families, he raves about the Odyssey (and I'm certainly not going to speak up for a used Venture!) while only suggesting the GM Suburban if the space is an absolute must. So the domestic automaker inferiority stigma continues, and will continue in this anecdotal case.

    The "New" GM needs to use every opportunity to reach out to those market segments. Four brands of the same platform/engine/body style, but you can't make a bench seat optional on at least one of them? You couldn't make at least the Chevy with 9-seats, while leaving the upperscale captain chairs to GMC and Buick?

  2. Liz
    June 29th, 2010 at 14:29 | #2

    Glad you liked it. If I had to say today what I’d buy next this would be it (or on of its GM counterparts). And at that price I could get a sweet deal on a used one in a few years when my Cadillac is ready to be replaced. If only the new SRX was this size \sigh\. Nice color too 😉

  3. Erich Gernand
    August 19th, 2010 at 20:28 | #3

    Jim, I appreciate your sentiment about a bench seat. I loved the ability of being able to seat 9 people across three rows of bench seats. My Custom Cruiser and Roadmaster wagons both are blessed with this feature, and I even have a friend with a new ’10 Avalanche with the bench (quite a rare truck). However, as Muxlow can tell us all too well, the difficulty in engineering an airbag to effectively protect that front seat passenger just isn’t worth the expense. On top of that, that center seat is best reserved for a child since the driver really needs that space to handle the wheel. THe problem is, it is no longer deemed safe to put a child in the front seat, and the Traverse really isn’t wide enough to accomodate this. So how does the Suburban get away with it? Sheer sales volume. Not the Suburban itself, but the fact that full-size trucks absolutely demand a 3-wide bench seat and sell in tremendous volumes. Its quite easy to carry these parts over to the Suburban/Tahoe/Yukon/Yukon XL. GM is one of the few truck manufacturers not to curse that center position with a floor shifter, so GM actually is doing quite a better job than most manufactures at keeping the front bench-seat flame alive. If I could make a prediction, I would guess that based on the extremely low number of regular cab full size trucks on the road, GM (and all other full size truck makers) will eliminate the middle seat belt on their bench-seat trucks and start offering a console on all but the most stripped down commercial versions of the truck. Sadly, the day of the bench seat is likely behind us. Trufhfully, the larger family needing to seat 9 people will probably need to stomach the idea of moving up to a full size van – that’s just the reality today in the extremely rare case (in a marketing sense) of transporting a family that large.

  1. July 24th, 2010 at 00:47 | #1
  2. June 1st, 2011 at 20:38 | #2
You must be logged in to post a comment.