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The Kings of the Big Family Haulers
Until the mid-1980s, those with large families usually bought station wagons with a who-cares-about-safety rearward facing third row of seats. But then the minivan was introduced and everything changed. For the next fifteen years, troops of kids were transported here and there in these pragmatic boxes on wheels. As is often the case though, consumer taste’s changed.
Today the three-row station wagons rival the mountain gorilla on the critically endangered species list while the minivan has become more passé than bridge clubs. Now there is a new king of big family transport – the three-row crossover utility vehicle (CUV).
And the Crossover Takes Over
After a brief foray with three-row body-on-frame SUVs in the early 2000s, the vast majority of auto manufacturers have settled on unibody crossovers to handle passenger duties of six or more. Last year, more than 1.7 million of these CUVs were sold in the U.S. compared to less than 525,000 minivans.
With nearly two million annual sales up for grabs, manufacturers are constantly tweaking their products to entice customers. Over the last year alone, all-new versions of the Hyundai Santa Fe, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander hit the market while the Kia Sorento and Dodge Durango received significant updates. To see which CUV is the best value for the money, we gathered these five crossovers along with three older models; the large Chevrolet Traverse, the best-selling Ford Explorer and the eight-passenger Honda Pilot. Which one emerged as the victor in this stacked field? Read on to find out.
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According to Chevy, the 2013 Traverse has a “new, athletic exterior design, complemented by a more expressive front end that introduces a new face for Chevrolet crossover utilities.” From the pictures we see the 2013 Traverse features a very modern and sporty design with a prominent front grille and powerdome hood.
New features in the eight-seater interior include upgraded soft-touch surfaces on the instrument panel and front door uppers, contrasting stitching, chrome and silver accents, and available blue ambient lighting. The new center console features a 6.5-inch Chevrolet MyLink infotainment system along with large and illuminated redesigned climate controls.
Powering the 2013 Traverse is a 3.6-liter V6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with 288-hp and 270 lb-ft of torque with a dual exhaust. The single exhaust Traverse has 281-hp and 266 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy figures are 17/24 mpg city/highway for the front-wheel drive model, while the AWD model loses 1 mpg in both categories (16/23).
“We have injected a stronger presence into the Traverse exterior by focusing on the details,” said Phillip Zak, GM director of exterior design. “The small but important changes give it a more vibrant personality that more closely reflects the lifestyles of the families who rely on the Traverse to get them through their busy lives.”
We will be sure to take a closer look at the 2013 Traverse when it makes its official debut at the New York Auto Show.
GALLERY: 2013 Chevrolet Traverse
General Motors is targeting a safety issue with new equipment that until now has been unaddressed.
They plan to release a front-seat center-airbag (pictured above) that deploys between the driver and passenger seats. The new feature is supposed to improve safety in the event of far-side impact crashes, which statistics show to be responsible for 11 percent of all crash-related deaths.
When such a crash occurs, the bag deploys in 26 milliseconds using a combination of pressurized argon and pyrotechnic gas. It forms a hard barrier between the passenger and driver sides of the vehicle, protecting against the possibility of two people damaging each other during a collision. The bag is also angled away from the passenger seat to keep the driver from smashing against the center console and is sturdy enough to help protect against a poll during such a crash.
GM developed the device in partnership with Takata, which stays rigidly inflated for several minutes after impact. Expect to see it in the 2013 Buick Enclave as standard equipment and as an option in the GMC Acadia and Chevrolet Traverse. According to MotorTrend, GM chose the crossovers because they are the most likely to carry extra passengers. Despite being an option, the new airbags should appear on about 90 percent of these models.
The safety blitz isn’t stopping there, though, GM is also offering a low-cost safety system that offers both front crash detection and lane departure warning systems for only $295. That’s a bargain compared to the thousands it costs for similar features on Mercedes or BMW cars.
The difference is that GM’s technology takes advantage of a high-definition camera capable of processing 14 images per second through the car’s computer. In doing so, it recognizes pedestrians, motorcycles, cars and trucks while calculating your risk of hitting them. That risk is determined by how quickly the object in question is moving. The camera is mounted on the passenger side of the rear-view mirror, behind the windshield.
The system can be toggled to chirp at near, medium or far settings and can even be shut off completely. It also remembers what distance you set it to last when restarted. The notification system combines a red warning light on the dashboard with a series of eight beeps through the front stereo speakers. The system activates if the driver fails to signal a lane change and lower warning tones come from on the speakers on the corresponding side.
There might be plans in the future for GM to employ more safety features like high beam assist and traffic signal recognition but those features are more expensive because they use radar instead of the camera.
Expect the camera-based features to appear first on the 2012 GMC Acadia and Chevrolet Equinox.
Ford is about to launch an EcoBoost powered Explorer SUV. The new EcoBoost engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, with direct injection and a turbocharger and returns 20 mpg in the city and 28 mpg highway.
The Ecoboost option will be limited to the front-wheel drive model only and have a maximum towing capacity of 2,000 pounds. The engine will produce 240-hp at 5,500 rpm and 270 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm. The engine will be mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and only requires 87-octane at the pumps. Ford said the Ecoboost Explorer will cost $995 more than the regular V6 model.
Ford is quite proud of this engine boasting that its technology bests the Honda Pilot and Jeep Grand Cherokee by five mpg highway, the Chevy Traverse by four mpg and the Toyota Highlander by 3 mpg. The EcoBoost Explorer is currently being launched, so expect to see models in the showroom very soon. Given Ford’s success with the Ecoboost F-150, and the 2011 Explorer’s strong sales numbers, the Explorer Ecoboost should be a hit.
Last year Cadillac took a leap into modern times by offering its new CTS model with Wi-Fi. Now, Chevy has announced that it will offer a dealer-installed Wi-Fi service for seven models including the: Equinox, Traverse, Silverado, Tahoe, Suburban, Avalanche and Express.
The on-board system will transform a vehicle (as well as the area within 150 feet) into a Wi-Fi hotspot, letting users surf the internet freely. Passengers can check Facebook or Twitter and even watch YouTube videos thanks to a 3G network connection of up to 1.5 mbps.
In addition the system can support several devices simultaneously and with additional docking stations, the router can be moved from vehicle to vehicle.
Until December 31st, Chevy is offering the Wi-Fi as an option for $199.
Official release after the jump: