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2009 Chevrolet Traverse Review
A new breed: the three-row Crossover
By Shaun Keenan, Oct. 31, 2008

Everywhere you look, the automotive landscape is changing and GM’s balance sheet has not escaped the significant North American economic crisis. The General has however made the move to accommodate the consumer shift toward smaller, more fuel efficient cars and crossovers.

FAST FACTS

1. The Chevy Traverse is a three-row crossover that shares its Lambda platform with the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook.

2. The Traverse has an impressive 5200-lb towing capacity despite a V6 engine and just 270 ft-lbs of torque.

At a media preview inside The General's top-security vehicle proving grounds in Milford, MI, the Executive Director of Chevrolet Truck Marketing, Don Butler assured multiple waves of journalists that “there's a growing opportunity for Chevy to enter the crossover market... and the (2009 Chevrolet) Traverse is the right vehicle at the right time.” The all-new 2009 Chevrolet Traverse crossover comes in three trims – LS, LT and LTZ – with front- or all-wheel drive. A new 3.6L direct injection V6 is standard on all models, though it has different outputs depending on the model.

V-6 POWERPLANT WITH A SIX-SPEED TRANSMISSION

LS models (FWD and AWD) have a single exhaust and a modest 281 hp and 266 ft-lbs of torque at 3400 rpm. The LT and LTZ models, however, are tuned to deliver 288 hp and 270 ft-lbs of grunt at 3400 rpm through a twin-outlet exhaust. All versions rely on a smooth six-speed Hydra-Matic 6T75 automatic transmission with overdrive to deliver up to 5200 lbs of max towing capacity. An available towing package adds a button to the dash that, when called up, simulates a “low” gear and sustains torque longer for slippery boat launches or steep grades.

The engine is newer and more powerful than those GM uses in its other three Lambda platform vehicles, which include the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook. With an EPA estimated fuel economy of 17/24 mpg (city/highway), Chevy claims the Traverse offers the best fuel economy of any eight-passenger crossover.

SIMPLE STYLE INSPIRED BY CHEVY MALIBU

Design-wise, the Traverse has been inspired by the award-winning 2008 Chevy Malibu. With a silhouette similar to the Enclave, the body is uncluttered and sleek with a bold character line that runs from the twin-port front grille and up the hood. It’s nice but perhaps a bit too simple. Exaggerated rear fenders, high-mounted Camaro concept-style taillights and a pinched-in power remote liftgate panel (just below the bowtie) pulls in everything nice and tightly at the rear.

In the aerodynamics department, considerable wind tunnel testing has helped fine-tune small details like a lower wind splitter (beneath the front bumper) and tiny gaps between door and body panels. A quiet, wind-friendly chassis that cuts a segment-leading 0.33 coefficient of drag are the main benefits.

Standard safety features of the Traverse include StabiliTrak vehicle stability control with rollover protection, four-wheel ABS disc brakes and six airbags, including the longest side head curtain bags in the industry. Another cool first is the integrated blind spot illuminator in each side mirror. Traverse gets five-star front and side crash ratings.

PUT THROUGH ITS PACES, THE TRAVERSE IS AN HONEST COMPETITOR TO THE TOYOTA HIGHLANDER

On this day, Chevy had several preproduction LT and LTZ vehicles on hand to try out on the 67-acre vehicle dynamics test area known locally as the Black Lake, which was littered with hundreds of cones (and a small army of Chevy workers) arranged to simulate a variety of scenarios. Some Toyota Highlander V6 Limiteds were provided for comparison.

My experience with the Traverse, however brief, was telling. Inside the big and functional cabin I heard very little road, wind or engine noise when all is buttoned up tightly. And, thanks to a new five-point engine mount system (previously four), there's almost no vibration at idle.

Interior materials, finishes and workmanship appear top notch with upscale-looking controls found on the dash. The dual cockpit design is intimate for front seat occupants while the rear area allows plenty of room for people, things and many combinations thereof. A smart sliding second row allows access to the third, behind which two large golf bags or three average sized carry-on suitcases can easily fit without protest.

Besides offering seven- or eight-passenger seating (depending on model) and 117.5 cubic feet of total cargo space, the Lambda platform's long 119-inch wheelbase and low centre of gravity translates into a smooth, stable ride with confident car-like handling. Exact tuning of the fully-independent suspension depends on wheel size – 17s, 18s or 20s – all with body roll well in check.

Through a short slalom course, a stiffer body and sharper reflexes make the Traverse more stable and predictable than the Toyota at the same speed. In the evasive lane change maneuvers on water-slicked Jennite (to make it slippery like ice/snow), however, the Highlander's traction control system, though more intrusive (or audible) and sensitive, felt more effective and quicker at correcting collision-causing mistakes (i.e. a sudden jerk of the steering wheel).

I also had a chance to tow a 20-foot boat and trailer rig weighing in at roughly 4,200 lbs before heading back home. The tall first gear gets the load moving quite easily and, on the short test route with elevation changes, it was almost as if nothing was in tow. It's too bad Black Lake isn't actually a lake!


PLUS
Great alternative to full-sized SUV
Six-speed auto. tranny
Stiffer body and sharper steering exceed those of Toyota Highlander in dry weather
MINUS
Simple styling compared to other Lambda platform vehicles
Wet-weather stability and traction control not as effective as Toyota Highlander

THE VERDICT

Solid performance, confident handling, excellent visibility, oodles of space, loads of functionality and plenty of options make the 2009 Chevy Traverse a solid all-around people mover. So, as sales of homegrown full-size trucks and SUVs continue to slide, GM is leaning on not only smaller, fuel efficient cars, but also its three-row mid-size crossovers to pave avenues for progress. They could turn out to be GM’s saving grace.