Thanks to the reality check of $4-per-gallon gasoline prices during summer 2008, many consumers have realized that perhaps they don't need a 12-mpg Chevy Suburban or Ford Expedition to take the little ones to school and sports practice. Minivans have long been the best choice for practical moms and dads, as their boxy shape is highly efficient for transporting people and cargo. But many parents are still put off by the minivan's dowdy image. These folks want SUV style with minivan practicality, and that's exactly what they'll get in the 2009 Chevrolet Traverse crossover SUV.
The last few years have seen the crossover segment expand faster than dance-based reality shows, and understandably so. These vehicles feature carlike unibody construction, which provides greater space and fuel-efficiency as well as superior handling compared to the truck-style body-on-frame design of traditional SUVs. Crossovers also have a lower step-in height, making it easier for everyone to climb aboard.
The Chevy Traverse is the latest of GM's "Lambda platform" quadruplets to debut, joining the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook. In its base trim, the Traverse is the entry-level fixture of the four, priced about $2 grand less than the cheapest GMC and Saturn entries. We tested a higher-line Traverse LT2 AWD, which comes in at $36,455. Short of leather seating, a navigation system and a moonroof, the LT2 comes loaded, including standard luxury features like a back-up camera, triple-zone climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, a Bose audio system and a power liftgate.
With its roomy cabin (which includes a spacious, adult-size third-row seat), excellent crash test scores, plentiful features list, solid performance and respectable EPA fuel-economy numbers, the Traverse LT2 doesn't give much away to a minivan. The few downsides to this Chevy include spotty fit and finish and the fuel-economy-minded transmission's reluctance to downshift.
Considering its well-rounded personality and high level of practicality, we have no problem recommending the 2009 Chevy Traverse. However, if you're looking at the upper trim levels, we'd also suggest the Chevy's upscale Enclave and Acadia siblings as well as the more finely furnished Ford Flex and sportier-driving Mazda CX-9.
Our 2009 Chevrolet Traverse LT2 was powered by the stout, direct-injected 3.6-liter V6 that's standard across the Traverse lineup. Matched to a six-speed automatic transmission, this V6 pumps out 281 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. Our Traverse recorded a 0-60 time of 8.6 seconds and a quarter-mile sprint of 16.4 seconds, more than adequate for a 5,000-pound, full-size crossover.
In real-world driving, the 3.6 moves the Traverse around with reasonable gusto, but doing so requires a heavy foot. Calibrated for maximum fuel-efficiency, the smooth-shifting tranny is quick to upshift and slow to downshift. As such, the Traverse can feel a bit sluggish unless you either shift it manually (by thumbing the button on the shifter's side) or are aggressive with the gas. We don't recommend being as aggressive as we were — against EPA fuel-economy estimates of 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined, we averaged 16 mpg in mostly urban driving.
With a stopping distance of 135 feet from 60 mph, the Traverse is about 10 feet worse than the class standouts in this area, the Flex and CX-9, but nearly 15 feet better than the class dunce, the Honda Pilot. We noted that pulsation from the ABS system kicks in rather soon during panic stops.
Given its mission as a comfortable family cruiser, the 2009 Chevy Traverse makes a strong showing in terms of its ride and handling balance. The refined suspension swallows up bumps and ruts with ease, yet it evinces none of the wallowing you might expect from such a big rig. Steering is precise, if somewhat numb, and the generally light effort builds up nicely while cornering. Thanks to its well-sorted underpinnings and slop-free steering, the Traverse feels sure and steady — indeed, smaller than its considerable size — when you're bending it through a curvy road.
In addition to the plush ride, the Traverse provides cushy seats, at least up front. The pilot and co-pilot chairs are pleasingly soft, yet supportive on long trips. The seats' ample size and a tilt-telescoping steering wheel enable drivers of all sizes to get comfortable behind the wheel. The second-row seats don't rate as high — they're just not as well-shaped as the fronts. We're guessing that their flatter cushions are what allow them to fold down flush with the folded third-row seats and rear cargo floor.
The third row is easy to access (thanks to a fold-and-slide feature for the second-row captain's chairs), and there's enough room back there for two adults to ride in relative comfort. The Traverse LT2's seating capacity is seven with the standard second-row captain's chairs and eight if you opt for a 60/40-split bench (which comes with a $495 credit).
Most of the 2009 Chevrolet Traverse's controls are intuitive and simple. The center stack buttons are on the small side, though this is mitigated somewhat by the steering-wheel-mounted audio controls. The back-up camera (which is displayed on the left side of the rearview mirror) and reverse park assist feature make parking the big Chevy easy.
Thanks to the roomy second row's rather flat cushions, installing a child seat — facing front or rear — is a snap. With 118 cubic feet of maximum cargo space, the Traverse can transport most anything short of a small condo, though it's still not quite up to minivan standards. Our large rollaway suitcase and golf bag easily fit behind the third-row seat. There is a generous below-floor compartment back there as well.
If you can't fit something inside the Traverse, know that it can also tow up to 5,200 pounds of your family's toys.
Design/Fit and Finish
With its Malibu-inspired split grille design and jaunty beltline kick-up, the 2009 Chevy Traverse offers more pizzazz than your typical snub-nosed, slab-sided minivan. The rear end is the most unflattering view — there's just no disguising the fact that this big crossover has a butt to match, but that's the price paid for the cavernous cabin.
The interior features a clean, mostly attractive design with a sprinkling of metallic accents, as well as distinctively shaped gauge pods that seem influenced by Audi. We don't care for the slabs of hard plastic adorning the dash and doors, however, and we also noted some misaligned panels.
Who should consider this vehicle
Parents who want most of the practicality of a minivan along with styling that doesn't shout, "I'm a card-carrying member of the PTA!"
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