It's the Chevy Traverse for the Minivan-Averse
From a corporate standpoint, the 2009 Chevrolet Traverse crossover is a redundant redundancy of, um, redundantness.
It is the fourth (!) vehicle built from GM's three-row crossover collection of parts, known to GM and car wonks as Lambda. It is functionally identical to the '09 versions of the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook. It has the same V6 engine. It has the same six-speed automatic transmission. It seats the same number of people. And it returns the same miles per gallon.
You might conclude from this that General Motors simply has too many brands. And you might be right.
But from a shopper's standpoint, the overdue arrival of the Chevy version is not at all a bad thing. This is true because the Lambda collection of parts is pretty darn good. And because there are more than 3,900 Chevy dealerships across the country, chances are there's one near you. With 3,900 of them, you might actually be living in a Chevrolet dealership and just not know it.
That means there are almost 10 Chevy dealerships for every Saturn store. And Chevy dealers outnumber Buick or GMC outlets by about 1,400 locations each. So there's probably a 2009 Chevrolet Traverse for sale just up the street from you.
Salt of the Earth
Not only will you have fewer miles to drive to get service and a free cup of joe if you buy a Chevy, but you'll also likely pay less for the 2009 Chevrolet Traverse than any of its presumptuous siblings. Though Chevy has not yet released pricing for the Traverse, we figure it will slot below the Saturn Outlook as GM's Lambda-for-the-people. At a base price of $28,990 (including a $735 destination charge), the Chevy undercuts the price of the last year's Saturn Outlook by five dollars. We expect that price gap to grow once Saturn announces its slightly higher 2009-model price, leaving the Chevy as GM's Lambda-for-the-people.
Of the three available Traverse trim levels (LS, LT and LTZ), the moderately equipped LT will grab most of the volume. And since Chevy expects that only about 35 percent of Traverse customers will opt for the all-wheel-drive system that's optional for all trim levels, the average transaction price should remain fairly modest — in the mid-$30,000 range, we think.
Directly Injected With Power and Efficiency!
By pure dumb luck, the Chevy arrives on the scene just as General Motors is upgrading the Lambda 3.6-liter V6. Already a pretty good piece, the 3.6-liter engine now gets direct injection just like pricey Cadillac CTS motors.
Squirting the fuel directly into the combustion chamber instead of into the intake tract fosters more efficient use of that fuel. The result in the uplevel LTZ is 288 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 270 pound-feet of torque at 3,400 rpm. With lower trim levels and the resultant single-outlet exhaust system, the power levels drop to 281 hp and 253 lb-ft.
These figures are identical to the Saturn, which also offers two exhaust options. The Acadia and Enclave come with dual exhaust and therefore make the full 288 hp. So the Traverse's V6 is significantly more powerful than some rivals such as the 3.8-liter V6 in the Hyundai Veracruz, the 3.5-liter V6 in the Ford Flex and the 3.5-liter V6 in the Toyota Highlander.
Since it presses the scales at not much less than 2.5 tons, the Traverse needs all the power it can get. The company reckons that the Traverse should make it to 60 mph in a little bit more than 8 seconds. Not bad. It felt plenty peppy in the very controlled conditions under which we were allowed to test it at GM's proving ground in Milford, Michigan.
The Toyota Perspective
During our drive, the overlords at the General provided a bevy of Toyota Highlander V6s for comparison's sake. It speaks to a certain confidence on GM's part to bring out the Toyota, although we're cautious about drawing too many conclusions from a comparison set up by one of the competitors. To the surprise of no one, GM succeeded in proving that Toyota likes to tune its suspensions for isolation and a deeply plush ride. So in evasive maneuvers (you know, like when a deer or a Kia pops out in front of you), the ride and handling balance of the larger Chevy seems a bit less silly than the soft, comfy Toyota.
Truth is, neither the Traverse nor the Highlander is exactly stellar in this regard. And there were a couple of unintended consequences to GM's approach. Notably, the less-powerful 270-hp V6 in the Highlander moves the Toyota with greater authority than the more powerful American V6 moves the Traverse. Chalk a lot of that up to weight. Not surprisingly, the smaller Toyota isn't quite as hefty as the Chevy. And yet the Toyota feels more comfortable pulling a 4,200-pound boat than does the Chevy, despite the Traverse's higher maximum tow rating (5,200 pounds for the Chevy compared to 5,000 pounds for the Toyota).
But as we should have mentioned already, the Traverse delivers an enviable compromise between a comfortable ride and agile handling even with its optional 20-inch wheels. Not surprisingly, the Chevy feels very similar to the other three GM entries in this regard. And we've got no complaints about the power level, either.
The direct-injection V6 brings with it slightly better fuel economy than the V6 it replaces in all the Lambda crossovers. The front-wheel-drive Traverse delivers 17 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway. The all-wheel-drive version returns 16 mpg in the city and 23 on the expressway. For perspective, that's a couple mpg better than a Mazda CX-9, almost identical to the Ford Flex and a smidge worse than the Toyota Highlander. (Incidentally, the Traverse gets 4 mpg more on the highway than the upcoming Dodge Durango Hybrid.)
Save for the big two-section grille with the old Bentley-like waffle-texture inserts, the Traverse is a pretty subtle-looking thing. Rounded and relatively unadorned, Chevy believes the Traverse projects a nonchalant confidence. Um, OK. The front end shows obvious influence from the Malibu sedan.
Chevy says that the Traverse spent more time in the wind tunnel than any previous Lambda car and is therefore the most aerodynamically slippery of the quartet of GM Lambdas, with a drag coefficient of 0.33 (which GM says is evidence of what it calls "sports car aerodynamics"). Of course, that GM isn't claiming any improvement in fuel economy or top speed because of the less draggy shape might mean that it's of limited benefit once you factor in this vehicle's sizable frontal area.
Where We Comment on the "Quality" of Plastic
Like those of its siblings, the cavernous interior of the Chevy Traverse meets modern expectations for convenience and comfort. We like the standard flip-and-fold second-row seats, which make access to the third row, um, accessible. We like the fact that one can order a proper GPS-based navigation system with a screen in addition to the standard OnStar turn-by-turn system.
Other stand-alone options on the list include a dual-pane sunroof, DVD entertainment system and towing package. And — be still our hearts — Bluetooth connectivity is standard. Naturally, stability control and a full bevy of airbags are also standard.
We can't speak to the interior quality, since the vehicles we drove were pre-production "non-salable units" and it showed. There's no reason to think that eventually the production Traverse won't have an interior built of material on the same level as its sibling. But this remains to be proven. And frankly, Ford has taken a lead here in the perceived quality of material with the Flex. The GM-supplied Highlanders didn't look bad either. And you know, we kind of like the Mazda CX-9, too.
Crossing Over With GM
The point is, with truck-based large SUVs beginning their long-overdue dirt nap as far as the general consumer market is concerned, manufacturers of all stripes are tripping over themselves to populate the market with something they can credibly call a crossover.
So there are many good options on the market. Some are based on cars, some are based on minivans and some have simply come directly from the drawing board (or, you know, computer terminal). All attempt to bring lightness and efficiency to the large people-moving package that Americans prefer as general household transportation.
And now, GM alone has four of them.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.