An Organic, Grass-Fed SUV
If the large, traditional SUV you're giving up represents trans fat, the 2009 Chevrolet Traverse you're replacing it with is unsalted, organic butter churned from the milk of grass-fed cows.
This is not a low-fat crossover SUV. Along with its siblings built on GM's Lambda platform architecture, the 2009 Chevy Traverse is the longest and tallest crossover on the market. Yes, it even beats the ungainly Mercedes-Benz R-Class. It's also longer than a Honda Odyssey or Dodge Grand Caravan. If you wanted a bigger family vehicle, you'd have to go back to driving a Chevy Suburban or Ford Expedition EL.
And yet just like the sort of large, placid Holstein cow you see on family farms, our 2009 Chevrolet Traverse 2LT AWD is amazingly friendly for something with such a large footprint. It does everything to make sure it doesn't step on you. You start to back up and a built-in camera display takes over the left side of the rearview mirror, while the sonar goes nuts if you get within 10 feet of anything shaped like a toddler. Then you glance to your right and realize you have the choice of looking in the regular side mirror or a built-in blind-spot viewer.
All the standard visibility aids on our Chevy Traverse 2LT tester can be overwhelming at first, but the car just wants to help you out. In doing so, though, it reminds you that you're not really downsizing when you get into a seven-passenger crossover. Rather, you're driving an SUV with the safety on.
A Highway Ride To Die for
We mean that as a compliment, too. Even compared to car-based SUVs engineered five years ago, the 2009 Chevrolet Traverse is easier to drive and demands fewer compromises in personal safety.
This is readily apparent on one particularly lonely desert highway where we find the Traverse 2LT's 108-mph top-speed limiter — apparently mandated by its S-rated P225/65R18 Goodyear Fortera "HL Edition" tires. Driving a 4,919-pound vehicle at such speeds is not a matter we take lightly, yet the Traverse feels stable, secure and in touch with the pavement in a way its forbears do not.
At the same time, the big Chevy is much more compliant over rough pavement than a Toyota Highlander or Mazda CX-9 with 19- and 20-inch wheels. The Traverse's all-independent suspension smothers large ruts and the ride isn't a bit jittery over rain-grooved Los Angeles freeways. Of course, Chevrolet will be happy to sell you a set of 20s with H-rated P255/55R20 tires. But given how little road noise there is with the Traverse 2LT's not-quite-fashionable 18s, we think this upgrade would be a mistake.
Moreover, the modest tires don't keep the 2009 Chevrolet Traverse from feeling at ease through corners. Although aggressive intervention of stability control restricts the Traverse to 0.76g on the skid pad and 59.9 mph through the slalom, this Chevy manages its weight in a predictable manner during the transitions. The Chevy's hydraulic-assisted power steering doesn't have a lot to say, but it weights up like you hope it will on- and off-center, and its responses to input are accurate, if a bit leisurely.
Braking is one area in which the 2009 Chevrolet Traverse 2LT AWD could stand improvement. Its 135-foot stopping distance from 60 mph is the longest of any seven-passenger crossover we've tested lately, except for the 2009 Honda Pilot. In its defense, this 4,919-pound Traverse weighs more than most of its peers.
Decent Speed in Spite of Its Transmission
The 2009 Traverse's extra fat doesn't slow it down much, though.
With our 2LT tester's single-exhaust setup, its direct-injected 3.6-liter V6 is rated at 281 horsepower at 6,300 rpm and 266 pound-feet of torque at 3,400 rpm. Had it been equipped with the $945 California Edition Package, a less restrictive exhaust with dual outlets would have provided 288 hp and 270 lb-ft. (The package also comes with those aforementioned chrome 20s — apparently, someone at Chevy thinks west coasters are a touch image-conscious.)
Although the 3.6-liter doesn't sound or feel as refined as the Highlander's brilliant 3.5-liter, its torque band is still quite meaty, particularly in the midrange.
When you factor in the Traverse's 450-pound handicap, its 8.6-second performance to 60 mph (8.2 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) doesn't look that sluggish compared to the featherweight Highlander's 7.8-second 0-60 effort (7.5 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip). The Traverse does the quarter-mile in 16.4 seconds at 84.3 mph, while the Highlander does the task in 15.6 seconds at 86.0 mph. Chevy's crossover runs the same pace as the CX-9, and both are quicker off the line than the Ford Flex, which needs 8.8 seconds to hit 60 mph (8.5 seconds with rollout). By the quarter-mile mark, however, the Ford has closed the gap.
Though it performs well enough at the track, the Traverse has a six-speed automatic transmission that's been calibrated to keep you from getting any of that tasty torque in normal traffic situations. Though this is an all-wheel-drive Traverse, the transmission's behavior is no different than what we've experienced from our front-wheel-drive, long-term 2008 Buick Enclave.
In the interest of fuel economy, this six-speed upshifts way early and then refuses to come back down. If you're trying to accelerate into a gap in traffic, your only recourse is to get aggressive with the throttle, which eventually brings an abrupt downshift.
Repeat this scenario a few times and you'll drag your fuel economy down to the mid-teens. Our low-mileage Traverse tester logged a 14.6-mpg tank against a 16 city/23 highway EPA rating. At least our Enclave is averaging a more encouraging 17.5 mpg after 20,000-plus miles.
Attractive Design, but Sloppy Fit and Finish
On the inside, the 2009 Chevrolet Traverse 2LT feels more like a Toyota than anything else. Although Ford and Mazda have indulged in distinctive styling motifs for the Flex (crossover as canister vacuum cleaner) and CX-9 (crossover as sport sedan), Chevy's designers evidently just wanted the Traverse to be cohesive and calming.
And with a pleasant blend of dark, light and metallic surfaces and simple control layouts, the Traverse 2LT's cabin is a pleasant place to be. The attractive cloth upholstery is a mesh material (rather than mouse-fur fabric) and seems likely to withstand years of baby vomit and overturned Cokes. Some plastics are brittle, but they're mostly panels you wouldn't touch every day. The controls you're likely to use regularly are sturdy, though.
Unfortunately, the fit and finish of this particular Traverse is not as good as on the other Lambda crossovers we've examined. Just sitting in the driver seat, you notice all sorts of misaligned pieces (many with flashing on their edges), and the situation isn't much better for the exterior.
Not So Enormous in the Second Row
On the upside, that driver seat is roomy and quite comfortable, so you can't stay annoyed for long. In fact, this is the best seat you'll find in any Chevrolet product, and the standard telescoping steering wheel makes it easy to find a good driving position.
Oddly, though, the 2LT model's second-row captain's chairs aren't so comfortable. The seats themselves are mounted too low to the floor, and even with fore/aft adjustment, legroom is tight for adults.
This arrangement does allow convenient walk-through access to the useful third row, and if you're driving a 2009 Chevrolet Traverse, you'll rarely have a grown-up riding in the middle row anyway. If you need to squeeze in that eighth passenger, choosing the optional 60/40 bench seat deducts $495 from the price of a Traverse 2LT.
It's the Good Kind of Fat
Among midsize and large crossovers, the 2009 Chevrolet Traverse isn't the quickest, the most agile or the most refined in its interior execution.
It is, however, the roomiest. Fold down all the rear seats and you could drive around with a 116-cubic-foot abyss behind you. We would argue further that it has the best overall ride quality, as the Traverse manages to be plush without being too isolating.
Compared to highly styled crossovers like the Flex and CX-9, though, the 2009 Chevrolet Traverse 2LT AWD is a pretty unassuming family vehicle. Granted, there's nothing wrong with driving around in a perfectly livable but unremarkable $36,250 crossover SUV. But if you're OK with that, you'd probably be just as OK in a full-on minivan.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.