• Jun 30th 2008 at 12:00PM
  • 80

2009 Chevy Traverse – Click above for high-res image gallery

At the Chicago Auto Show, Chevrolet rolled out the fourth and hopefully final member of its Lambda crossover family, the new Traverse. By the way, according to Chevrolet the proper pronunciation puts the emphasis on the second syllable. Like its Saturn, GMC and Buick siblings, the new Traverse is a full-size vehicle that is almost the same size as the Tahoe. That means it has seating for up to eight occupants, although three in the last row is a bit of a squeeze.

GM invited the media out to its Milford Proving Ground last week for a first drive of the Traverse, which of course we attended on your behalf. We had the chance to sample the big CUV in several different scenarios against what the marketing staff consider its main competitor, the Toyota Highlander. We ran the Chevy and Toyota back to back on the ride road, the skid pad, a lane change and slalom course and while towing a 4,200-lb boat. Check out how the Traverse fared after the jump.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

The new Traverse is the only member of the Lambda family not built at GM's Delta Township assembly plant in Lansing, MI. Once the company decided that future Saturns would primarily be re-badged Opels, the Spring Hill, TN plant that was once the home of GM's "different kind of car company" became available. The Traverse is the first non-Saturn vehicle ever built at Spring Hill and the first without a plastic body.

Unlike the 1980s and '90s, GM has finally learned how to give its platform-sharing vehicles distinctive looks that go beyond a different grille and taillights. Of course, within the confines of a CUV wagon body style there is only so much you can do, although Ford has managed to spin some even more distinctive looks from its platform stablemates. You couldn't tell by looking at them, for instance, that the Taurus X and Flex share the same architecture. If you squint, however, the same general profile shared by all of GM's Lambda CUVs is present and accounted for on the Traverse.

Nonetheless, Chevrolet designers have managed to incorporate themes of current bow-tie vehicles into this big wagon. The big twin-port grille inspired by the Malibu works well on the Traverse, giving it a smooth yet still aggressive look. Don Butler, Executive Director of Chevy Truck Marketing, highlighted the aerodynamics of the Traverse with a drag coefficient of 0.33 that's made possible by details like the full width front air dam. The lower edge of the air dam even has a bit of splitter, helping divert air around instead of under the vehicle.

Of course, what Butler neglected to mention was that vehicle drag has two components, the drag coefficient and the frontal area. No matter how low the Cd of the Traverse, a big high-riding crossover or SUV still has to move a lot of air out of the way. That said, every little bit helps. On the outside, GM at least put a lot of effort into the details, like 3.5mm door gaps that contribute to the CUVs quality appearance.

On the inside, the Traverse gets the full array of equipment people expect in modern vehicles, like side curtain airbags for the full length of the vehicle, including the third row. The dashboard design also carries over themes from the Malibu with a sweeping twin cockpit look. Unfortunately, the Traverse seems to have a lot more visible seams than its competitors and the quality of the plastics on these pre-production samples looks and feels less than stellar.

One new feature of the Traverse is blind spot mirrors. Rather than those expensive blind spot sensors being offered increasingly on other vehicles that flash a light in the mirror when another vehicle is in your blind spot, the Traverse has a small wide-angle mirror embedded in the outer top corner of the standard wing mirrors. The wide angle mirror gives you a good look at what's tucked in behind you.

Unlike the Highlander, the Traverse actually has some usable space behind its third-row seat. In a demonstration with the third-row seat up, Butler wasn't even able to put a single golf bag into the Toyota and close the hatch. The Traverse, meanwhile, is able to accommodate several suitcases or a couple of golf bags.

Where the Traverse really shines is its driving dynamics. This is the first Lambda CUV to get the direct injected version of GM's 3.6L V6. The new fuel delivery system boosts output from 270 hp/248 lb-ft up to 288 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. Besides beefing up the mid-range torque and general responsiveness, the changes boost city mileage for the front-wheel-drive version from 16 to 17 mpg. The highway number, however, remains unchanged at 24 mpg. The numbers for the AWD version are 16 city/23 highway mpg.

The Traverse is available with 17-,18- and 20-inch wheel/tire combinations with the 17- and 20- inchers being unique to the Chevy. The suspension has been re-tuned for the new rolling stock and, compared to the Outlook we drove last year, the Traverse feels more responsive on the road. While the Outlook felt ponderous and heavy, the Traverse feels lighter on its feet. Running through a sweeping corner at 70 mph, it felt stable and tied down. Over rough pavement, the body felt solid and free of rattles. Bumps never unsettled the big wagon. By contrast, the Highlander felt more unsettled and the hood and front fenders were visibly quivering at high speeds.

When we got over to the wet skid-pad to test the stability control, the Traverse was again clearly superior. The brake intervention of the stability control felt seamless and simply guided the vehicle where it was pointed. The Highlander seemed intent on slowing the vehicle and really only responded well to the first steering input. In a double lane change, it understeered heavily on the second steering input going back to the original lane. Like other Toyotas, the Highlander's stability control also had an annoying beep when active.

Moving over to dry pavement, the Traverse got through the double lane change with minimal body roll and drama. For a 5,000-lb wagon, the Traverse proved quite capable of changing direction quickly. The steering wasn't as lifeless as some other recent vehicles we've tried and even provided a hint of feedback. This is certainly not a sporting vehicle, but if you must drive a big crossover, it's better than most.

The final test was towing. Chevrolet had a Traverse and Highlander for us to drive, each with a 4,200-lb boat hooked up. The Chevrolet has a 5,200-lb tow rating, a 700-lb improvement over the other Lambdas, while the Toyota is rated at 5,000 lbs. Neither vehicle, however, has trailer sway control available. While the 5,000-lb rating of the Highlander seems impressive, there is actually a pretty significant limitation to this that was pointed out by a Chevrolet engineer. Buried in the owners manual of the Toyota is a warning not to exceed 45 mph when towing. No such restriction exists for the Chevrolet. Accelerating up a mild grade with the boat was possible with both vehicles, although the Chevrolet seemed to strain less. From 60 mph, both vehicles were able to slow to a stop without difficulty.

Overall the enhanced engine gives the Traverse added capability over its Lambda siblings, and in many ways it's superior to alternatives from other manufacturers. Its driving dynamics are very good for such a large and heavy vehicle, surprising even. The Traverse is the least expensive of the Lambda quartet and, for the moment, the most powerful. We'll reserve judgment on the fit and finish of the interior until production models appear this fall and we get one in the Autoblog Garage. Job 1 is currently scheduled for early September with an on-sale at the end of that same month. The big question, of course, is with gas above $4 a gallon, will there be enough of a demand for vehicles of this type to keep another assembly plant humming along?

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      Also, the chrome trim on the main gauge cluster was a bad idea, it just highlights how bizarre and oddly-shaped they are. If you're going to put chrome on something, make it round or at least symmetrical. It just looks weird and caught my eye immediately.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Audi has a similar shape on instrument panels in some of its cars. The Q7 is one such vehicle.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I doubt you’ll see a next generation of the Lambda “CUV”s with those optimistic EPA mileage numbers and pitiful real world numbers. With fuel prices expected to stay put, you’ll see people not only ditching these fuel suckers, but you’ll also see the people ditching their boats/trailers and cottages because they can no longer afford the $200 per weekend just to visit the cottage and/or fuel up the boat. Presto! You no longer need towing ability. And for those who have more than 3 kids, you’ll finally start to see some rational thinking on vehicle sizes.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I was wondering if any of you genuises would bother to actually compare a FWD Traverse's mileage to that of some sedans.

        Traverse: 17/24
        Malibu V6: 17/26
        C class: 18/26 (premium)
        Acura TL 18/26 (premium fuel)
        G8 V6: 17/25
        Fusion V6 18/26
        '09 Mazda6: 17/25

        Anyone claiming that gas prices spell doom for the Traverse must be claiming that most V6 sedans are soon to disappear from American driveways. 17/24 for a 7 passenger vehicle doesn't constitute a gas guzzler by any means. Get a grip people.

        • 7 Years Ago
        hmmm.... no weekend home, no boats or toys, no camp trailers... WHAT a fantastic life to aspire to! I guess spending every weekend in our postage stamp size yards is the way of the future according to some. If that is the case, I am glad I am bringing no children to live in such an abysmal existence!
        • 7 Years Ago

        Here's an interesting one. Even a V8 can be competitive.

        Pontiac G8 GT (V8-powered) -- 15/24
        • 7 Years Ago
        This ‘genius’ doesn’t care about what the EPA thinks, in the real world, and lets assume we have the same V6 engine in each vehicle, any time you have a larger/heavier/less aerodynamic package, mileage will be worse than with the smaller/lighter/more aero package. So, no I’m not suggesting V6 sedans will go away, but I’ll repeat what I said before ‘you’ll finally start to see some rational thinking on vehicle sizes’ which means the V6 sedan will be one of the alternatives people will start to look towards. You’ll also probably see the 4cyl versions of the sedans take up more of the sales mix.
          • 7 Years Ago
          "... and lets assume we have the same V6 engine in each vehicle, any time you have a larger/heavier/less aerodynamic package, mileage will be worse than with the smaller/lighter/more aero package."

          The EPA numbers incorporate all of those factors. Hence the V6 Accord is 19/29 mpg while the Pilot is 17/23 mpg.

          Different driving styles, road and traffic conditions can produce huge deviations from the EPA estimates. However, if two vehicles are driven the same way under the same conditions, the difference in real-world mpg will be close to the difference in the EPA estimates.

          For what it's worth, here is comparison with other 7/8-passenger vehicles:

          Highlander 18/24
          Traverse 17/24
          Flex 17/24
          Pilot 17/23
          Sienna 17/23
          Odyssey 16/23
          Quest 16/24
          Entourage 16/23
          CX-9 16/22
          X5 3.0 15/21
          Q7 6-cyl 14/20
          Sequoia 14/17
      • 7 Years Ago
      Nice vehicle if you need it, but redundant and ill-timed.

      Who needs this thing? GM already offers the same SUV from Buick, Saturn, and GMC. How many badge-engineered, uneconomical heavies must GM offer as gasoline pushes $5 per gallon? Dealers would be wise to clear some space to inventory the rows of Traverses that will be discounted soon after introduction.

      The Traverse is especially ridiculous now that GM's market share has dwindled to the point where most of its brands are consolidated into multi-brand stores that sell multiple copies of essentially the same vehicles.

      Even though the Traverse might be quite good, I think it's also quite stupid.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I defended and continue to defend the right of people to buy whatever vehicles they want, but I personally think (now and previously) that trucks and SUVs are stupid for people who don't really need them.

        For people whose family size or hobbies demand large vehicles, they have every right to buy them. If the newer trucks/SUVs are more economical than older ones, so much the better.

        Most trucks I see around here (San Francisco) are empty unless they're commercial vehicles, and I'd guess that most SUV owners are posers, too. If those people are going broke from $4.60 gasoline, I have no sympathy for them at all.

        The Chevy Traverse is certainly a worthy vehicle; however, adding a badge-engineered SUV to GM's already bloated SUV line-up looks ridiculous and entirely unnecessary. Badge engineering and redundancy are the dumb ideas here IMO.

        As for me, I replaced a '91 Mazda Protege with a then-new, 2004 Honda Accord--a larger car than I really needed. Why? Because with so many monster trucks out there, I didn't feel safe in a small car. The Accord is excellent, but I'd be happier if it weren't so big.

        • 7 Years Ago
        I'd imagine there are some folks driving some truck-based SUVs who'd get just as much utility out of the Traverse & Acadia as they would out of an older Tahoe or Yukon. Everyone is quickly dismissing passenger capacity, cargo space, and towing utility in a package that's easily 20% more efficient (or better) than the vehicles they're meant to replace.

        Iquack, I know you were one of the very ones just a year or two ago defending large SUV ownership whenever discussion tilted into that direction, so your reversal is quite interesting.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Hard to believe that GM will make lots of money by spending (and must continue to spend in promotion dollars) to re-brand the Acadia, Outlook, and Enclave (if those are the badges applied to the same vehicle).

        People who want one of these don't need to choose from so many of them with different names slapped on.

        Multiple branding probably adds more to GM's costs than the revenue produced from a badge-engineered, slow seller.
        • 7 Years Ago
        dude the only reason they made 4 of them is too make some money on the platform they spend alot of money on, for ex. whats going to sell more of a product:one store, or 3 (buick and gmc= 1+saturn+chevy)!
      • 7 Years Ago
      This is sorta sad. GM seems to be on the road to getting things right and along comes $4/gal gas.

      Folks, we are in big trouble. Our country is going in a scary direction. It's been said that "whats good for GM is good for the country". Well, what's bad for GM is bad for the country.

      Any ideas?
      • 7 Years Ago
      According to some of you, a vehicle like this is necessary if you haul around 8 people. Uh, how many people do you know who have a family of more than 5? Quite a huge demographic, isn't it? In other words, does GM really NEED 4 versions (soon to be 5 if Cadillac gets one) of this? Why would they think they'd fare any better than the Outlander/Terazza/Relay/Montana mess? Then again, isn't the definition of insanity "doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results"?
        • 7 Years Ago
        insanity would be pretending the lambdas are the same as the old minivans. The old minivans were too small and underpowered to compete with the best in class. They were also blasted by the press for being cosmetic updates of the older vans. The lambdas are brand new, state of the art, very spacious and have been getting rave reviews from the press. There is no comparison between the old minivans and these vehicles. The lambdas have state of the art powertrains, great looks and class leading powertrains. If you need a large crossover they are amongst the best choices. They also look better than any minivan on the market while exceeding the power and mileage of those vans.
        • 7 Years Ago
        ARE YOU PPL INSANE? There is a huge market for these vehicles. GM can't keep any of the Lambdas on their lots. Tons of ppl are trading in their tahoes and suburbans for these (which are sold in droves here) And yes here in suburbia, there are families with three or more kids, including mine. minivans can't tow, and yes alot of us out here have toys to haul. These vehicles are a near perfect replacement for people that don't need a big heavy frame based SUV.

        And if there wasn't a market for them, I dont' think GM would build and sell them. Bean counters rule the companies you know.

        Just because you ppl in your sheltered worlds can't see it doens't mean it doesn't exist.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I'm wondering why other testing magazines and sites (edmunds and winding road to name a couple) complained about the strained and unstable feeling of the Traverse while towing, yet Autoblog found no problems.

      Also, not exceeding 45 mph while towing is not a limitation of the vehicle, but a prudent safety recommendation. It is a safety warning, just like the "wear your seatbelts" stickers on the visors. There are many vehicles out there that have that warning in their manuals, so I don't think it should be alluded to that the Highlander is not as capable as the Traverse, just because of this omission in the owner's manual.

      Not crazy about more badge-engineering by GM, but I like the interior of the Traverse. Owners seem to love their Lambdas, I just hope GM can't stop slapping new grills and window-sill lines on the same vehicle for different dealers.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I guess I should clarify my statement.

        Other sites and magazines attended the same testing event as AB, which included the Highlander for comparison, and they found the Highlander more stable during the towing maneuvers.
        • 7 Years Ago
        AB was comparing to the Highlander, so relatively the Traverse was better. Most reviewers will compare the Lambda's to GMT900 where they fall very very very short.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I would say I do agree with some of this re-badging chit chat; however, we can be thankful that at least all these vehicles have a distinctly different look and character, unlike the relay, uplander, montana, and terraza deboggle.

      Mr. Sam, no mention of transmission in what I saw. I know the outlook and enclave I drove had a pretty slushy boxes and each couldn't figure out a hill to save its life (i.e. upshifting to an overdrive gear at the base of a hill, then waiting forever to harshly/roughly downshift to 2nd or so). otherwise, very great rides. any assessment of this in the more powerful traverse? did the power solve part of that issue? any testing on hills?

      • 7 Years Ago
      If this is suppose to be the rumoured replacement for my Trailblazer SS, GM can keep it. Just imagine piping 400+ corvette engine through the front wheels!! I agree, that at a time when their (GM) stock, sales, profits, vehicle market share are all on life support, this would not be the time to waste a single penny! It was released today that GM is only worth a paltry 6 billion dollars! This vehicle can't possibly accomplish anything more than what the GMC Acadia, Saturn Outlook and Buick Enclave have already done-all of these vehicles have massive incentives to get them out the door-is the Traverse going to retail for less than 15 grand?-I THINK NOT! So why waste the engineering, marketing and parts network dollars on this?
      • 7 Years Ago
      Fourth time isn't the charm, this is easily the ugliest wrapper you can get on a Lambda IMO.

      Did the world and GM really need a fourth flavor of this crossover?
        • 7 Years Ago
        Since the article compared this to the Toyota Highlander, do you think the Highlander is better looking? The Highlander is hideous compared to this.
        • 7 Years Ago
        No, it didn't.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Wrong car at the wrong time. I don't care how good it is. Money on the hood in two months tops. We are in game changing times with oil going over $140.00 over a barrel.. I can't afford the money to put gas in the tank of the boat I'm gonna tow.

      We need the Chevy Beat now, not this.

      Love the direct injection though.
        • 7 Years Ago
        $ 144.28 a barrel...
      • 7 Years Ago
      That thing is gonna sink like a lead zeppelin. Good looking selling a 15 mpg whale this summer lol.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Very ugly vehicle. If gas goes to $175+ territory, hopefully such vehicles will go away.
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