The full-size crossover segment is chock-full of many decent players, and for good reason. For most buyers, the big vehicles deliver enough of the off-road and towing capabilities of a traditional sport utility, the roominess and high driving position of a minivan, and increasingly, the driving dynamics and fuel economy of a big sedan.
Unfortunately, getting noticed among the growing crowd is a problem.
Chevrolet is hoping to conquer this dilemma by introducing its 2013 Traverse with a fresh new look (both inside and out), innovative new safety technology, a new ride and some new equipment – keep in mind that "new" entices buyers into the showrooms.
We recently spent a day with the improved Traverse in San Francisco. It's a family hauler, with "convenience" as its middle name, and in keeping with that mission, our drive was leisurely and comfortable. As testing this category of crossovers is more about discovering the annoyances than identifying segment-leading qualities, we found ourselves pleasantly content when it came time to hand back the keys.
The Chevrolet Traverse was first introduced at the 2008 Chicago Auto Show as a 2009 model. Built on GM's Lambda platform, shared with the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and now-defunct Saturn Outlook, the unibody crossover arrived with one standard V6 engine (yet two slightly different outputs) and a choice between front- and all-wheel drive. More interesting to most, however, was its seven-passenger cabin with captain's chairs – it was also available in an eight-passenger bench-row configuration.
For its fifth year of production, Chevrolet has treated its Traverse to a host of improvements. The front and rear fascias have been redesigned with what the automaker calls "... an athletic new exterior design, including a more expressive front end with a clear Chevrolet character." More specifically, the resculpted front end features a power dome hood, redesigned grille, new lamps and fresh chrome accents. Around back, a new license plate pocket and redesigned taillamps lend a sportier appearance. Overall, it simply looks more, well... Chevrolet.
Overall, it simply looks more, well... Chevrolet.
The interior has also gone under the knife. The dashboard gets some much-needed new upgraded materials including more soft-touch surfaces and teal stitching to richen things up. New chrome and silver accents, and (optional) blue ambient lighting add some contrast. The center stack houses a 6.5-inch touchscreen, and the climate control system has been redesigned with larger numerals making them easier to read. Lastly, the frustrating up/down temperature buttons on last year's model have been replaced with much more user-friendly round dials (although they are still digitally controlled). The primary instrument cluster has a different look, but the slightly dated gauges and leather-wrapped four-spoke steering wheel are carried over from last year.
With regards to the all-important infotainment suite, Chevrolet has made its MyLink and MyLink with Navigation optional on the 2013 Traverse. The software (and hardware) integrates with smartphones to allow wireless Bluetooth, Pandora and Stitcher operation through the head unit.
Chevrolet is introducing the industry's first center side airbag.
On the safety front, General Motors is introducing the world to the industry's first center side airbag – it inflates between the driver and front passenger to keep the two within their own personal space when things get topsy-turvy (the airbag is stowed on the inboard side of the driver's seat). The new center side airbag works in conjunction with seatbelts and standard front, side and roof-mounted curtain supplemental restraint airbags. Lastly, the head restraints on the two front seats are now fully articulated, to move up or down and fore and aft, to improve passenger comfort and safety.
The powertrain is unchanged, which means all Traverse models are fitted with a direct-injected 3.6-liter V6 with continuously variable valve timing. With dual exhaust (standard on the higher trim levels), it is rated at 288 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque (breathing through a single exhaust, output drops slightly to 281 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque). A traditional torque-converter six-speed automatic transmission is standard. Most Traverse models will be sold with front-wheel drive (FWD), but optional is Chevrolet's Intelligent all-wheel drive (AWD), a system engineered to send torque to the wheels that have the best traction. Based on FWD technology, it is designed primarily to increase grip in inclement weather and therefore lacks a transfer case or low range.
The entry-level 2013 Traverse LS FWD starts at $31,165, while the range-topping LTZ AWD is expected to start at just over $42,000.
Trim levels are mostly carried forward from last year. There are three different models (LS, LT and LTZ) and two LT packages (1LT and 2LT) and powertrains may be mixed and matched. The entry-level 2013 Traverse LS FWD starts at $31,165 (pricing includes $825 dealer freight charge) while the range-topping Traverse LTZ AWD is expected to start at just over $42,000. For our story, we spent time in a loaded LTZ FWD model.
Despite all of the changes, we found the 2013 Chevrolet Traverse drove much like last year's model. Yet our back seat passenger, a Chevrolet engineer, also reminded us that tweaks had also been made to the suspension. Rebound springs on the front struts were implemented to help control roll and new shock valving was designed to improve the ride at lower speeds. We couldn't tell one way or the other whether or not the changes made a difference, but neither roll control nor the low speed ride was an issue. Overall, the Traverse drives quite well.
The V6 is a fine enough powerplant, delivering decent economy (EPA estimates 17/24 FWD and 16/23 AWD), but it is showing its age when compared to the torque-rich turbocharged powerplants taking over the industry. The naturally aspirated six still needs a bit of rpm to deliver its strongest kick, as max torque isn't delivered until 3,400 rpm (for comparison, the turbocharged 2.0-liter in the Ford Explorer delivers the identical torque starting at just 1,750 rpm). Our butt-dyno says the 4,956-pound vehicle will hit 60 mph in just over eight seconds, a rate of acceleration that is quick enough to prevent sweating when pulling out in moving traffic.
Our butt-dyno says the 4,956-pound vehicle will hit 60 mph in just over eight seconds.
Ride and handling remain a good mix between the massiveness of a body-on-frame Tahoe and the top-heavy front-wheel-drive ponderousness of a minivan (consider that a convoluted backhanded compliment). The crossover was completely at ease on the highway, city and canyon cycles as long as all of the speed limits were reasonably obeyed. Much above that, and as is most often the case with vehicles in this segment, the standard all-season tires were the performance-limiting handicap.
What will get the attention of buyers is the Traverse's family-friendly cabin. Our test model was configured for seven passengers, with captain's chairs in the second row. Short of a sliding-door minivan, it is the easiest way to tote a large family as the rear passengers painlessly pass through the break in the second row to jump into the back. Second row passengers, it should be noted, get their own climate control (making the Traverse a three-zone HVAC vehicle) and the individual chairs have inboard arm rests for additional comfort.
It is more cavernous than a Chevrolet Tahoe when the second and third row are folded flat.
Passengers will also enjoy loading up the Traverse as it swallows cargo like a pelican gulping fish – and there is hidden storage everywhere. Running the numbers, when the second and third row are folded flat it is more cavernous (116.4 cubic feet) than a Chevrolet Tahoe. Even with the second and third row raised for occupants, an easy process with the provided straps, the crossover offers class-leading space in the back (24.4 cubic feet) all accessible through the convenient optional power rear liftgate.
Our biggest gripe with the Traverse has nothing to do with its powertrain, driving dynamics, utility or even the styling – we didn't like the height of the second- and third-row floor in relation to the seat cushions. Tall passengers (your author is six-foot, two-inches) will occupy the second and third row and find their feet don't rest as low as they do within the average crossover or sedan. While it is much worse in the third row, in both cases the result is a riding position with knees up in an awkward position. This isn't an issue for a quick around-town jaunt, but it became increasingly uncomfortable the longer we sat back there. Consider this a warning to all tall adults who don't sit behind the wheel or ride shotgun up front.
Even in light of this one passenger annoyance, we find it easy to recommend the 2013 Traverse to anyone seeking full-size eight-passenger transportation. Chevrolet's updated and refreshed crossover is a good answer to those who want more sport than a minivan, and more car than a truck. Inking the deal is competitive pricing and an expansive model lineup with powertrain and equipment choices to satisfy just about every family's needs.