Review: 2009 Chevrolet Traverse LT

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

After months of reviewing only family-oriented transportation, this particular blogger began a streak of judging high-horsepower sports coupes. It's damn near impossible to complain about something with more power than anyone should ever need, but after a while my family got tired of trying to shoehorn five-year-old twins into the cramped back seat of a coupe. That's why we were most relieved to see that the 2009 Chevy Traverse was ready for a run in the Autoblog Garage.

The Traverse is the latest though maybe not last Lambda crossover, and since it dons General Motors' high volume Bow Tie badging, it's likely the most significant, as well. It is GM's least expensive eight-passenger crossover while also carrying the distinction of being the most efficient and most powerful Lambda. Does that make the Traverse the best of GM's Lambda litter? We took on the massive people hauler for a week to find out for ourselves.

Photos copyright ©2008 Chris Shunk/Weblogs, Inc.

Our option-free Silver Ice Metallic Chevy Traverse LT carried a MSRP of $31,545. The LT is one trim level above the bone-stock LS, yet includes standard features like a power drivers seat, upgraded information center and leather wrapped steering wheel with redundant audio controls. Every Traverse also includes standard features like a 288-hp direct-inject V6, six-speed automatic and six airbags.

The exterior of the new Traverse looks quite a bit like the Buick Enclave, GM's top-of-the-line Lambda-based CUV, in that it shares a D-Pillar, lift gate and a similarly shaped front grille. From 50 feet away, the Traverse appears to be a mild-mannered mid-sized crossover, but closer inspection shows that this 5,000-pound vehicle is actually huge. In fact, at 205 inches stem to stern, the Traverse is roughly the same size as the full-size Chevy Tahoe SUV. Massive P255/65R18 tires give the Traverse the look of a traditional body-on-frame SUV, but a uni-body structure and efficient V6 engine help this eight-seater achieve best-in-class efficiency.

GM's 3.6L V6 engine gets a thorough makeover under the hood of the Traverse, with a higher compression ratio of 11.3:1 and direct injection for improved power and economy. The end result is a horsepower bump from 275 in the Enclave to 288 in the Traverse. The most noticeable difference comes in torque, though, as the Traverse packs 270 lb-ft, which is 19 lb-ft more than the Enclave. Where the Enclave felt heavy at takeoff, the Traverse is more sprightly and you can feel the difference in the mid-range of the torque band and when passing on the freeway. The direct-inject engine also provides excellent fuel economy with EPA numbers of 17 around town and 24 on the highway. We managed 20.4 mpg in mixed driving, which is impressive considering the Traverse's sheer heft.

Another area in which Chevy engineers improved the Traverse versus it's in-family competition was by infusing it with more engaging driving characteristics. The chassis feels tighter than the Enclave's and exhibits less body roll than its more expensive sibling. Of course, we're still talking about a 5,000-lb, eight-passenger vehicle, so we didn't feel excited enough to set up a slalom course in the mall parking lot. We did, however, appreciate how the Traverse drove on extended trips with the family in tow. Speaking of towing, while we didn't pull anything during our review, fellow Autoblogger Sam Abuelsamid was able to tow a 4,200-lb boat with relative ease during a preview drive of the Traverse at the Milford Proving Grounds. This CUV's added grunt and 3.16 axle enables owners to pull up to 5,200 lbs without much hassle, which is also best-in-class in this segment.

The Traverse looks good enough and handles itself well on the open road, but the real charm of this eight passenger crossover lies on the inside. Our LT1 tester didn't have frills like navigation or a DVD player, but it did pack plenty of functionality and enough room to render a U-Haul obsolete. Step into the cabin of the Traverse and the first thing you notice is the huge, comfy captain's chair. At 240 lbs, I almost get lost in this thing, so someone of less substantial dimensions may feel a bit overmatched behind the wheel.

GM has done an exemplary job of creating an appealing, easy to read instrument panel with soft green lighting that really sticks out at night. We're still not big fans of the positioning of the redundant controls on the steering wheel, as our palms kept inadvertently hitting buttons that change the channel on the radio each time we needed to make a sharp turn.

The second and third rows of the Traverse are big, and even adults can get reasonably comfortable in the way back bench. It was also nice that we could fit copious amounts of groceries behind the third row, which is damn near impossible with much of the competition. Flip down the second and third row and you've got tons of space to haul just about anything. The Traverse swallowed a 52-inch LCD whole during its time with us and had room left over to accommodate a surround sound system. Try doing that in a Tahoe without physically removing seats from the cabin.

The Traverse doesn't have the sex appeal of its big bro' Buick Enclave, or competition like the Ford Flex for that matter, but it has the flexibility, efficiency and affordability to draw plenty of families into a local Chevy dealer. It's one of the very few crossovers on the market that delivers seating for eight, huge amounts of cargo space and fuel economy that easily bests that of body-on-frame SUVs from yesteryear. As a matter of fact, we question the need for GM to offer the Tahoe Two-Mode Hybrid given the fact that the Traverse has far superior interior packaging, better road manners, similar fuel economy and a price tag that is $20,000 less.

Photos copyright ©2008 Chris Shunk/Weblogs, Inc.

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