Remember that Mitsubishi SUV commercial where the guy working out in the gym leaves his lights on in the parking lot, and he's embarrassed when he's paged as the owner of a minivan?
Well, who's embarrassed now?
The crossover has been around since the days of the Pontiac Aztek, or more palatably, the first-generation Acura MDX and BMW X5. With $4 gas and the image of real, truck-based SUVs as the symbol of our CO2-emitting, resource-chewing, could-take-'em-off-road-but-never-do profligacy, the latest crossovers have been designed with no interest in mimicking real SUVs' rugged styling cues. You'll find no fake brush-guards, for example, on the 2009 Chevrolet Traverse.
With General Motors' Lambda-platform models, the Saturn Outlook, GMC Acadia, Buick Enclave and now, the Chevy Traverse, the big family crossover has found its position in life. If you need the interior space of a minivan, but don't want to be caught getting that page at the gym, or have grown tired of spending $100 a week filling up your full-size SUV at the local gas 'n' milk minimart, the Traverse and its brethren appear to be the ticket. No need to spring for all-wheel drive. You're not really going camping or off-roading this weekend. Crossover interior capacity is about carrying half a high school soccer team or the proverbial Home Depot load of plywood, not kayaks and mountain bikes. Chevrolet expects not much more than 35 percent of Traverse buyers to choose all-wheel drive. Of its three Lambda-platform siblings, the GMC Acadia has the highest AWD take-rate, at roughly 40 percent.
All Lambdas will be equipped with the gas direct-injection version of the 3.6L V-6 for 2009, but the Traverse intro drive provided the first opportunity to try it in this platform. The Traverse is rated 288 hp and 270 lb-ft, up 13 ponies and 19 lb-ft over the sequential fuel-injection 3.6 of the 2007-'08 crossovers. (Two single-exhaust base models, the Traverse LS and the Outlook XE, are rated 281 hp/253 lb-ft.) The EPA estimate is up 1-mpg city, even-money highway for the FWD version, at 17/24 mpg, and unchanged on the city run, but up 1-mpg highway, at 16/22 for the AWD version.
That power and torque is just what the big, 5000-lb-plus Lambdas need. The Traverse feels like it has plenty of oomph for hills, towing, hauling, whatever. It's short on torque only at launch -- tip-in is its least-impressive feature, but overall, the gas direct-injection corrects Lambda's biggest shortcoming. (As for better fuel consumption, GM is reportedly several years away from introducing a second-generation two-mode hybrid with a transmission that will fit the Lambdas.)
Traverses with the optional towing package can pull 5200 pounds, versus 4500 pounds for the '08 Outlook/Acadia/Enclave. Like those three, the Chevy version comes with a standard six-speed automatic and seating for seven or eight, compared with six- or seven-passenger seating for its new chief rival, the Ford Flex. Unlike the Flex, though, there's no fridge option. (Perhaps GM should have held on to the Frigidaire division.)