It's getting to the point where crossovers are becoming more like minivans or station wagons and less like traditional SUVs--but for some people, that's nothing to be ashamed of.
Crossovers don't have to apologize for being more glorified minivan and less soft off-roader. If you need minivan versatility and space but don't want to get that page at the gym, or get caught at the local gas 'n' milk minimart with $100-plus weekly refills, the 2009 Chevrolet Traverse could be the ticket. No need to spring for all-wheel drive in this "value-priced" Saturn Outlook/GMC Acadia/Buick Enclave sibling. You're not going camping or off-roading this weekend. Its interior capacity is about carrying half a high-school soccer team or the proverbial Home Depot load of plywood, not kayaks and mountain bikes. Only 35 percent of Traverse buyers will opt for all-wheel drive.
With a new V-6, the Traverse has oomph for hills, towing, hauling, whatever. It's short on torque only at launch--tip-in is unimpressive, but overall, the gas direct injection corrects Lambda's biggest shortcoming. A towing package raises the rating to 5200 pounds from 4500.
So what makes this Lambda a Chevrolet? Has General Motors devolved to badge proliferation and engineering? It hasn't. The Traverse is different from the Buick. Its ride and handling are close to that of the Enclave, which is to say it's pretty good, near top of the class. The Traverse is remarkably quiet and smooth (the Buick is quieter and slightly cushier), with controlled body roll in fast corners, less than most crossovers. Traverse got the ride-handling balance right, at least for the introductory drive at GM's proving grounds.
The Traverse's steering is quick, direct, and light. It feels smaller than it is and handles a bit better than its platform siblings, thanks mostly to new, grippier 20-inch Bridgestones on the top-trim LTZ. Most other Lambdas come with 18- or 19-inch wheels. The base Traverse LS (with 17-inch wheels) will have a bit less standard equipment than the base Outlook XE to become the lowest-price Lambda, a strategy that helps preserve the Sloanian Chevrolet-Saturn-GMC-Buick walk-up.
Chevrolet expects the midlevel LT, with 18-inch wheels, to take 70 percent of sales. The LTZ, with 20s and standard leather, is the version that could encroach on Enclave sales, depending on styling preferences. Wearing tight, sculpted sheetmetal with a claimed drag coefficient of 0.33, the Traverse drives and looks smaller than it is. It's a full-size crossover, even though GM calls it midsize, with a hood lower than the Outlook/Acadia/Enclave's. Its organic, "fuselage" profile sheetmetal recalls Chevy's late-1960s/early-1970s design heyday without appearing retro. Rear quarter-windows are same as the Buick's, just as the Saturn and GMC share rear quarter windows. Because it lacks the Enclave's blistered fenders, most people won't notice. For buyers who choose Chevy for its value and its clean, modern style, the Traverse will serve anyone who needs space and/or utility, without the stigma of owning a Tahoe or Suburban, or a Dodge Grand Caravan or Honda Odyssey.
Gas Direct-Injection V-6 and Other New Features
• All 2009 Lambdas come equipped with the gas direct-injection 3.6-liter V-6. With dual exhausts, it's rated 288 horsepower and 270 pound-feet, up 13 ponies and 19 pound-feet over the 2007-2008 sequential fuel injection 3.6.
• EPA fuel economy is up 1/0 mpg city/highway for FWD models, up 0/1 mpg for AWD models.
• The GDI V-6 comes with single exhaust on the entry-level 2009 Traverse LS and Outlook XE only. It's rated 281 horsepower and 253 pound-feet.
• Other features launching on the Traverse are added to its siblings, including optional cooled and heated leather front seats on top-of-range models, backup camera screen in the rearview mirror for top-of-range models not ordered with navigation, and standard blindspot mirrors within the sideview mirrors.