First Drive: 2009 Chevrolet Traverse

The changing face of the Great American SUV

Todd Lassa
Jun 25, 2008
Photographers: David Freers
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.
Photo 2/9   |   2009 Chevy Traverse rear Three Quarters View
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.
Photo 3/9   |   2009 Chevy Traverse front Three Quarters View
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.)
So what makes this Lambda a Chevy? Has GM returned to its old ways of badge proliferation by way of badge engineering?
It hasn't. The Traverse is probably as different from an Enclave as the Chevy Kingswood wagon was from a Buick Invicta wagon. Its ride and handling are pretty similar, which means it's pretty good; indeed, among the top of the class. The Traverse is remarkably quiet and smooth, with less body roll in fast corners than you'd expect from a crossover this size. As with the other three, the Traverse gets the ride-handling balance right, although it must be noted that the first drive was limited to GM's own proving ground, which was much more sympathetic to the Chevy than to noisy, more easily upset Toyota Highlanders provided for comparison.
The biggest revelation is how much quicker and more direct the Traverse's steering is than the Highlander's. It was tuned like a car and could be called a tall station wagon, if that wasn't as big a stigma as calling it a minivan or SUV.
Photo 7/9   |   2009 Chevy Traverse side View
The Traverse feels much smaller than it is and handles a bit better than its platform siblings, in part because it has new, grippier 20-in. tires on the top-trim LTZ. While the Enclave and Outlook will remain available only with 18- or 19-in. wheels, the Acadia is a candidate for the 20s, probably in a Denali version. The base Traverse LS will come with 17-in. wheels in a variant not provided for the drive. Chevy expects 10 percent of buyers to choose the base model, which will have less standard equipment than the base Outlook XE and therefore a lower base price. This pricing strategy helps preserve the Sloanian walk-up from Chevy to Saturn to GMC to Buick.
The LT will be the volume model, making up an expected 70 percent of sales. It has standard 18-in. wheels and comes with cloth or leather seats. The LTZ is Chevy's modern Brookwood Estate, with the 20s and standard leather. Heated and cooled leather front seats are an option (and on the other Lambdas, as well), and if the buyer doesn't order the nav system with backup camera, the backup camera screen appears in the rearview mirror. Chevy says it has beat Ford to market with the Traverse's blind-spot mirror-in-sideview-mirrors.
Photo 8/9   |   2009 Chevy Traverse engine
The biggest difference between the Chevy and other versions is in styling. Wearing tight, sculpted sheetmetal with a claimed drag coefficient of 0.33, the Traverse not only drives smaller than it is, it looks smaller than it is. It's a full-size crossover, even though GM calls it midsize. Its hood is lower than the Outlook/Acadia/Enclave's, giving it a subtler appearance, and its organic, "fuselage" profile sheetmetal recalls Chevy's late-'60s/early-'70s design heyday without appearing retro. The sheetmetal concludes in a subtle boattail hatch, like the Mazda3. The 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 flared rear fenders, most people won't notice.
Inside, you'll find the latest version of GM's rediscovery of interior quality. It's good, but doesn't appear rich beyond Chevy's place in the GM lineup -- a clean, modern, purposeful look with none of the Buick's luxurious warmth.
Photo 9/9   |   2009 Chevy Traverse interior View
For buyers who choose Chevy for its value and its clean, modern style, the Traverse will well 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.

2009 Chevrolet Traverse
Base Price$27,800 (est)
Vehicle layoutFront-engine, FWD/AWD, 7/8-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 3.6L/281-288-hp/253-270 lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Curb weight (dist f/r)4750 - 4950 lb (mfr)
Wheelbase 118.9 in
Length x width x height 205.0 x 78.4 x 72.8 in
0-60 mph 7.9 sec (MT est)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 16-17/23-24 mpg (est)
CO2 emissions 0.99-1.05 lb/mile (est)
On sale in U.S. October 2008

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Chevrolet Traverse

Fair Market Price
$29,755
Editors' Overall Rating
Basic Specifications
MSRP: $30,995
Mileage: 17 / 24
Engine: 3.6L V6
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