Road Test: The Chevrolet Traverse is a crowd pleaser
OK, cards on the table time: the Chevrolet Traverse is absolutely not my kind of car. In fact I have difficulty in describing it as a car at all, as it's so enormous that "bus" might be a more apt adjective.
But the job of a reviewer (of anything) is to stand back with impartiality and judge whatever it is with objectivity and a lack of prejudice. And, in so doing, the new Traverse actually makes a strong case for itself if (unlike me) you're in the market for a crossover/people carrier/SUV that's so large you could throw a dinner party inside it. Seriously, I'm amazed there wasn't an echo every time I spoke when sat inside the thing.
That might have something to do with the fact that Chevrolet (and General Motors as a whole) has considerably upped its game when it comes to the materials used in the interiors of its newer models. While the fake-looking wood veneer trim of my test car isn't to my taste, the soft-touch plastics, the improved (Opel-sourced) switchgear and the overall look of the dashboard, combined with the simplicity and intuitiveness of the interior fixtures and fittings, make this an appealing environment in which to make the daily slog between emirates. If I had a family the size of the Waltons, I'd be happy enough transporting them everywhere in this thing.
Interior space is so generous that, travelling on my own, I feel like I'm lost in a corner up front somewhere. The Traverse seats seven or eight people (depending on how one specifies it) in three rows of leather-upholstered luxury, and this is its calling card. The seating configuration is highly adjustable and Chevrolet's designers have shown forethought and intelligence in the ways in which you can alter the interior, making changes simple and easy - essential when you're dealing with children and lots of shopping.
When it comes to the Traverse's exterior, it's inoffensive yet hardly distinctive. Still, it looks nicer than Infiniti's JX or Honda's ungainly CRV, and it appears to take up less road space than Nissan's unfeasibly massive Armada. But crucially, at least for other markets, the Traverse looks less "American" than some of its contemporaries, meaning less chrome and blingy in-your-face visuals. The only thing missing from its physical structure, perhaps, is sliding-door access.
As a driver's car, the Traverse is, as you would expect, quite ordinary. It manages to disguise its enormous dimensions and its 2,248kg bulk quite well, with little in the way of wallowing or wandering at speed, but it does feel rather like it's being thrashed to get it up to speed in the first place. While the Honda Accord I recently tested was possessed of a V6 that was creamily smooth, this 3.6L six-pot feels stressed and a bit rough when you're winding it up through the gears. The result of which is less refinement than its interior seems to promise occupants.
Having said that, the six-speed auto transmission does hold onto its gears without constantly hunting for sixth in the name of economy, and it feels like a willing performer. But cars like this are never bought for driving dynamics, are they?
Nope, much higher on the agenda are things like cup holder quotas, and the Traverse offers no fewer than 12 of the things, saying more than anything that its very reason for existing is to ferry around huge families. Also in tune with its special purpose in life, the door handles are reassuringly chunky and easy for kids to grapple with, even when wearing thick gloves.
But quite apart from the practicalities of carrying the kids to school, or sharing the drive to work as part of a carpool, the Traverse does offer significant levels of security and protection for its occupants. The usual driver assist systems are all present and correct, meaning warnings when you're straying out of lane, blind spot assist and a reversing camera. If the worst happens, six airbags are fitted as standard and an optional seventh is available, which emerges from the side of the driver's seat during a collision to prevent his or her cranium colliding with the passenger's. And that, says Chevrolet, is unique.
So while the new Traverse is still definitely not the type of vehicle that gets me in the least bit excited, it's actually a very good car that meets and exceeds the demands set upon it by a particular section of the marketplace. It's enormously practical, quiet and comfortable when on the move, and it offers safety as well as excellent value for money. And, as such, it comes highly recommended.
Published: April 5, 2013 04:00 AM