Traverse SUV enjoys truck feel

Wearing my cap as the self-appointed Philosopher King of all things automotive, as I see it, the world is divided into two distinct camps – there are car people and there are truck people. And of the dizzying selection of new vehicles available for 2011, the Chevrolet Traverse will undoubtedly appeal to truck people.

The Traverse SUV is big and roomy (longer than and with more interior cargo capacity than a Chevy Tahoe), offers the classic, high “command seating” driving position, and feels truck solid on the road.

Now in its third year of production, the full-sized Traverse SUV was introduced as a 2009 model and shares its major underpinnings with corporate siblings Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and the now defunct Saturn Outlook. And that’s a good thing.

The bones of the so-called Lambda platform are very good. When I tested the GMC Acadia, which was released one year earlier than the Traverse, it impressed me so much I declared it the highest-quality, best-built vehicle in General Motors’ lineup at the time. But the industry never stands still, and the competition continues to get better.

So how does the Chevy Traverse, a design now three years old, fare in a world of relentless, continual improvement? Surprisingly well, actually.

Externally, the Traverse’s clean lines are still attractive. The twopiece horizontally split grille with prominent bow-tie badge looks very Chevy and the kicked-up rear window at the D-pillar adds a sporting touch when viewed from the side. Our nicely optioned Traverse FWD 2LT tester (with optional dual sunroof, audio/rear DVD system, HD trailering package, chrome assist steps) rode on attractive six-spoke, 18-inch alloy wheels. As one observer opined, the Traverse’s styling is “inoffensive.”

The Traverse delivers a mostly refined, but still truck-like, driving experience. The view from the driver’s seat is elevated, and despite being surrounded by plenty of sheet metal, the Chevy is very easy to wheel through traffic. The front edges of our seven-passenger tester are within sight and there’s plenty of glass for a good view to the sides.

Aiding peripheral vision are twopiece side mirrors with built-in, wide-angle units to eliminate blind spots. Only the A-pillers, which flare out at the base of the windshield, slightly impede one’s view when cornering.

Braking requires a firm foot, and the SUV’s suspension is more truck than car-like. Over big potholes, the rear suspension lacks sophistication and can bang loudly. But again, that slightly rough edge is part of the Chevy’s truck character.

For most drivers, the 266 horsepower 3.6-litre V-6 engine provides adequate power. This is a utility vehicle, not a road burner, and the upside is that the V-6 Traverse achieves admirable advertised fuel economy (12.7 L/100 km in the city, 8.4 on the highway), significantly better than, say, the 5.3-litre V-8 2WD Tahoe (14.4 city, 9.5 highway). The six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly, quickly and is seamless in operation.

Our tester was factory equipped with a remote starter, and in -27 Celsius testing, is an example of brilliant product planning. The Traverse is designed to switch on the front seat heaters and front and rear defrosters when remotely started in cold weather. For our climate, this is a desirable option.

The Traverse is available in sevenand eight-passenger seating configurations. Our seven-passenger tester had second-row rear captain’s chairs, which offer plenty of legroom, but the seat cushion is flat and unsupportive. On long trips, you’ll want to finagle your way to first-class seating at the front.

Utility-wise, the Traverse performs admirably. The second-and thirdrow seats fold down flat, opening a large cargo hold that’s conveniently accessible via its power liftgate.

While the Traverse/Acadia/Enclave SUV triplets don’t have the cargo volume of the Chevrolet Venture minivan, which ceased production in 2005, our tester still easily swallowed a large wing chair. With GM out of the minivan business, these latest-generation SUVs are a viable option.

Overall, the 2011 Chevrolet Traverse FWD 2LT is a good choice for those who want a large SUV that is good looking, quite fuel efficient, has plenty of cargo space, can tow a light trailer, and is all wrapped in a package offering the truck experience.

For those who need an SUV but want a vehicle that drives like a car, check out the comparably priced and sized Ford Flex.

The Specs
2011 Chevrolet Traverse FWD 2LT
Type of vehicle: Full-sized crossover SUV
Engine: 3.6-litre DOHC V-6
Power: 281 hp at 6,300 r.p.m.; 266 lb.-ft. at 3,400 r.p.m.
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, front-wheel-drive
Tire size: 255/65R18
Fuel consumption rating (L/100km): 12.7 city, 8.4 hwy. (regular)
Price: $42,430 base, $47,860 as tested

Photograph by: Tim Yip, For Edmonton Journal