Can’t abide a minivan? Chevy’s cavernous new hauler shoots up towards the top of the kid-toting class.
After having driven a Sunday brunch’s worth of soft-boiled SUVs and crossovers dainty as a French éclair in 2017, the Chevrolet Traverse proved a literally squarer, more satisfying meal. Put Chevy’s redesigned SUV on the list of the year’s biggest, best surprises.
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I honestly wasn’t expecting all that much from the new version of the Traverse. Released back in 2009, as General Motors was tumbling into bankruptcy, this three-row family hauler struck me as thoroughly capable‚ but duller than suburban lawn care. The Traverse was the most bus-like and utilitarian of a GM family that also included the Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia.
But where the all-new Acadia and Enclave have been downsized, the Michigan-built Traverse actually expands slightly for the latest version, including a two-inch wheelbase stretch to 120.9 inches—just 10 inches shyginal Canyonero, the Chevy Suburban. This new package carves out moof the orire passenger and cargo space than anything in the class—a long roster of minivan alternatives than includes the Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, and Mazda CX-9. Interior space squeaks past even the enormous Volkswagen Atlas, whether you’re talking space behind the third row, second row, or with all seats folded.
The bigger surprise is that the Traverse drives more like a smaller, nimbler SUV than the seven- or eight-passenger truckster it is. Its outstanding chassis tuning convinced me that the engineers earned their overtime, or at least took inspiration from the Camaro team. Shedding up to 360 pounds versus the previous model, including a 111-pound reduction for the chassis alone, the Traverse combines a tranquil ride with skillful handling that defies its girth. Of those competitors I just cited, only the CX-9 feels more sprightly and car-like—and that Mazda is a relatively scrawny SUV, with decisively less cargo space and a third row that should really be described as row 2.5.
Chalk up another win for the restyled body. This Traverse is one big, handsome lug. Not surprisingly, the Traverse’s Coke-bottle profile, with its nipped waist and crisply flared fenders, came out of Chevy’s truck design studio, and it previews styling cues you’ll be seeing on one of GM’s most critical models: A redesigned Silverado pickup for the 2019 model year, followed by a new Tahoe around 2020. Where so many minivan alternatives, especially the insipid Asian variety—the Pilot, Highlander, and Pathfinder—seem like culprits for the nation’s low-testosterone phenomenon, the brawnier Chevy seems sure to attract dads who’d like to hold their head up on the way to school, band practice, or a convenience-store run for Huggies. Yet the Traverse isn’t a macho Mack Truck cartoon (not a Dodge, in other words), so moms won’t mind taking the wheel and admiring those muscles as well. I find it the best-looking Chevy truck in years. And the styling bodes well for models to come, including the Silverado (in Z71 off-road trim) that Chevy dropped a few days ago at Texas Motor Speedway prior to its January auto show debut in Detroit.
There’s also useful muscle behind the Chevy’s big chrome grill (or the blacked-out version on the RS trim level). GM’s direct-injection, “high feature” 3.6-liter V-6 gets a 10-percent bump to 310 horsepower (up from a base 281 horsepower), with an identical 266 pound-feet of torque. That’s accompanied by an efficient nine-speed transmission that’s as impressively tuned as the suspension. It replaces GM’s sluggish old six-speed—or more accurately, renders it obsolete.
Throw in the Traverse’s substantial weight loss, and this Chevy can surge from 0-60 mph in a fleet 6.7 seconds, a full second quicker than before. After years, nay decades, of mediocre GM automatics, this Hydra-Matic nine-speed, co-developed with Ford for transverse-engine applications, is a keeper. The three extra cogs fit into the same space as the former six-speed, and the entire unit weighs just 22 pounds more. There’s none of the obtrusive gear hunting or indecision that plagues some rival nine-speeds, including from Chrysler and Honda. Squeeze the throttle gently, and the tranny eases down one gear. Hammer it, and it may downshift three or four gears at a go, but without long delays or clunky engagements. The combination makes this big beast quite adept at passing, able to squirt through holes in traffic in snappy fashion.