2009 Chevrolet Traverse LT Review

By Roger Boylan

01.21.2009

Smug pundits were trumpeting the SUV’s demise as recently as last summer. During the recent $4-a-gallon gas crisis, the nation’s newspaper of record hardly let a day go by without exulting over the woes of some wretched small-town SUV dealer stuck with a backlog, subtext: “We told you so, sucker.” And yet! When I look around there seem to be as many SUVs on the road today as there were back in their bad old heyday. (In a spirit of full disclosure, let me boldly say right from the start that I’ve always liked SUVs; I’ve owned two and rented or borrowed dozens, which is not to say that I’m in favor of gas guzzling, or eternal dependence on the Saudis.) Admittedly, I live in Texas, where the love of bigness is a matter of regional identity; but even on a national level, the big family hauler is still with us. Here comes Chevrolet, for example, with its latest offering, the 2009 Traverse, a seven- or eight-passenger behemoth that may be (and is) called a “crossover” or “family vehicle” but that seems like an SUV to me, and I’ve just finished test-driving one for a week. The Traverse is Chevy’s newborn sibling in the Acadia-Outlook-Enclave family, known as the “Lambda” platform siblings. There are three trim levels, 1LT, 2LT, and LTZ. Mine was the 2LT, with front-wheel-drive (AWD is available), 18-inch alloy wheels, an 8-way power driver seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, rear parking sensors, remote vehicle start, Bluetooth, 3-zone automatic climate control, a 10-speaker Bose system, rear audio system controls, 7-passenger seating with second-row captain’s chairs, a power lift gate, and a rearview camera integrated into the rearview mirror (I loved the last item). All this you can have for a seriously negotiable sticker price of $39K, but the base Chevy Traverse 1LT’s starting price of $28K is by far the lowest of the four Lambda siblings. It’s also, in my humble opinion, the best-looking of the litter. Its bulk is rendered almost sleek by swoopy styling that owes much to the new Malibu; it’s more of a dolphin than a whale, at least seen from the side.

As for the driving experience, I’ll sum up by saying the Traverse is easy to like but hard to love. Easy to like because it does pretty much everything a vehicle in its class should do, and does most of it very well, notably stopping and going. The engine, a 3.6 liter V6, is the same one found in the sparkling Cadillac CTS, albeit with a little less horsepower than the Caddy’s 304 (281 in the Traverse I tested). With the help of the seamless 6-speed automatic transmission, the engine performs silently and strongly, without too much of a fuel penalty: 24 mpg on the highway is claimed, although after five days of my 35-mile stop-and-go commute I found the beast to be a little thirstier than that, at 22 mpg or so on the rare open road and about 14 in town; at least it sups on regular. GM claims 8 sec. for the 0-60 sprint, an impressive figure for a vehicle this size.

I had no opportunity to run my own precise time trial, but I think the manufacturer’s claim is reasonable. I found the Traverse to be very athletic when called upon, as when I needed to merge onto the freeway in the face of a forward-barreling 18-wheeler suddenly changing lanes. I dropped the hammer; the Traverse leaped forward. That was the first time I’d actually heard the engine which, except under very hard acceleration, runs as silently and stealthily as a submarine’s. That speaks well both for Chevy’s engine tuning and its vehicle soundproofing. (I heard no creaks or rattles, either.) And when the high-speed driving is done and you need to bring her home, the brakes are ready–almost too ready, as their only flaw is a slight hint of grab when you hit them hard. But I found no fade, even after five or six tries.

Then there’s the interior space: in a word, vast, suitable for a family of 7 with 4 captain’s chairs fore and amidships, as in my test car, or 8 with an optional second-row bench seat. The leather-clad seats are extremely comfortable, and clearly designed to make traversing the continental divide easy on the haunches. Also, storage space abounds inside; indeed, sometimes one hiding place morphs into another, as with the center console armrest that, when raised, reveals a deep cubby hole beneath a sliding door. Cupholders are numerous and capacious, in the classic GM way; cupholders are even built into the door pockets, and there are enough in the second and third rows to hold all the Big Gulps of the Seven Dwarfs. Easily flipped forward, the two rearward rows of seats lie flat to create an immense cargo area of nearly 120 cu. ft., sufficient for said dwarfs and a couple of their giant friends.

So far, so good. But there’s a worm in this big shiny apple: the HVAC controls. They’re buttons, not knobs as they should be (although, annoyingly, they’re in the shape of knobs, as if to tantalize the unwary driver). They’re small, illogical, counter-intuitive, and fidgety. The tedious process of figuring out how they work distracts dangerously from the business of driving. Furthermore, they sent me back to the driver’s manual with embarrassing frequency. This may be a comment on my mental acuity or lack thereof, but I firmly believe the driver’s manual should be for information on specialty features or consultation during emergencies, not for instructions on the basic functions of an automobile, most of which have been pretty well standardized over the past hundred years. But the whiz kids from Chevy apparently decided the boring old-fashioned knobs that have worked so well for so many years aren’t good enough, they need something original and distinctive: Buttons! Scrap ’em, Chevy. They look bad, they don’t work well, and they’re a safety hazard.

It’s doubly unfortunate, because the dashboard in which these pestilential buttons are placed is otherwise very functional and well laid-out, notwithstanding the somewhat dreary cream-and-beige color scheme in my test car that my wife likened to that of a pre-fab home on wheels. Faux aluminum abounds, but we’ve become accustomed to that. The plastic on the dashboard is hard but sufficiently removed from the driver to mitigate its cheap appearance. The center stack is accessible and displays a reasonable degree of placement logic. Yet another cubby sits atop the whole; the gauges are simple and clear and well-illuminated at night, with a soft greenish back glow. Leg room is ample, and the pilot and co-pilot–and this is the triumphant virtue of the SUV species–behold the world as from the deck of a ship.

All in all, the Traverse, whether you call it a crossover or an SUV, does its job admirably. Would I recommend it to the family in need of a kid- and cargo-hauler? Absolutely. But as I said at the outset it’s hard to love; despite (or maybe because of) all its virtues, it personifies automotive anonymity. It’s impossible to imagine your common or garden automotive enthusiast hanging around the local Chevy lot at night just to catch a glimpse of the newest Traverse; it’s just not that kind of car. I’m more and more interested in only that kind of car, so I don’t see a Traverse in my future. But as I tool around in my personality-laden charactermobile, I’m sure I’ll see plenty of Chevy Traverses in the driveways of affluent suburban America, ready to traverse that old continental divide or factory outlet mall with equal aplomb.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant – All Rights Reserved

Author: Roger Boylan

Aside from being the only Autosavant writer with a Wikipedia page, Roger Boylan is an American writer who was raised in Ireland, France, and Switzerland and attended the University of Ulster and the University of Edinburgh. His novel “Killoyle” was published in 1997 by Dalkey Archive Press and has been reprinted four times. In 2003, a sequel, “The Great Pint-Pulling Olympiad,” was published by Grove Press, New York. Roger’s latest novel, “The Adorations,” in which a Swiss professor named Gustave, Adolf Hitler, Hitler’s mistress, the Archangel Michael, and a journalistic sexpot meet at the intersection of history and fantasy, has been published as an e-book and is now available on Amazon.com and other online bookstores. Boylan's light-hearted memoir, "Run Like Blazes," has also been published as a Kindle e-book and is also now available on Amazon.com.

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10 Comments

  1. I sure hope we don’t see these all over the place. They’re big and even though they use less gas than the big suv’s of the past, they still suck gas.

  2. Afraid that 2 dollar gas means we will see more of these monsters clogging the roads,just when I hoped to see neat efficient little vehicles-VIVA FIESTA!

  3. Considering that these can carry as many people as they can and still attain the mileage numbers given, I’d say that’s pretty reasonable. How do you two propose to carry seven passengers? Maybe a clown car? Give me a break.

  4. Yes, but you know and I know that most of these sold are not going to be used for carrying around seven people most of the time, if ever.

    Or hauling a horse trailer. Or going to a ski camp. They’re going to ferry a couple of kids back and forth to school or baseball practice or trips to the mall. And some of them will be used almost exclusively by one person going back and forth to an office.

    And even that I’m okay with as long as gasoline is around $5 a gallon and these people are paying a lot for the pleasure they apparently get from driving around something huge that uses up a lot of gas.

    But it doesn’t work like that, does it?

  5. Jealousy is a b*tch, ain’t it Francis H?

  6. Francis your point is valid and there are many times I feel guilty for driving around in my 7 passenger mid-size SUV by myself. I often am driving a couple of kids to school (intradistrict transfer means no bus service) or just driving myself to school or the grocery store.

    But the fact remains that my husband and I have three children and my grandmother lives with us. That means that at least once or twice a week, we need a vehicle that carries six people. And with three teenagers, it has to carry six ADULT sized people, a jump seat facing backwards in a station wagon doesn’t cut it anymore. We’re looking at minivans but they don’t get much better gas milage than this does.

    So unless a family has unlimited financial resources and can have one large car for the once or twice a week every seat is needed and another little tiny car for smaller trips, you will see people driving large vehicles with only one or two people in them.

    So hopefully you can see the issues families face from way up there on your high horse.

  7. You may think cream and beige is dreary but what seems to be standard black is even drearier. Every new car I look at has a black interior. Boring. Looks dirty/dusty instantly. Hot. I want color choices for interiors and cream/beige is a better one than black.

  8. My wife has the cousin to the Traverse (Buick Enclave) and I completely agree with the review written here. The vehicle is very good for what it does, haul lots of people and stuff, which we need to do fairly frequently. It isn’t a fun car to drive, but it is very comfortable, espeicially on long trips. The HVAC controls are non-intuitive. The Buick has the same center stack and as an occassional driver I find myself staring at controls for a couple seconds to remember how to adjust settings after 6 months of ownership. Of all the SUVs/minivans in this class there are many that get worse gas mileage, some of which costs much more and require premium fuel so I think it’s a reasonable comprimise. I’ll stick with my sports sedan and a stick shift for may daily driving duties though.

  9. well the way i see it is that people have the right to buy what they want to weather big or small, if you aren’t paying for it then keep your mouth off of it but now if you are the one who’s going to foot the bill then by all means make your voice known but in most cases you are on the outside looking in so it’s none of your businss no way so close your mouth, big mouth.

  10. Wah Wah Wah. someone uses more gas than my car. they are evil arent they. shut up you wacko enviro-natzis

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