Safety is a top priority when it comes to women and their wheels, especially for soccer moms searching for large vehicles with serious kid- and cargo-carrying capacity.
There are a number of monster SUVs on the market - from the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot to the Mazda CX-9 and Ford Explorer. There's also a new entry from General Motors; its the 2009 Chevrolet Traverse.
And when it comes to safety, the Traverse is a Top Safety Pick from the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. To receive the top IIHS honour, a vehicle must get a "good" rating - the highest possible score in frontal, side, and rear crash tests.
Vehicles must also offer electronic stability control, which IIHS says reduces crash risk significantly by helping drivers maintain control of their vehicles during emergency manoeuvres.
The 2009 Chevy Traverse comes in LS, LT and LTZ trims, in both front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations.
The base LS FWD model costs $34,655; the top LTZ AWD is significantly more - $52,595. I'd skip it and go for my tester, a 1LT FWD for $37,255. But to make things confusing, there's also a 2LT FWD with extra features for $41,255.
My 1LT comes with six standard airbags including side curtains that deploy across all three rows of seats, four-wheel antilock brakes, electronic stability control, traction control, rear parking assist, cruise control, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, power windows, power locks and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
At first glance, the Traverse is menacing and intimidating in its size. Chevy's DNA is instantly recognizable, especially from the front end.
Adding a sporty touch are 18-inch machined-finish aluminum wheels, deep-tinted rear glass, black roof rails and a rear spoiler over the lift-gate window add a sporty touch.
Turn signals integrated in the side-view mirrors are useful for other drivers to spot your every move.
From the outside, the Traverse is big. Inside, it's spacious with three rows of seats for up to eight passengers.
The driver sits high up and has a commanding view of the road ahead. An eight-way power driver seat with power lumbar adjuster and a tilt-and-telescopic steering column also makes it simple to find a suitable driving position.
To access the third row, the 60/40-split second-row seat slides forward easily. The third-row bench seat, however, is best suited for kids and quick trips. It can feel claustrophobic riding back there.
But you can opt for an available oversized panoramic sunroof - it'll make the cabin feel more spacious and airy.
The cargo area is impressive. Even when all three rows are in use, there's still 681 litres of space - which is more than enough for grocery bags, hockey gear and sports equipment.
But if you need more room, drop the third-row seats and you get 1,948 litres of space. The second-row seats fold flat, too, to give you 3,296 litres of space.
The liftgate is manually operated on my tester; it's heavy and requires some muscle power to close. A power liftgate on higher trim levels simplifies the task. The Traverse is also a work horse; it can tow up to 2,359 kg.
Metallic accents on the instrument panel, gear shifter and steering wheel adorn the interior.
The dashboard is busy. Many buttons surround the driver. Some, near the navigation screen, are too tiny to fiddle with, especially when you're wearing bulky winter gloves. The screen, however, is nicely positioned so it's easy to read.
Power comes from a 3.6-litre V-6 that delivers 281 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque. Mated to the engine is a six-speed automatic transmission. Surprisingly, given its size at 2,141 kg, the Traverse delivers better than expected mileage. Official numbers are 12.7 L/100 km city and 8.4 highway. And it takes regular fuel - another bonus.
But the Traverse is big, bulky and cumbersome to drive as well as park. Thankfully, a rear-view camera and audio system warn of objects in your path when reverse or parallel parking. The camera costs $515, but it's worth it.
The SUV requires time and patience to manoeuvre in crowded shopping malls. Its tall, narrow body also leans when cornering.
There's often wind and engine noise in the cabin, too. When you have a full load, you can hear the engine working hard when merging onto the highway or climbing up hills.
An all-wheel-drive system for extra traction on slippery roads is optional. It automatically manages the torque distribution between the front and rear axles, based on wheel speed, throttle and road conditions. There is no driver intervention; the system decides how much torque to apply and delivers it to the wheels with the best traction.
The all-new Traverse is an ideal fit for a large family. Its top safety record also gives Chevy bragging rights over the competition.
- 2009 CHEVROLET TRAVERSE 1LT
- Type: Large SUV
- Base Price: $37,255; as tested, $39,120
- Engine: 3.6-litre, DOHC, V-6
- Horsepower/Torque: 281 hp/266 lb-ft
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic
- Drive: Front-wheel-drive
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.7 city/8.4 highway; regular
- Alternatives: Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer, Dodge Journey, Buick Enclave, Saturn Outlook, Mazda CX-9
- Top safety pick in crash tests
- Three rows of seats
- Serious cargo-carrying capacity
- Respectable fuel economy for its size
- Big to drive and park
- Body lean when cornering
- Small buttons on dashboard