I have to confess, when I was driving this rig, the predominant thought that kept coming back to me over and over again, was: “What’s the point of it?” It’s not like the world needs another full-size SUV, and the models that it shares its platform and components with – Buick Enclave, Saturn Outlook, and GMC Acadia – haven’t exactly proven to be paragons of reliability and thrift. In fact, the Acadia, for example, has a very poor record for reliability. Below average, according to Consumer Reports.
On the other hand, Consumer Reports gives the Traverse a slightly better reliability rating than its sibling: “Average”, according to its website, and it gets a “Recommended” designation from this organization. It also comes with a full complement of airbags – in all three seating rows, with side and side curtain coverage. All of which is good.
But this is still a big ’un. Standard seating is for seven, but it can accommodate up to eight passengers, has a towing capacity of 2,358 kilograms, and has almost 3,300 litres of cargo space inside with the second and third row seats folded flat. That’s right up there with some mini-vans. The back seats do actually fold completely flat, and the rear tailgate is a one-piece swing-up affair, which is the handiest arrangement of them all.
Power is provided by a robust 3.6-litre V-6 that develops just over 280 horsepower, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission only. This engine is one of the nicest V-6 units The General has ever put forward. It feels like a V-8, with an easy kind of driveability about it and a nice linear power delivery. You can also get the Traverse with either front-drive or GM’s all-wheel-drive system. AWD adds about $3,000 to the price tag, depending on the model, but I’d stick to FWD. Interestingly, some models get a dual exhaust system and some get a single exhaust.
My not-quite-but-near-the-top-of-the-range 2LT had the latter, and it has some seven less horsepower with this arrangement. If you get the AWD system, as I did, you’ll lose a little fuel economy as well. But the Traverse is still a lively SUV and makes an excellent highway cruiser. You can thank its suspension as well for this; so many of these kinds of vehicles are either too hard or too soft; this one is somewhere in the middle and feels almost car-like in the way it handles the bumps and turns. Brakes, by the way, are four-wheel disc with ABS.
Speaking of which, I was pleasantly surprised at how little noise it makes when it gets up to speed. By way of comparison, the new Ford Explorer makes a heck of a racket, with wind noise and tire whine emanating up through the floorboards and wheel-wells. This could come down to the tires, but I don’t think so. Other GM models I’ve driven lately – such as the Equinox and Orlando, for example – are equally silent on the highway. As a general rule of thumb, this points to good assembly quality.
And, like virtually every GM SUV I’ve ever driven, the Traverse is comfortable. My tester had front captain’s seats with armrests, and this feature by itself puts the Traverse in my good books. Love the armrests. However, it’ll cost you; this option has a $1,755 price tag and includes second-row captain’s seats with a 60/40 folding feature. My tester also had optional chrome assist side steps ($840), which let you get up into the vehicle without having to stretch up and duck down at the same time. Another nice feature, and pretty much mandatory for anyone under six feet, I’d say.
Other extras on my tester included an upgraded audio system with back-seat DVD player and headphones, and a massive sunroof that has two sections. Loved the latter, but can do without the former.
Which leads me to answer my own question: what’s the point of this thing? I suppose if you have a large family, don’t want a minivan, haul large objects or lots of people all the time, need to tow something big on a regular basis and find yourself in snow a lot, it makes sense.
But just for the sake of argument, the Traverse – and others of its ilk – poses significant parking challenges at the mall, is still one of the thirstier vehicles on the road, is probably bigger than it needs to be, and carries a hefty price tag at the end of the day. Although it has a base price just less than $38,000, my tester, after the dust settles, will run you almost $55,000, and that’s before taxes and levies, so make it 60 grand.
Clearly there’s a market for these kinds of vehicles. But you really need to want one for that kind of money?
2012 Chevrolet Traverse 2LT
Type: Seven-/eight-passenger full-size SUV
Base Price: $46,125; as tested: $54,805
Engine: 3.6-litre V-6
Horsepower/Torque: 281 hp/266 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13.1 city/8.8 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Dodge Durango, GMC Acadia, Ford Flex, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Murano, VW Touareg, Hyundai Veracruz