Test Drive: 2016 Chevrolet Traverse

Let’s cut right through the baloney straight away, shall we?  Big ol’ crossover SUVs like this Chevrolet Traverse are nothing more than this generation’s minivans, and if you’re shopping for one of these family haulers right now because you wouldn’t be caught dead in a minivan, you probably don’t want to hear that.

The Traverse here is a fine, contemporary family-hauling machine, replete with cavernous interior and enough cubbies to contain all the offsprings’ necessities for any road trip.

From the 1940s through to the mid-1980s station wagons were the paradigm choice for family transportation.  In many instances they were massive, they seated half a team’s worth of kids and hauled around whatever family stuff needed hauling.

Then it was decided that station wagons were seriously uncool (maybe it had something to do with stick-on vinyl “wood” trim?) and Chrysler’s Caravan and Voyageur (also originally available with stick-on vinyl “wood” trim) became the pick of the modern family, laughing at all the sad sacks driving their Custom Cruisers and Country Squires.

But of course, by the 1990s, the minivan, too, became the very picture geekdom, replaced in all the cool family driveways by a more macho choice:  the SUV.  Tahoes, Explorers, 4Runners and the like delivered a rugged bravado that dorky minivans could never hope to emit, regardless of their superior practicality.

Those formerly truck-based Utes have been softened over time, like a so many of the parents who drive 'em.  Once tough and capable, they’re now tired, a little overweight and dressed for comfort.

Don’t misunderstand; the Traverse here is a fine, contemporary family-hauling machine, replete with cavernous interior and enough cubbies to contain all the offsprings’ necessities for any road trip.  And it can be spec’ed up with an impressively luxurious interior with leather, fancy infotainment systems and safety features.   Or it can also be stripped down to the essentials – a wise move for families with children that are likely to climb over, spill stuff on and generally beat the heck out of anything nice that’s in the interior.

And as good as the Traverse is or might be, it’s still less space efficient than a minivan, yet – and let’s be honest – no better for the fragile parental image than a minivan.

But General Motors no longer offers North Americans a minivan, so for eight passenger hauling (or seven passenger, in the case of our test rig with middle row captain’s chairs), the Chevy Traverse is the go-to option unless you’ve got the wherewithal to purchase (and fuel) a full-size Tahoe or Suburban.

Sense and Sens Passenger Capacity: Three-Row Crossover Comparo

So what do you get in this $46,000 “True North Edition” Traverse?  Well, there’s a unibody structure, which means this isn’t a truck, despite what the majority of buyers are likely to call it,.  There’s also a decent 3.6L V6 engine that puts out 281 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque, dispensed to all four wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission.  Inside this Traverse’s transmission casing, gears two and three seemed to be in disagreement much of the time, frequently resulting in strange stutters instead clean gearshifts under moderate load.

 

The engine has enough gusto to motivate the big Traverse without much fuss, sufficient to suit most family needs.  That said, at over 2,200 kg, the Traverse is no featherweight, and filled with big-boned grownups and luggage, drivers will want to ensure their passing maneuvers have plenty of time and space.  The sound of the V6 exerting itself is gruff and not exactly melodic either – though most owners won’t care a whit about that.

Energuide rates the Traverse’s fuel consumption at a respectable 10.2 L/100 km highway, 14.6 city and 12.6 combined.

The Traverse is rated to tow 2,359 kg and this particular vehicle was also equipped with a trailering package including a two-inch receiver and heavy-duty cooling, recognizing that owners may wish to pull a small boat or utility trailer from time to time.

The 1LT trim level of our tester comes standard with 20-inch wheels that help dress up an inoffensive, if uninspired exterior design.  The downside to the big rims is that they diminish the Traverse’s ride quality, thumping over frost-heaved roads and potholes.  There’s no upside tradeoff of improved handling either, with the big Chevy handling like, well, the big, heavy family vehicle it is, wallowing around when urgent directional changes are requested.  The highway ride is decent, owing to the Traverse’s long wheelbase.

Buyers of the Traverse are likely to be far more interested in the Chevy’s interior than its drivetrain, and as a spacious hauling machine, it’s a genuine success.  Starting at the back, with the hatch up, nearly 700 L of cargo volume is available, and that’s behind the third row seat.  That’s a figure that puts it at the top of the mid-size SUV class.  All of the Traverse’s competitors offer ample space for at least seven adults, but if those occupants come with luggage, the Chevrolet’s copious cargo space will be a godsend.

Of course something’s got to give, and in the case of the Traverse, the best-in-class luggage compartment comes at the expense of the second row seats that feel tight compared to some of the limo-like accommodations of some of the competitors.  There is insufficient under-thigh support for adult-sized occupants and poor foot room beneath the front seats.  Still there is ample space for kids and teens in both second and third rows, and with back seat climate control functionality ($675) and a second-row sunroof option ($1,685), the Traverse isn’t a bad place for the youngin’s to log some serious family trip miles.

Up front a generally utilitarian, no-frills cabin presents itself to driver and front seat passenger.  Most of the surfaces are soft-touch, but show the sheen of cheapness, along with the faux chrome and faux wood liberally sprinkled around to try to dress things up.  The dated blue-green lighting and fonts of the gauges will remind drivers of those big old GM station wagons from generations long forgotten.

Old school design isn’t always a bad thing, especially in this age of overly complex infotainment systems.  The primary controls for the stereo are still handled by knobs, likewise for the climate control, which require manual operation of fan speed and temperature.

Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment touchscreen system is included with the True North Edition package.  In this application it controls connectivity with phones and music devices as well as serving as an elaborate trip computer for the Traverse.   Operation of MyLink is generally intuitive, although navigation is an additional option not included on our test vehicle.

The front seats are comfortable enough, and the heated seats put out enough BTUs to nearly set your pants ablaze.  That’s pretty much it for luxury and technology in this rig though, which makes the cost of admission a little steep when compared to similar machines from the newer competitors offering features found only on high-end luxury cars when the Traverse was developed.

The same multi-kid family units that previously bought minivans and station wagons are purchasing modern-day three-row crossovers like this Traverse now.  While not offering the same level of interior space and functionality as a minivan, the Traverse’s slightly elevated ride height and all-wheel-drive traction does help give buyers a greater sense of security for getting down cottage trails or snowy suburban neighbourhood roads.

If you think the big Traverse is the right choice for your family, strike now before it follows its GMC Acadia sibling and shrinks in size – and people-hauling capability in the coming months.  Plus, knowing that a new Traverse is due in the not-too-distant future, Chevrolet is likely to offer up impressive incentives to move units.  And that could make the big Chevy an even more attractive family purchase.

Warranty:
3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/160,000 km powertrain; 6 years/160,000 km corrosion perforation; 5 years/160,000 km roadside assistance

Competitors:
Ford Explorer
Honda Pilot
Hyundai Santa Fe XL
Kia Sorento
Nissan Pathfinder
Toyota Highlander

2016 Chevrolet Traverse 1LT AWD
articles_PricingType 2016 Chevrolet Traverse 1LT AWD
Base Price $40,310
Optional Equipment True North Edition package, $1,195; 2nd Row Bucket Seats, $675; Trailering Package, $550; Cargo Convenience Package, $165.
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,700
Price as Tested $46,380
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 6.2
6 Exterior Styling
6 Performance
6 Interior
7 Comfort
6 Fuel Economy