First Drive: 2018 Chevrolet Traverse

DETROIT, Michigan – I’ve always been taken with the resiliency of this city. Once the magnificent epicentre of America’s Gilded Age, Detroit fell victim to the collapse of the automobile industry and a flagrantly corrupt political class. The poignancy of its urban decay is both tragic and compelling; and somehow conveys more life than nearby Grosse Pointe – a sequestered enclave of Detroit’s wealthy.

Safety and connectivity technology in a spacious, comfortable package.

But amidst the crumbling ruins of some of the finest examples of Beaux-Arts skyscrapers, Romanesque cathedrals and Gothic mansions, there’s a defiant spark of vitality. The dank carcasses of abandoned factories and warehouses are slowly being revitalized by art collectives and boutique industry, and the crumbling walls transformed into vibrant canvases.

The Eastern Market, where Chevrolet chose to launch their new Traverse crossover, is a 43-acre historical site that also hosts some of the world’s finest street art. There’s never enough time on these drive events to get more than a glimpse of local culture; and it’s especially frustrating to have to leave such creative originality for Grosse Pointe’s soulless perfection. Still, we made time for a couple of the brilliant examples that make up “Murals in the Market” while fulfilling our obligations to photograph the car we’re evaluating.

Although Detroit’s considered one of the most violent cities in the US, the danger level is exaggerated. Nevertheless, it’s wise to practice caution and keep a low profile. And it’s hard to fly further under the radar than in a full-sized family crossover. When a slammed Jaguar XJ Vanden Plas silently cruised towards us – a blacked-out mako shark on 20-inch dubs – we nonchalantly climbed back into the safe confines of our 2018 Chevrolet Traverse, and went on our merry way.

The Traverse fills the overlap between SUV and minivan, and replaces the Uplander and Astro van. Now a decade old, the Traverse has chugged along in nondescript functionality, useful yet decidedly bland. The new 2018 model aims to change that.

Chevrolet’s three-row crossover has only moved between 80 and 90 thousand units in the decade since introduction, but by upping its content, packaging, and refinement they’re hoping to expand those sales and compete in a higher-end market. An alternative to the truck-based Tahoe, the Traverse has grown in size and model range.

Visually, it’s less bland, with all its soft, round edges replaced by sculpted character lines. Up front is a new squared-off grille with tasteful chrome grille, and the blunt rump has been replaced with a neat and tidy liftgate. Its more dynamic profile suggests the Traverse has “gone from grocery-getter to go-getter,” said Exterior Design director Rich Sheer.

The redesigned cabin contains all the familiar GM design cues and features, and offers a comprehensive list of features moving up through the model range.

There are now six trim levels to choose from, starting with the front-wheel drive, base LS. Standard across the lineup are keyless open and start; USB charging in all three rows; rear-seat reminder; “Enhanced Smart-Slide”, a one-touch sliding second-row seat system that provides easy access to the third row – even with an empty child seat installed; lane-keep assist; forward collision alert; rear back-up camera; capless fuel filler; Teen Driver Technology; heated power side mirrors; and 12-volt power outlet.

Available options include the slick rear camera mirror that debuted on the Cadillac XT5, Surround Vision cameras to aid in back-up and trailering, adaptive cruise control, hands-free power liftgate; power-folding third row, heated and ventilated leather seats, heated second-row seats, heated steering wheel, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and wireless charging. Only the top two trims get emergency braking and forward collision warning which we’d presume would be standard equipment on a family-targeted vehicle.

Two new models join the lineup – the sporty Redline, whose blacked-out grille, 20-inch high-gloss black rims, and subtle red pinstripes project an air of swagger, and the top-of-the-line, fully loaded High Country replete with all the luxury features you’d expect in a $60,000 crossover.

There are two available powertrains; a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder producing 255 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque; and a 3.6L V6 that puts out 310 hp and 266 lb-ft. Both are partnered with a nine-speed automatic transmission. All but the RS model will come with the V6; which has a max 5,000 lb tow rating; and a fuel economy rating of 12.9 L/100 km city, 8.7 highway, 11.0 combined (FWD) and 13.7/9.4/11.8 for the AWD.

Our drive was limited to the AWD Premier model which is one step above the volume-selling LT. The eight-passenger cabin is absolutely cavernous, and while third-row seats are somewhat limiting, they offer 33.5 inches of legroom and, thanks to a patented “Spring Aid” five-link suspension, the inherent jounce and rebound has been eliminated.

The leather seats are broad, accommodating, and comfortable; and there’s a nice use of soft-touch materials on dash and other tactile surfaces. Interior cargo space has increased from 2,594 L to 2,781 L, with a bonus 90.6 L hidden under the trunk floor.

While the handling dynamics are nothing to get excited about, the Traverse is solid and well-behaved and very little noise enters the well-insulated cabin. For such a large vehicle, it feels well-sorted and less cumbersome than we had expected. The inner city roads are notoriously eroded, but the well-damped suspension absorbed the worst of it with little drama.

A brief jaunt on the I-94 showed the V6 to be a competent motivator for the 1,978 kg crossover – which Chevy claims can sprint [canter? – Ed.] from zero to 100 km/h in under seven seconds – and the nine-speed transmission is smooth and unobtrusive. Our tester was equipped with adaptive cruise control, a nice feature for stop-and-go traffic, but requires re-initiating at stops longer than five seconds.

Through a brief exercise involving a cone-defined obstacle course and simulated trailer hook-up, we were able to experience how the birds-eye view, 360 degree-back-up screen, and unobstructed rear view mirror camera worked to make parking safer; and towing much easier.

Overall, the new Traverse is a handsome, well-equipped family vehicle that’s a notable improvement over the outgoing model. It offers plenty of safety and connectivity technology in a spacious, comfortable package.

Built in Michigan, the 2018 Traverse should arrive in Canadian showrooms sometime this fall.

Pricing: 2018 Chevrolet Traverse

LS: $36,695
LT: $40,995
RS: $44,495
Premier: $54,295
Redline: $55,790
High Country: $60,295

Bigger gets better. 8/16/2017 12:01:00 AM