2018 Chevrolet Traverse First Drive Review: Staycation


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We’re nearing the end of summer vacation season in the U.S., so the Bow Tie brand decided to make its super family-friendly, jumbo three-row crossover—the newly redesigned 2018 Chevrolet Traverse—available for long-weekend trips within the great mitten state of Michigan. The timing coincided perfectly with half of the Motor Trend Detroit office editorial staff’s vacation plans—the other half. That left yours very truly hurriedly wheeling the new Traverse all over greater Detroit by myself, usually running late to cover the myriad events of a very busy week. As a result, I took greater note of the V-6’s 310 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque, the transmission’s nine well-spaced ratios, and the suspension’s sharpened responsiveness than I did its cool new tilt-n-slide (even with a child seat!) middle-row captain’s chair, the grand visibility out of its huge windows and dual sunroofs, its 5,000-pound towing capacity, or its 38.2-inch third-row headroom (up from 37.8).

Trust me, despite having grown in every exterior dimension—the largest being a 2.0-inch wheelbase stretch—the most noticeable dimension change from behind the wheel is curb weight. Depending on the model, this big boy has dropped something near 350 pounds. Compounding that roughly 7 percent weight loss is an 8 percent power gain and a 13 percent improvement in first-gear “leverage.” Tally that all up, and this thing felt at least a size class smaller every time a traffic light turned green and I floored it. Chevy is claiming a “sub-7-second” 0–60 time, which compares well with the 7.7-second time we recorded on a loaded all-wheel-drive Traverse LTZ. (Expect the optional 255-hp 2.0-liter turbo to be a bit slower, but perhaps not as much as you’d think—it’ll only be offered with front-drive, it weighs less, and it makes 29 lb-ft more torque than the V-6.)

With all those extra ratios available for selection within milliseconds, it’s a snap to drop the hammer and squirt into an opening in an adjacent lane of swifter-moving traffic. Once up to my comfortable top-gear freeway-cruising speed, the 25 percent broader ratio spread between first and ninth gears left the engine spinning 8 percent slower than the 2016 Traverse’s V-6 would have been. But perhaps the best thing about this nine-speed automatic is how unnoticeable it is. Shifts feel, as the bard of Honolulu, Bruno Mars, put it, “smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy.” There’s never the sense of constant gear shuffling that we’ve noticed in many other nine-speeds, and I never detected a moment’s indecision when a change of mind about throttle position can result in the gearbox clunking into a gear it belatedly determined was best. One constructive criticism for the tranny team: Program in a sport shift logic that holds lower gears longer, and give nerds like me a readout on the display that shows which gear I’m in. Your Ford colleagues are bound to offer these items (as they do with their version of your similarly shared 10-speed automatic in the F-150).

In Chevy’s quest for improved fuel economy, the Traverse’s lighter weight and better-optimized transmission gears are abetted by a sophisticated auto start/stop system that actually motorizes the starter pinion so that it can be synchronized with the speed of the flywheel. Why? So that on those rare occasions when you’re coasting to a stop and the engine shuts down but then the light turns green and you hit the gas before coming to a complete stop, this synchronizer gizmo lets the engine restart before the engine completely stops without that awful “prang” sound you used to get when accidentally trying to start a running engine. These efforts pay off in a 3-mpg improvement in EPA combined fuel economy for both the front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive V-6 variants, to 21 and 20 mpg, respectively. (GM is estimating the 2.0-liter front-driver will hit 22 mpg combined.)

Another area of intense effort on the part of the Traverse development team was chassis tuning, where the goal was to preserve the already comfy ride quality while sharpening the crossover’s dynamic handling—even when heavily loaded. On the ride-preservation/improvement front, there are new ZF shocks all around, and they include special preloaded valves that improve damping performance over the smallest inputs and also make the shocks quieter. In short, they make simpler twin-tube shocks behave more like fancy monotube ones. On the handling front, the lateral links in the new five-link rear suspension are hardened, and the ride-control (longitudinal) mounts are hydraulic on the front strut control arms. The front mounts of the rear-suspension cradle are also hydraulic for improved isolation. And to help out the rear coil springs as you load the Traverse down, there’s a big, tall, multimaterial “bump stop” that acts kind of like a variable-rate helper spring and ensures a soft “landing” if it does bottom out.

My Friday morning engagement (sampling the aforementioned Ford 10-speed) was out in the country, affording an opportunity to hustle down a deserted twisty road en route back to HQ, and indeed this big honker seemed to change direction pretty smartly, with minimal roll and none of the kind of slop you often get as all the rubber bits squish before the suspension takes a set. (Any of my vacation-bound colleagues trying maneuvers like these with their broods onboard surely coated their Traverses’ interiors with Cheerios and baby spew while screams of protest drowned out the shocks’ newfound quietness.)

Things did calm down Sunday and Monday, giving me a chance to explore the Traverse’s vast interior (it’s 10 percent larger than the outgoing model), which will accommodate the essential 4-by-8-foot sheet of paneling. Praise be! There’s an underfloor cargo stowage bin that can swallow a smaller roll-aboard bag behind the third-row seat, and there are USB charging ports within a comfortable cord’s reach of every seating position.

Rear-seat comfort was less impressive. The middle-row captain’s chairs felt hard and flat, though they’re elevated sufficiently above the front seats to afford stadium visibility. The wheelbase stretch was supposed to pay off in third-row comfort, but my 5-foot-10 frame felt cramped, and the low cushion and still-too-high floor forced a knees-high seating posture. The VW Atlas we had in a week earlier was vastly more comfortable back there. At least the passenger-side tilt/slide middle-row chair makes it easy to climb in and out, but I fear that children will struggle to operate its latch and will just scoot between the seats to climb in and out through wide rear doors, which now feature stays that hold them open in three positions.

My takeaway from a long weekend spent not vacationing in the Traverse: It’ll make up time when you’re running late about as well as any seven- or eight-seater can, but a sport transmission program would be a welcome upgrade. The ride is comfortable and quiet, it looks good on the outside, and it fits tons of stuff on the inside, but to rank as the ultimate vacation-mobile, the rear-seating comfort could use improvement. That’s a respectably small to-do list for a new Chevy.

2018 Chevrolet Traverse
BASE PRICE $30,875-$52,995
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 7-8-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINES 2.0L/255-hp/295-lb-ft* turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4; 3.6L/310-hp/266-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 4,350-4,600 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 120.9 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 204.3 x 78.6 x 70.7 in
0-60 MPH 6.9-7.4 sec (mfr est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 17-20/25-25/20-22 mpg*
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 169-198/135-135 kW-hrs/100 miles*
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.88-0.98 lb/mile*
ON SALE IN U.S. Currently
*2.0-liter hp, torque, EPA figures estimated

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