Just when you thought Detroit was being overrun by men in pinstriped suits that haven't a clue about Latch connectors, along comes Sue Wilson, the vehicle line director for the 2009 Chevrolet Traverse. A modern mom of four, Sue knows what we want in a car, and she's delivered (mostly).
I got a sneak peak at the 2009 Traverse at the 2008 Chicago auto show. While I was impressed by it - I loved that Sue's family jumped out of the Traverse at the press conference - I was concerned the Traverse couldn't hold its ground with its cousin, and one of my favorite cars, the Buick Enclave. I'm pleased to say it can, with a few minor exceptions.
With a V-6 engine, the Traverse had plenty of power to get this mom around town, although auto geeks might want more oomph. The EPA rates the front-wheel-drive Traverse at 17/24 mpg city/highway, and the all-wheel-drive model is rated at 16/23 mpg.
With a slew of standard safety features, tons of seating, cargo flexibility and a more family-friendly price tag than the Enclave, the Traverse is a great option for families that want multipurpose functionality in a crossover the kids won't be embarrassed to be seen in.
Sue is a perfect example of the Traverse's target market: A mom with a large family (her kids are 12 to 19 years old) trying to maintain some family/work/life balance. Sue wanted a functional car that also looked great - a seemingly tall order. Her teens didn't want to be seen in something lame, and her husband wanted the family-mobile to be sporty and not too feminine. The Traverse dishes up style that everyone in the family likes; if only I could be so lucky at the dinner table.
The power liftgate was an absolute dream, especially after taking my girls on a trip to a sledding hill. My gloves were soggy, so I took them off but didn't want my hands to get snowy by manually opening the liftgate. With a push of the key-fob button in my warm, cozy coat pocket, the cargo space appeared, ready to swallow all the gear we could throw at it.
With another press of the key fob, I started the Traverse remotely while my kids took two (or maybe three or four) last runs on the sledding hill. As we made our way back to the car, it had already warmed to the perfect temperature just in time to load my children, who resembled wet, shivering puppies.
Stepping up into the Traverse was a little tricky for my younger daughter, especially with her slick snow boots on. The step-in height seemed higher than other crossovers I've been in; a running board would have helped immensely. Once in the Traverse, both of my girls were able to reach and close the doors without any problems.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Excellent
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times
The Traverse's interior has nearly as many options as the menu at a Cheesecake Factory. You can choose between seven- or eight-passenger seating. The seven-seat model has captain's chairs in the second row and an optional storage console between the two chairs. Although the extra storage is great, if you plan to have your kids in child-safety seats or booster seats in the second row, you shouldn't get the console. This will allow you to have a passageway to the third row, and prevent you from having to remove a car seat every time someone needs to get back there.
If you do opt for the center console in the second row, the captain's chairs slide forward into their collapsible bottom cushions. Sue was able to use the chairs' Smart Slide system one-handed in her demonstration at the Chicago auto show; I had to use two hands to get the seat to move forward. I didn't use this feature regularly because I had my daughters' booster seats in the second-row seats.
The third-row seats are roomy enough for three real adults to fit back there. Trust me, I tried it, and although some of you may debate whether my 5-foot-2-inch stature qualifies me as a bona fide adult, I beg to differ (I just paid my taxes, after all).
With more than two-dozen places to store junk in the trunk - actually, they're located throughout the crossover-the Traverse can easily function as a home away from home. I was especially appreciative of the cupholders in the rear doors' armrests. They're at just the right height for stashing my chai while helping my girls climb into the car. They're also well-placed for the kids to use while buckled into their car seats.
I loved the three-pronged outlet in the back of the center console. It allowed my daughters to keep their Nintendo DS charged before "My Littlest Pet Shop" died along with my driving peace. My one complaint with the Traverse's interior is road noise. Engine noise wasn't a problem, but road and wind noise were louder than I like in a car.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
The Traverse earned a 2009 Top Safety Pick nod from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. To become a Top Safety Pick, a car must have Good ratings in IIHS front, side and rear crash tests, as well as available electronic stability control.
The Traverse has front and side airbags as well as side curtain airbags for the first, second and third rows. It has standard antilock brakes and traction control.
The seat belts were easy for my kids to use independently in both the second and third rows, but the Latch-connector access could be improved upon. In the model I tested, the Latch connectors are tightly squeezed into the seat backs, making it tough to use with certain types of child-safety seats.
The Traverse comes with a one-year subscription to OnStar. OnStar is a fantastic system that does a lot more than help you find a spa or unlock your car doors. OnStar advisers are like guardian angels watching over your safety at all times. If you're in an accident, your car will automatically send a signal to OnStar, and an OnStar adviser will contact you and see if you need help.
A rearview camera and ultrasonic parking sensor is standard in 2LT and LTZ trim levels, optional in the 1LT and unavailable in the LS. Our friends over at KidsandCars.org tell us that every week more than 50 children are backed over by a car in the U.S. Families can't afford not to have a rearview camera in their car (pardon the double negative).
In Diapers: Second-row seats that slide fore and aft allow for plenty of space for rear-facing infant seats.
In School: Three rows of seating is a must-have for carpooling.
Teens: There's tons of flexible cargo space for carting teens and their stuff to activities.