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2009 Chevrolet Traverse 1LT 7-8-passenger Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2009 Chevrolet Traverse

One week with an FWD 2009 Chevrolet Traverse 1LT 7-8-passenger crossover SUV.

By Thom Cannell
Detroit Bureau
The Auto Channel

I was in the scrum at last year’s Chicago Auto Show when the Traverse was introduced.(see link above) I had two reactions, first that Traverse was handsome and interesting, actually appearing sleek and curvaceous. My second reaction, “Saturn definitely got scre… the least visually interesting of Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, Buick Enclave, and Saturn Outlook. All are similar in their development, platform and engineering.

Since production of Traverse started at General Motor’s Spring Hill, Tennessee, I have seen few on the road. That may be because they compete with the other three cars which are produced at the GM Delta Township plan near my home in Lansing, Michigan. Therefore, I was interested to see what differences there might be between an Enclave, which I have tested, and Traverse. I chose to test the Traverse the same way as many of you drive your cars, to the Y, to the grocery store, business appointments and on surface streets and four-lane freeways. I just got in, tossing my gym bag into the second row of seats or lifting the tailgate and doing the same with groceries.

I have seldom done a less critical analysis of a vehicle. I did not scrutinize the Traverse and jotting notes on any nit-pick I could discover, rather driving as if it were my own private vehicle. I used this $31,545 MSRP seven seater without thinking, leaving the third row of seats erect, treating it as I would any domestic appliance the way many (perhaps most?) drivers approach their family cars.

At the Chicago Auto Show, Traverse appeared on a turntable that put the headlamps at eye level. Sleek it was, with a kicked-up D pillar that implied speed and chic. The chiseled front featured a bright mesh grille, low and small hood, plus jeweled projector headlamps and fog lamps. The rear, defined by a triangular plane pulled from C pillar to the top edge of the tail lamps was über-hip and stylish. Now, after a life with Traverse and seeing several on the road, some of the glitter has shaken loose.

Until living with Traverse, I did not think about its size. This is a full seven passenger American SUV/Crossover. It is big and has considerable bulk and heft that clever design can only minimize. Walking from headlight to tail lamp is a journey. I would say the taillights are myopically small in comparison to rear window size, causing the lower panel to appear pregnant in proportion. Traverse’s front has not lost its allure; it rocks.

My LT had all the features of the base LS, like smart-slide second row seats, six airbags including side impact for every row and head curtain protection, stability control, and XM Satellite on the radio. Its upgrades included ultrasonic parking assist, a driver information center, and 18” wheels. Additional features enhance 2LT models and there is a full-on LTZ model with touch-screen navigation, heated and cooled front bucket seats, and an 115V outlet for your computer, as well.

As a relatively basic model, though $31,545 sounds far from basic, it had cloth seats. If you cannot or do not choose heated seats, choose cloth for comfort on minus 9°F winter mornings and 90°-plus F summer days. Under either condition, leather is not pleasing to the body. As it was, even on the coldest mornings the gray cloth warmed quickly.

Where the Traverse succeeds is as a package. It offers 117.9 cubic feet of cargo capacity, the versatility of two or three rows of seats for full size adults, and quiet comfort. Traverse and its GM siblings embody what many Americans want (and some need) in the form of a group people mover. Where it, and all of the new crossovers of this size drop the soccer ball is in fuel economy; 17 city and 24 highway are not glorious nor sustainable once fuel prices rise above $3.00 per gallon as is inevitable.

Do not misunderstand. The powertrain, a Direct Injected 3.6-liter V6 and 6-speed automatic, could offer Extra Virgin Olive Oil a lesson in mono-saturated smoothness and unnoticeable gear transitions. Unfortunately, it has to move 4,790 pounds and physics is a cruel and unyielding master. Though the EPA says 17-city/24-highway, my overall economy was 18.6 mpg. There are only a few ways to get better fuel economy, become lighter or even render more fuel efficiency.

The DI engine is about as good as a gasoline engine can get, though a diesel engine could offer more, at a higher cost. Making any vehicle lighter also increases cost, particularly if the vehicle has to enclose space for eight. Lighter means exotic metals like aluminum and magnesium and higher priced HSS (high strength) steels. It means a price well above $30,000.

Here’s the Bullet Points:


  • Cloth seats that needed no heater to keep my family and I quite satisfied.
  • Ergonomics that measure up to any standard you’d care to name, and surpass some well thought of brands when it comes to unambiguous ease of use.
  • Shifter that falls to hand and offers the kind of gear selection you need, Drive and L. From L you can manually shift via buttons on the grip’s side.
  • Excellent towing capacity of 5200 pounds.
  • Superb powertrain with plenty of power (281 hp/253 pound feet of torque) to move you and your family swiftly into merging traffic.
  • Quiet; I’ve been in noisier desserts. Plus, the base sound system is rather above average.
  • Room for improvement:

    • That same 3.6-liter DI gasoline powertrain simply cannot move a two-ton vehicle with significantly fuel economy. In comparison, a 3.0-liter diesel delivered 28 mpg in real-world coast-to-coast fuel economy in an Audi Q7, which weights over 1,000 pounds more. Diesel does have a role in the future of our fleet.
    • There is room for improvement in calibration of the suspension. Dampers (shocks) were noticeably severe and aggressive on reasonably smooth highways.

    My conclusion? Traverse felt like a favorite blanket, warm and secure, inviting, and actually kind of cuddly. That might have been the warm gray tones of its interior, the comfortable seats, or the efficient way it handled every task. Honestly, why would you steer towards an MDX?

    Authors Note: No attempt at completeness, simply comments on one week’s driving experience—balanced against decades of experience and hundreds of comparisons