New Car Reviews

First Drive: 2013 Chevrolet Traverse

The Chevrolet Traverse emerged from the darkness of General Motors’s bankruptcy in 2009, shining forth the bright beams of a fresh, innovative product with seating for eight. Unlike its competitors, this crossover had never posed as a truck, although it boasted some impressive and very trucklike capabilities. Its sleek shape made the Honda Pilot and Ford Explorer look like barns on wheels. (The redesigned 2012 Explorer looks like a barn designed by Antoni Gaudi on wheels.) A hit for Chevy, the Traverse has sold briskly, and no one has seemed to miss the old TrailBlazer.

Earlier this year at the New York Auto Show, the facelifted 2013 Traverse was revealed, and it looked promising. When we finally drove it the other day, we found an even more desirable super-station wagon. In refreshing the Traverse, according to chief engineer Sue Eckel, the “basic premise” was to “tweak what’s working well and make big changes where needed.” So improving the styling inside and out was the foremost task. If you’ve looked at a Traverse lately — they’re so ubiquitous as to be almost invisible — you may have seen that the propitious form is hardly amplified by the dowdy trim. The ’13 model, which goes into production later this year, fixes that.

Despite the revisions, the powertrain remains unchanged, which means the splendid direct-injection 3.6-liter V-6 keeps on producing 281 hp in LS and LT versions with a single exhaust and 288 hp in the LTZ with dual exhausts. Correspondingly, torque is 266/270 lb-ft. Because the Traverse weighs nearly two and a half tons, it never threatens to lift off the pavement and take flight, but on the other hand it has adequate power and reasonable throttle response. The six-speed automatic shifts smoothly enough, although in our front-drive LT we caught it hesitating in traffic when we lifted off the throttle but soon stepped into it again. Eckel reminded us that a wave of Russian, Mexican, and Canadian journalists had already come through on the media launch, and from them, this vehicle may have learned kick dancing and hat dancing, if not ice skating; were I to stay behind the wheel, the transmission, with the latest-generation electronic controls, would adapt.

Thoroughly nice, and safer, too

Meanwhile, the makeover is most evident from the driver’s seat. Jason Coffer, lead interior designer, said the objective was to eliminate the awkward intersections of seams on the dashboard and to raise the level of perceived quality — and in this, he and his team have succeeded. Among other changes, the dash is covered with simulated pebbled leather that includes exposed stitching. Making a big improvement over the previous plates of plain black plastic, the center stack and console are trimmed with fake wood. A bright bezel surrounds the entire instrument cluster, and the bow-tie emblem on the steering wheel pad is displayed alone instead of being on a round, indented background. The climate controls are revised, so the Traverse offers blessed, round knobs rather than the former touchplates. The 6.5-inch touchscreen presents MyLink infotainment with a couple of configurable home screens. Front seats have headrests that adjust four ways for comfort, and the passenger seat has leather trim and eight-way power adjustment. The interior is commendably quiet, which means front-row occupants don’t have to turn around and shout at the third-row; normal tones are possible, even if they get no results. Turning around will, however, reveal the elegantly tapering roofline. It’s easy to admire how well-done this big vehicle is.

An industry-first safety feature

Safety being the number-one consideration for shoppers in the large-crossover category, a new feature is the industry-first “front-center side airbag,” which is to say an airbag that deploys near the driver’s right elbow and keeps the front passenger from knocking into the driver. Assistance features include the blind-spot alert and rear cross-traffic alert, now standard on the LTZ, and a rearview camera that’s standard across the line.

The Traverse’s exterior is much smarter, and that starts with the winking headlamps. The deeper two-part grill wears horizontal slats with bright trim, which is found in greater abundance all over the body. The boldly sculpted fascia represents a big improvement over the old piece. Along the vehicle’s sides, we found bright window trim and a body-colored rub strip. A reshaped liftgate and tail lamps improve the rear.

Minor tweaks to the suspension complete the revisions, which result in a smooth-riding, pleasant-to-drive crossover that never feels huge at 203.7 inches long. From the comfortable driver’s seat, it’s no more difficult to place the Traverse in its lane or point it into a turn than it is to drop an envelope into a mail slot. After the superb re-styling and other upgrades, we don’t hesitate to call it a winner and won’t be surprised if this excellent vehicle, eyes glinting afresh, helps itself to an even greater share of the large crossover segment.

2013 Chevrolet Traverse
Suggested retail price/price as tested: $31,165/$37,405

Engine: DOHC 3.6-liter with direct injection and variable valve timing
Power: single/dual exhaust 281/288 hp @ 6300 rpm
Torque: single/dual exhaust 266/270 lb-ft @ 3400 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Drive: Front- or all-wheel

Steering: Hydraulically assisted rack-and-pinion
Suspension, Front: Coil-over strut, stabilizer bar
Suspension, Rear: Linked H-arm with coil springs, stabilizer bar
Brakes: Four-wheel ventilated disc with ABS
Tires: P255/55R-20 all-season

L x W x H: 203.7 x 78.5 x 69.9 in
Wheelbase: 118.9 in
Track F/R: 67.3/67.1 in
Weight: 4713-4956 lb
Ground clearance: 7.2 in
Passenger volume: 150.8 feet
Cargo volume (behind first/second/third row): 116.3/70.3/24.4 cu ft

Towing: 5200 lb
EPA Mileage: 17/24 mpg