Chevy gets its Lambda on
What it Is
2009 Chevrolet Traverse Preview – Chicago Auto Show: GM’s new crossovers – the Saturn OUTLOOK, GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave – have won high praise from the media and public alike. Combining very good driving dynamics with unique styling and class-leading utility, they’re tough to beat. Yet a question has hovered over the whole line since the cars began trickling into showrooms: Where’s the Chevy version? Right here, in Chicago. Called the Traverse, it introduces a few new touches to the platform overall, such as the direct-injection version of GM’s 3.6-liter V-6, and solidifies the styling theme Chevy started with the Malibu. Why it Matters
Thanks to the Traverse, it may be time to wave goodbye to the Trailblazer. Executives deny it, and say that the new crossover is the "perfect bridge" from cars to trucks. Ah. Yes. While we're in awe of such refined pitch-speak, we wonder how many buyers will choose the aged TrailBlazer over the new Traverse when they compare the two on dealer lots. One way or another, with sales of its Uplander minivan virtually nonexistent, Chevy is missing out on a big portion of family-hauler buyers. This answers the need and gives General Motors another serious family player.
What’s Under the Hood
The 2009 Chevy Traverse gets the direct-injection version of GM’s 3.6-liter dohc V-6 engine, good for 281 horsepower with a single exhaust, or 286 with dual exhausts. This makes it the most powerful of the Lambdas, although we suspect that the engine will quickly find its way to its corporate siblings. It is connected to either a front- or all-wheel drive powertrain through a six-speed automatic transmission. Despite the added power, Chevy promises better fuel economy thanks to direct injection technology. We hope so, since in our experience the GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave haven’t made good on their promises of good fuel economy. The Traverse will also be offered in front-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations.
What it Looks Like
If you were to take a Malibu and turn it into a crossover, you’d wind up with the Traverse. It looks good. The bar splitting the grille continues as a bevel under the headlights. Those headlights are projector beams for both high and low beams. The profile looks most like the Buick Enclave, albeit with Chevy touches here and there. The rear end sports taillights that remind us vaguely of the Malibus, but are shaped differently and, honestly, look a little small in all the rear bodywork. Still, like its platformmates, the Traverse is shaping up to be a good looking crossover.
Based on our viewing of the show model, it's the interior that will sell most people on the Traverse, thanks to excellent material quality and a very usable and attractive design. Ringlets around the gauges, for example, bring a refined touch to the cockpit, as does the padded plastics and what seems like generous legroom. Malibu styling is also here. The Traverse maintains themes established with the Malibu, such as the trim piece that flows from the doors into the dash and then down the center stack. The two-tone style is also appealing, and the center stack integrates GM’s standard controls neatly. Seating configurations are the same as the other Lambdas, with seven or eight passenger capacity, and generous cargo room behind the third row of seats.
What Chevrolet Says
It must be fun to be Chevrolet general manager Ed Peper these days. See, today he can say things like this: “We think the Traverse is the right vehicle at the right time,” with a completely straight face and be telling the truth. He continues to say that, “It has great looks, utility and safety, with a driving experience typically found in smaller vehicles. But it delivers this with three rows of seating – including a third row that fits adults – and class-leading cargo space. The Traverse is following the formula that is bringing Chevy back to a new generation of consumers – great styling, loads of class-leading features and tremendous value.”
What We Think
Chevrolet now has a family vehicle that gets good-to-great gas mileage, from a modern and competitive powertrain (3.6-liter V-6, six-speeds), one that also offers a stylish design and a comfortably convenient interior. Add to that a five-year, 100,000-mile warranty and a base price that may land between $25,000 - $30,000, and what you’ve got is the makings of an excellent family value. Indeed, the Traverse really is the right car at the right time for Chevrolet. Maybe a tiny bit late to the market, but we think Chevy’s new crossover has the potential to win over buyers, even those who start their shopping at Toyota and Honda stores – and end it at a Chevy dealer.
By Keith Buglewicz and Brian Chee
Photo credit: General Motors