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2012 Chevrolet Traverse 2LT Road Test and Review

Benjamin Hunting
by Benjamin Hunting
March 5, 2012
7 min. Reading Time

Once upon a time, General Motors tried to sell minivans. After years of dismal results coupled with poor reviews of products with names like the Pontiac Trans Sport and the Chevrolet Uplander, the automotive behemoth threw in the towel and decided to build a full-size crossover vehicle to tackle the people mover market. This was the genesis of the Chevrolet Traverse, which first appeared as a 2009 model and quickly erased painful memories of GM's ill-received minivan efforts thanks to strong interest from family shoppers.

The 2012 Chevrolet Traverse 2LT is currently in its final year of production before an impending refresh upgrades its exterior looks and interior fixtures, but it still has a lot to offer buyers who require three rows of roomy seating as well as significant hauling capability.

2012 Chevrolet Traverse 2LT: Competition

The 2012 Chevrolet Traverse is up against a number of well-established competitors in the full-size crossover segment. Those interested in the Traverse are also typically test driving the Toyota Highlander, the Honda Pilot and the re-designed Ford Explorer. Other less obvious Traverse rivals include the more wagon-like Ford Flex the Euro-styled Volkswagen Touareg and the newly redesigned rear-wheel drive Dodge Durango. Within the GM stable, entry-level versions of the GMC Acadia and the Buick Enclave (each of which share their platform with the Traverse) are also potential candidates to steal sales away from Chevrolet.

Truth be told, there are many excellent choices for anyone seeking a full-size crossover vehicle and ultimately it is the individual strengths - styling, power, fuel efficiency and passenger room - that often tip the scales in one direction or another at buying time. With this knowledge in mind, the Chevrolet Traverse tempts showroom visitors with a tow rating that is higher than the most of the competition (5,200 lbs), as well as better overall interior cargo space. By leveraging its large size, the Traverse manages to provide near truck-like functionality without sacrificing ride comfort or handling.


2012 Chevrolet Traverse 2LT: Pricing and Trim Levels

The 2012 Chevrolet Traverse is offered in four different trim levels (each of which can be had in either front-wheel or all-wheel drive configurations), with the base LS starting at an MSRP of $29,510. The Traverse is also available in 1LT (MSRP $32,610) and 2LT (MSRP $35,755) editions, and the range-topping LTZ trim with optional all-wheel drive will set buyers back $40,885.

The tester that was provided to us for the week from GM Canada was a 2LT model with all-wheel drive. After running down the list of optional equipment that came bundled with our particular Traverse, the MSRP jumps to $40,595.


2012 Chevrolet Traverse 2LT: Exterior

There's no denying that the 2012 Chevrolet Traverse is a large vehicle, with a tall roofline that is enhanced by seven inches of ground clearance and imposing 18-inch wheels. That being said, the Traverse in no way takes up as much space as a Chevrolet Yukon or Ford Expedition - two of its truck-based SUV competitors that also offer a high passenger capacity and exceptional cargo room.

The Chevrolet Traverse features styling that is best described as 'elegantly sporty,' thanks in large part to its slick front fascia, gently muscled rear haunches and upswept rear glass. Perhaps most importantly, it looks absolutely nothing like a minivan, and its strong features set it apart from more conservative and amorphous designs such as those offered on the Toyota Highlander and the Ford Explorer. The Traverse is clearly targeted at buyers who don't want to drive something completely anonymous while ferrying their child's soccer team to games and practices, but who also aren't interested in the upright, 90-degree angles offered by traditional SUV designs.


2012 Chevrolet Traverse 2LT: Interior

As with any vehicle charged with hauling a huge number of passengers, the functionality and quality of the 2012 Chevrolet Traverse's interior are very important attributes. The Chevrolet Traverse can be configured to accommodate up to eight passengers if a second row bench seat is selected at ordering time (a free upgrade for the 2LT trim), while seven passenger capacity is also available via the installation of a pair of captain's chairs behind the front two positions.

Our tester featured the latter setup, which offers access to the rearmost seating area via either a small aisle between the two center buckets or by folding those same captain's chairs forward using a lever built into the back of the seat. Although somewhat flat in terms of thigh support, the back bench was not a bad place to spend some time, even for full-size adults. This was due in part to the fact that the center seats slide forwards and backwards in order to accommodate the varying leg lengths of those reposing in the rear.

Front and center positions were also respectably comfortable, even during longer trips. The Traverse's leather upholstery felt somewhat less premium in the rear row compared to anywhere else, but this could also have something to do with the less aggressive bolstering afforded the bench configuration. Strangely, the front seats featured cloth trim on the inside of each bucket, something not seen anywhere else in the vehicle's cabin.

Loading cargo was a snap, especially given the enormous size of the Traverse's rear hatch and how easy it was to fold down the back seat. Taking a family of four to the airport with all of the associated luggage was no problem for the crossover, as the 68 cubic feet of cargo space available with the third row out of the picture easily swallowed everyone's bags with room to spare. Folding the middle captain's chairs down opens up a substantial 116 cubic feet of total storage room, a number that sees the Traverse leading its class.

The 2LT version of the Traverse we piloted also provided rear seat passengers with several nice-to-have options to keep them happy as the miles clicked by. A DVD entertainment system that folded down from the roof and came with two pairs of wireless headphones (as well as a set of A/V inputs to line-in a portable media device) was on hand to provide video entertainment during road trips, while the crossover's dual SkyScape sunroof helped to add a more open feel to the vehicle's interior. Three zones of automatic climate control also gave rear seat riders the ability to more effectively fight off winter's chill.

In general, the 2012 Chevrolet Traverse 2LT's passenger compartment provided little to complain about in terms of ergonomics, with all center stack controls enjoying logical placement and relatively easy-to-decipher hieroglyphics to explain their function. The bottom of the stock was populated by a number of toggle switches and small, square buttons that controlled things such as the power rear hatch, stability control, the vehicle's heated seats and strangely, the rear wiper.

We mentioned earlier that the Traverse is about to undergo a refresh that will bring it more in line with the style and interior design of modern Chevrolet models. The gap between the original design date of the crossover and its controls, information displays and overall look and feel is quite noticeable, and while some features are actually welcome deviations from the new Chevrolet norm (particularly the excellent cruise control interface), the single-line stereo system display and basic driver information screen mounted between the equally-dated dual-cowl tachometer and speedometer gauges drag down the overall cool quotient of the Traverse.


2012 Chevrolet Traverse 2LT: Powertrain and Fuel Economy

The 2012 Chevrolet Traverse 2LT is motivated by a 3.6-liter V-6 engine that generates 281 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque (288 horses with the LTZ trim's dual exhaust factored into the equation). A six-speed automatic transmission sends that output to either the front, or in the case of our tester, all four wheels. Fuel economy for the large crossover checks in at a respectable 17-mpg in stop and go driving and 24-mpg on the highway for front-pullers, with all-wheel drive dropping one-mpg from each respective measure. During our week of driving the Chevrolet Traverse averaged 13-mpg in a mix of cold weather driving.


2012 Chevrolet Traverse 2LT: Driving Impressions

One climbs behind the wheel of the 2012 Chevrolet Traverse expecting its plus-size proportions to inform its driving impression. Surprisingly, despite a curb weight of just under two tons and a fairly long wheelbase the Traverse has been engineered to handle almost exactly like a large sedan. The crossover displays startlingly little body movement through the curves and never feels unsettled even when asked to change direction more abruptly than would seem prudent in an eight-passenger vehicle. This sedan-like sensation is interrupted somewhat by the commanding view of the road afforded by the Traverse's tall ride height, but after a few minutes moving through traffic it's easy enough to forget that you are not behind the wheel of a vehicle half its size.

Until you have to stop, that is. Even the Chevrolet Traverse's capable brakes can't conceal the fact that you are asking nearly 5,000 lbs of mass to cease its forward motion, and a firm pedal effort and a little bit of planning are required to come to a halt in a smooth manner. Acceleration is another story - the Traverse's 281 horsepower are more than willing to leap forward at the slightest provocation, giving the Chevrolet the ability to dart through holes in traffic at a rate that is astounding given its girth. Launching off of the line is also drama-free, especially when taking into account the additional grip afforded by the crossover's all-wheel drive system.

The Traverse's all-wheel drive traction was put to the test over the course of several snowy evenings and it never once failed to deliver surefooted handling and wheel spin-free forward momentum. The most interesting aspect of piloting the Chevrolet crossover over slick snow-covered roads was the ability to induce gradual and predictable oversteer by applying throttle through the middle of a sweeping corner - an unexpected dynamic bonus from such a large automobile. Never once did the Traverse's electronic stability control kick on during our time with the vehicle, although traction control was activated on several occasions when dealing with icy road conditions.

The Chevrolet Traverse's smooth and comfortable road manners were on hand except when driving over potholes and ruts, wherein a few clangs and bumps from the rear of the crossover disturbed the otherwise peaceful passenger compartment. Special mention should be made of the Chevrolet's six-speed automatic transmission which was almost perfectly matched to the 3.6-liter V-6. Gear changes were almost always imperceptible and the people mover rarely found itself hunting for the right ratio.


2012 Chevrolet Traverse 2LT: Safety

In addition to the security provided by its all-wheel drive system, the 2012 Chevrolet Traverse also includes active safety systems such as StabiliTrak electronic stability control with rollover mitigation, electronic traction control, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and a hill start assist feature that prevents rollback on an incline. Our 2LT model additionally featured a backup camera that displayed a video image of the area directly behind the crossover whenever the Traverse was shifted into reverse. The LCD screen was integrated into the rearview mirror and was completely invisible when not in use. However, both the camera (which was located to the left of the rear hatch handle) and the vehicle's parking sonar were frequently obscured by accumulated salt and road grime, making them less than useful without getting out and giving them a quick cleaning.

The Chevrolet Traverse offers front seat side-impact airbags, forward airbags and side curtain airbags that deploy to protect the heads of riders in all three rows. The OnStar telematics system is also included free of charge with all Traverse models, and it provides instant contact with emergency services in the event of an accident, as well as the ability to track a stolen vehicle.


2012 Chevrolet Traverse 2LT: Final Thoughts

The 2012 Chevrolet Traverse completely succeeds at the task of offering full-size SUV practicality while avoiding the sloppy handling and horrendous fuel mileage associated with full-frame, truck-derived vehicles. It handles with confidence, offers ample power and despite its size it manages to perform a convincing impression of a full-size sedan while at speed.

The 2012 Chevrolet Traverse also provides reasonably comfortable seating for each of its up to eight passengers, and it comes with undeniable cargo capability. If the crossover's functional but otherwise uninspired interior lived up to its stylish exterior, we would have very little ill to say about this GM van-replacement. 2013's refresh will undoubtedly address this particular issue, but until then, the Traverse still remains a strong option for families who feel the need to go big with their daily driver.


What We Like About The 2012 Chevrolet Traverse 2LT:

• Driving experience completely masks its size and weight

• Enormous interior room

• One of the best-looking full-size crossovers around

• Thirsty urban fuel consumption

• Somewhat dated interior styling



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