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2013 Chevrolet Traverse First Drive

2013 Chevrolet Traverse brings full-size transport in deceptively benign package

What It Is
The 2013 Chevrolet Traverse is a versatile crossover for transporting large families, their cargo, or combination of both.
Best Thing
Interior spaciousness
Worst Thing
Some rear visibility compromise due to design.
Snap Judgment
The 2013 Chevy Traverse gets a much needed update, one that keeps it competitive until an all-new version comes in a few years.


Automotive journalists and reporters like to talk about cars. Not just the vehicles themselves, but the car shopper, or more specifically, why they chose one vehicle versus another. Is it a particular car's look? Reputation for reliability? Great fuel economy or resale value? Or more emotional justifications, like the roar the engine makes when you start it? Or is it the most basic reason: price. Basically, car journalists and reporters become amateur psychologists without the high salaries.

Crossovers are a particularly tricky patient. They drive like today's cars and yesteryear's station wagons. But they possess the height of pickup trucks and minivans. They're not as space-efficient as the latter but psychologically are more appealing, especially to parents. Their appearance varies wildly from the truckish Honda Pilot to the "what exactly is that?" Mercedes-Benz R-Class.

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So we had an extensive list of answers to seek as we waited at the St. Regis in San Francisco, for valets to pull up with our 2013 Chevrolet Traverse. We thought Chevrolet's choice of the Golden Gate city an interesting one. The city is famous for its narrow roads, congestion, public transport, and population's support of almost draconian measures to save the environment from strict carbon emission laws. Fog covered our top-of-the-line Traverse LTZ's windshield as we pulled out of the St. Regis' driveway and joined San Francisco traffic. We switched on the wipers, and as they flicked away the wetness to reveal the cityscape, we cleared up some of our own questions about the Chevrolet Traverse.

Walkaround

One colleague summed up our first impression of the 2013 Chevrolet Traverse succinctly: it's both a big and small car.

We knew what he meant. Descriptions and images really don't convey just how large this vehicle is. Yes, we know it has three rows. Yes, it can seat up to eight passengers. Yes…well, you see where we're going. We blame the Traverse's swoopy greenhouse for confusing the eye. The same thing goes for the third row window, which jaunts upward as it approaches the rear. These design decisions give the Traverse an unexpected, sporty appearance, which usually translates into "short" in our minds. Sporty vehicles--and sports cars in general--are short in both length, with, and height to maximize their ability to slice through air and road quickly.

Only by facing the Traverse's front directly do you finally get a hint to the size of this full-size crossover. The Chevrolet Traverse is the first to sport Chevy's all new grille design, which also can be found on the upcoming 2013 Chevrolet Impala. We parked our Traverse next to a mid-sized Chevy Equinox, which still carries the current split grille design into 2013. The upper grille on the Traverse is now stretched between both headlamps with the lower grille similarly extended below. The trademarked Chevrolet bowtie badge now sites directly on the upper grille. Chevrolet says you can differentiate the various Traverse models by the amount of chrome on the grille. For example, the upper and lower grilles for the top-of-the-line LTZ model are rimmed and covered with chrome, while lower level models have only one grille (usually the upper) covered in such a manner.

Personally, we thought the new grille was bland compared to the prior generation's design, having seen such similar treatments from other automakers like Subaru and Toyota.

More interesting is the rear of the 2013 Chevrolet Traverse. Chevy replaced the already interesting round tail lamps with the more sporty, squarish ones found on the always interesting Chevrolet Camaro. Traverse designers also moved the license plate up from the rear bumper to its new, hollowed spot on the hatch door. A new character line just below the door crosses the Traverse's backside as well, emphasizing--again--the with of the crossover. Overall, we found the changes on the Traverse's exterior to be evolutionary for the new model year. That's fine; there was nothing glaringly polarizing about the Traverse's exterior in the first place, even to jaded auto journalists' eyes. Give the 2013 Chevy Traverse a pass in the exterior area.

Sitting Down

Like the exterior, Chevrolet's changes of the interior are more evolutionary than all-new. Most of tweaks revolved around design changes around the controls on the center stack, as well as materials used thoroughout the cabin. Overall, using the 2013 Traverse's controls is easy, though bigger audio knobs would help. The large icons displayed by Chevy's MyLink infotainment system, on the other hand, are just right for such a large vehicle. You could easily see them with a glance from either the driver or passenger side, and selecting them is a breeze. This is unlike the interfaces of other automakers' systems, where you have to squint to make out what they are, then pray you're touching the right icon as your eyes dart back and forth to the road.

The Traverse's front seats aren't too hard or too soft, and they're wide enough to accommodate typical Americans and their growing girths. The third row remains comfortable even for adults, though we'll need to put that to a full test when we get our hands on one at our home offices. Some of the attending journalists and reporters complained they thought the materials used on the Traverse' seats, dash, and various panels felt thin, but we disregarded their opinion when, in the same breath, they compared the Traverse to the $60,000 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class full-size SUV. Uh, let's compare apples to apples, people. Not apples to exotic gems.

Finally, we dropped the second and third rows to check the Traverse's cargo capability. And guess what? It's huge. Chevy reps demonstrated how easy it was to bring down the seats, which truly fold flat, by the way. Carpeting on the back of the seats prevents items from being scratched. Both the reps and PR material say the Chevrolet Traverse can hold more than 116 cu.-ft. of cargo. As we crouched into the cavernous space to take measurements, we could believe it.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

Driving

Automakers give car journalists drive routes in order to showcase their vehicles in the best possible light. Unfortunately that requires said journalists following said route. Most of us do, since automakers usually plot out interesting routes. When we tested the all-new 2013 Chevrolet Spark, we darted about the cities of Venice and Hollywood, which matched near-perfect for a city car. The wide, flat roadways of western Michigan, on the other hand, did a credible job in illustrating the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu sedan's abilities as a cruiser while giving it the short shrift as a suburban and city car.

Chevy had mapped out a long, leisurely route out of San Francisco to our meeting stop in Novato. The highlight was a coastal drive around China Camp state park, where journalists could gawk at the stunning San Pablo Bay. Unfortunately, we decided to follow our Chevy hosts who took a direct route instead.

We learned a different side of the 2013 Chevrolet Traverse in the abbreviated trip. The 3.6-liter V-6 is more than adequate to haul the 5,000 pound full-size crossover up the onramp to freeway speeds, or slipping into that SUV-space in an adjacent lane. As we chased after our hosts' Malibu sedan, we found the Traverse to be quite agile for such a large vehicle. The Traverse's steering, not surprisingly, felt light. That made it easy to maneuver in parking lots. Same with the crossover's brakes. Yet both are just firm enough for us to play cat-and-mouse with the Malibu in the light morning traffic, leaving us amazed again at the agility for its size. It helped that the Traverse's interior is extremely quiet, with no engine noise at cruise. Road and wind noise were well controlled as well, which was a surprise, especially the latter. You usually hear some wind whistle among tall crossovers in the Traverse's class. Not here, though. We give an all-pass for the 2013 Chevrolet Traverse in drivability.

Summary

"So what's verdict?" That's what the Chevy PR team asked us as we stepped out and down from the 2013 Traverse. Actually, they implied it on their concerned smiles.

They shouldn't have been concerned. Our Chevrolet Traverse LTZ came out of our run with flying colors. It's designed to be an affordable and comfortable family hauler, with cargo space galore. And the Traverse does so, from the wide, firm seating, to easy-to-fold seats, to engine power enough to weave in and out of traffic. "Extras" offered by our Chevy Traverse in this segment included quiet interior and easy-to-use center stack and controls. The Traverse also offers a front center side airbag, a unique feature in this segment and for Chevrolet. Briefly, an airbag inflates between the front row seats in case of a side impact, shielding both driver and passengers from slamming into each other.

Competitors are few but notable in this segment. Chrysler offers the truck-based Dodge Durango while Honda goes head-to-head with its full-sized Pilot. Ford, though, challenges the Traverse with the Explorer.

Our final evaluation? Definitely a passing grade. The 2013 Chevrolet Traverse fits everything a family would want in a full-size crossover, from interior space, engine power, and easy handling. Stick with the base model, and the Chevy Traverse is an inexpensive vehicle as well.

Basic Specs

3.6-liter V-6, six-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive (all-wheel drive available), 288-hp, $31,335 - 41,420, 16-17 mpg city/20-24 mpg hwy

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