In search of the alpha-dominant minivan replacement
So you and your better half pile into your threadbare minivan for what you’ve been promising each other would be the last time and head out to go three-row SUV shopping. Like seemingly everyone else looking to trade in their minivan, you’ve convinced yourselves that Old Faithful’s low ground clearance and front-drive have deprived your family of the outdoorsy adventures they’ve been craving for entirely long enough, goldangit. It’s high time you treated the brood to a burly two-box safarimobile. Your motor mall itinerary is all planned out: First stop is at the VW store to check out their husky new entry, the Atlas; then you’ll make a due-diligence stop at Toyota (but isn’t the Highlander kinda boring and a bit long in the tooth?); and then you’ll sharpen your negotiating skills at the Honda emporium because #ResaleValue! All of a sudden the silent majority in the passenger seat points to a row of big new Chevy Traverses. “Should we take a look?”
Indeed you should. The homely caterpillar first-gen Traverse has pupated into a downright impressive piece of work, shucking its doughy suspenders and 300-plus pounds (136-plus kg) of ground-hugging weight while growing slightly larger in the process to become surprisingly attractive and spacious. It’ll provide about the closest match to your minivan that any three-row crossover can offer in terms of space. Relative to that Honda you were subconsciously setting out to buy, the third-row seat offers 2.6 cubic feet more space, and its cargo space trumps the Honda’s by 14 cubic feet (a whole sedan trunk’s worth) with all seats folded—and by 11.3 and 6.5 cubes behind the second and third rows. The Toyota is even smaller than the Honda, and even that Vee-dub newcomer trails slightly in the cubic-foot race (but it’s within 3 cubes in all interior dimensions).
Of course, as a reader of this page you’ll be even more heartened to learn of the Traverse’s newfound athleticism. Compounding the aforementioned 300-plus pound (136-plus kg) weight loss is an 8 percent bump in power (to 310 hp) and a major transmission upgrade from six to nine ratios. These really brighten up the Chevy’s acceleration. The all-important 0-60-mph freeway merge time drops a full second to 6.7, and the vacation-critical 45-65-mph (72-105-km/h) “can we pass that slow trailer” time drops from 4.0 to 3.4 seconds. The less germane but more telling quarter-mile stats improve from 16.0 seconds at 86.9 mph (140 km/h) to 15.2 at 90.6 (145 km/h). Some context: The lighter Pilot is a half-second quicker to 60 mph but only a tenth quicker in passing; the much lighter Highlander six-speed is slower to 60 and in passing; and the bigger and heavier eight-speed Atlas trails by 1.1 second to 60 mph and by 0.7 second in passing. (Your minivan probably weighs less, but the Traverse outruns every current-gen minivan we’ve tested except the lightest, stripper Pacifica Touring.) Perhaps even more important than the numbers is the fact that almost every editor who drove the Traverse found praise for its decisive nine-speed transmission, which never seems to hunt for gears or get confused with abrupt changes in throttle position—something we can’t necessarily say for many other nine-speeds.
The other thing that really impressed most evaluators was its comparatively smooth ride. Among three-row crossovers, about the only one with a cushier ride is sister-brand Buick’s Enclave with the optional upgraded shock absorbers. The Traverse absorbs tilted freeway slabs, Belgian blocks, and gravel road inputs with remarkable suppleness and negligible floating. It will also carve a twisty road more quickly than expected and with far less body roll than one expects from this class—certainly less than your taller minivan delivers (but note that if sporty handling is your jam, the smaller Mazda CX-9 is probably the rig for you). Please don’t attempt to demonstrate the Traverse’s lateral-g competence with all the seats full—Chevy doesn’t offer an onboard wet/dry vacuum to suck up the lost lunches.
We’d love to provide hard-nosed objective comparisons against competitive crossovers in the handling and braking areas, but a combination of extreme temperatures and test-surface pavement that hadn’t fully cured make direct A-B comparisons difficult with anything but the Atlas, which was tested at roughly the same time, and its numbers are very similar. Against the minivans, however, only the Pacifica’s numbers eclipse the compromised Traverse stats, so it’s safe to say in ideal conditions this Chevy will slay the vans on a gymkhana course.
Oh, and because you’re promising yourself you’ll boldly go where your minivan couldn’t, we also went off-roading in the Traverse. It acquitted itself very well indeed on loose sand, deep silt, rutted gravel, and a tall hill. We hate the 2WD/AWD/Off-road/Tow-mode rotary switch (it’s poorly positioned out of sight in front of the center armrest, the backlit icons are hard to see in sunlight, and it’s slow to react) and we’re concerned that the lack of an auto-AWD mode might get some people stuck before they engage AWD. But when properly configured, the Traverse forged ahead through conditions way tougher than we reckon you’ll ever attempt.
Bottom line: Three teens in the third row will wish you could have withstood the social stigma of another minivan because there’s no replacing the comfort of a minivan’s chair-high seating in any crossover (though the Atlas comes closer). Despite its best-in-class cargo space, at least 10 cubic feet’s worth of what currently fits behind all the seats in your minivan is going to have to stay home or ride on top of the Traverse, and this will increase its fuel economy penalty relative to minivans (the Chevy’s EPA combined rating trails that of the Odyssey, Pacifica, and front-drive Sienna by 1-2 mpg). But you will indeed enjoy driving it more than you do the van, and it will comfortably take you farther off the beaten path. Start planning that adventure on the way home from the motor mall.
Because the test surface we used for this review is a mere month old (and still curing), our braking and handling results show longer stopping distances and less grip than we typically record and report. With that in mind, this vehicle’s numbers are not necessarily comparable with previous or future test results.
|2018 Chevrolet Traverse AWD (Premier)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$50,140|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||3.6L/310-hp/266-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,639 lb (57/43%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||204.3 x 78.6 x 70.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.7 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.1 sec @ 93.0 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||120 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.81 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.1 sec @ 0.64 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||17/25/20 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||198/135 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.98 lb/mile|