The newly redesigned 2018 Chevrolet Traverse is meant to be the ultimate family hauler, so Chevrolet invited us to take a family trip across Michigan in order to test it out. With two nieces and an extra teenage boy in tow, I hit the road in the 2018 Traverse to see how well it works.
I’ve always liked you, Traverse…
Before we get started, a quick disclaimer: Ever since it first debuted in 2009, I’ve thought the Chevrolet Traverse was a pretty darn good idea. This large crossover offered the eight-seat capacity of a jumbo-sized SUV like the Chevrolet Tahoe or Ford Expedition in a smaller, easier-to-park size.
Its “crossover” format (using car-like unit-body construction rather than truck-like body-on-frame architecture) meant lighter weight, which translated to better fuel economy, though it meant losing the heavy-duty towing ability of the big utes. I liked the first-generation Traverse from the get-go, though it certainly wasn’t perfect: I thought the interior wasn’t as nice as it could be, and in my experience its real-world gas mileage was still nothing to write home about.
This new model has been a long time coming.
Chevrolet made few changes to the Traverse until it introduced the all-new 2018 version. Allow my disclaimer to continue: From the first moment I climbed inside, I had a feeling I was going to like the new-for-2018 version even better. Chevrolet has been making some serious improvements to its interiors, and the second thing you’ll notice about the Traverse is what a beautiful vehicle it is on the inside. The cabin is a thing of beauty, with high-quality materials and a lovely design.
A Bold New Look
So if the interior is the second thing you’ll notice, what’s the first? It’s the exterior, of course. The old Traverse was a bit of an anonymous blob; it was clear that most of the designers’ time was spent on its upscale corporate sisters, the GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave. But the new Traverse downright beautiful, with sharp creases that belie a sensibly-designed shape. The tailgate is nearly vertical in order to maximize cargo space, and the rear doors are, according to the engineers, the largest on a Chevy SUV.
Hitting the Road in the New Traverse
I was biased in favor of the Traverse before I drove it, and I clearly needed some more objective opinions. Chevrolet’s offer to take it for a proper family road trip was the answer. My 8-year-old niece Lily, my 16-year-old niece Madison and her 16-year-old boyfriend Tyler were sure to have no bias in favor of the Chevy. In fact, quite the opposite — Madison’s grandmother owned a previous-generation Traverse, and having been subject to many hours in its third-row seat, she wasn’t exactly predisposed to like it.
We packed up the Traverse in Detroit — an easy thing to do, as the Traverse offers a stunning 23 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row, which is as much room as you get in some small five-seat SUVs. With the third seat folded, the Traverse holds 58.1 cubic feet of cargo, a capacity that trounces the competition. We weren’t looking to move house, so we left the third seat in place — giving the teens a place to snuggle (something I wasn’t sure was a great idea) — and hit the back roads for our road trip to Grand Rapids.
Keeping the Kids Connected
Let me start by saying that taking the back roads was a bit of a stupid idea on my part. All of the kids are Los Angeles natives, and I wanted them to see a little Michigan farmland. At least, that was my excuse; the truth is I wanted to see a little Michigan farmland myself, but the kids quickly grew bored.
Fortunately, the Traverse’s technology features came to the rescue: The cabin is chock full of USB ports, which provide enough amperage to keep smartphones and tablets charged and running. The Traverse, like other Chevrolet models, has a 4G receiver with a built-in WiFi hot spot, allowing the kids to stay connected to the Internet. There was enough bandwidth for Madison to keep up on her social media apps while Lily watched streaming videos on her iPhone.
Kids and Seats
As it happens, my concerns about snuggling teens came to naught. The Traverse’s third-row seat is larger and more supportive than most, and access is excellent thanks to a second-row seat with a trick sliding mechanism. It glides well forward but keeps its shape so that car seats and boosters like the one Lily was using need not be removed. When moved back into place, it stops short of its full-rearward travel so it won’t smash the knees of the folks sitting in the third row.
But that way-back seat is still pretty cramped, at least for adult-sized teens like Madison and Tyler. Maddie said it was marginally better than her grandmother’s old-shape Traverse, but not enough for her to want to ride back there. The teens ended up trading off the front passenger seat, which Maddie said was her favorite. When Tyler was up front, Maddie preferred the second row; she liked the seat heaters, but complained that the seat didn’t recline as far back as in her parents’ old minivan. It was Tyler found the secret to third-row comfort: He folded down the second-row seatback to use as a footrest.
Those big doors prove to be a problem.
Meanwhile, 8-year-old Lily seemed perfectly happy in the second row. Her booster fit nicely and she liked that the rear seatback could recline slightly while still preserving the proper positioning of the shoulder belt. She said a little recline made the long stints in the car more comfortable.
But the big back doors proved to be a problem: They open very wide with three detent positions (as opposed to the usual two), and with the door open to the third detent, she couldn’t reach it when strapped into her booster. Even with the door within reach, it was too heavy for her to pull closed, something she has no trouble doing in her mother’s Toyota Prius v. And I constantly worried that one of the kids would swing the doors wide and ding the car in the next space. While this didn’t happen to us, I’ve made a mental note to avoid parking my own car next to a new Traverse.
On the road: Stable and quiet, but not as efficient as hoped.
Both of the kids have their licenses, but as General Motors won’t allow anyone under 21 to drive its press cars, it was me who did all of the wheel time. That wasn’t a problem; the Traverse has a very comfortable driver’s seat and provides reasonably strong acceleration from its 310-horsepower 3.6-liter V6.
The light steering made driving around downtown Detroit very pleasant and the handling was adequate for curvy country roads. But the ride got a bit jittery on Michigan’s oft-abused pavement, which was another argument the kids gave for giving up on the back roads and hitting the freeway. And so we did. Michigan has a 70-mph speed limit so I cranked up the cruise control to 75, where the Traverse remained stable and quiet. But the higher speeds had an impact on fuel economy: Chevrolet proudly touts the Traverse’s 27-mpg highway rating, but we only managed between 23 and 25 miles per gallon.
Nice AWD options, but no rain-sensing wipers?
One of the features of the new Traverse is a multi-mode all-wheel drive system. When engaged, the system works like most, delivering power to the front wheels and feeding it to the rears as conditions demand. The Traverse allows you to deactivate AWD and operate exclusively in front-wheel drive to save fuel.
I tried that for the outbound journey, but then we hit the mother of all storms midway through Michigan, with the rain falling harder than anything these young Californians had seen. (Lily insisted it was hail, and I tried to explain — unsuccessfully, as it turns out — that yes, raindrops could be that big.) Though the Traverse felt sure-footed, I switched back to all-wheel drive, just in case, and I think that affected our fuel economy. As the rain was falling, I was surprised to note that our Traverse, a top-of-the-line High Country model stickering for just under $53,000, lacked automatic rain-sensing wipers.
A Fine Traveling Companion
I’ll spare you all the details of our road trip, except to say that a great time was had by all and the Traverse proved a brilliant companion. Everything I expected from this crossover turned out to be true: It was comfortable and roomy, just like a mondo-sized SUV, and yet small enough that it parked easily (aided by a plethora of cameras) and got reasonable (if not quite as good as promised) fuel economy.
The connectivity and power features kept the kids occupied during those long farmland drives, and the navigation system did a reasonable job of pointing us in the right direction. And cleanup was easy — when one of the kids spilled orange soda on the Traverse’s leather seats, we were able to resolve it with water and paper towels. When we returned to Detroit, everyone had good things to say about the 2018 Chevrolet Traverse.
Traverse Out-Sizes the Competition
The Chevrolet Traverse faces a cadre of big crossover suvs, including the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilotand Volkswagen Atlas. Of those three, the Atlas is my favorite; I like its roomy seats and comfortable ride, though it could use a bit more power. It’s arguably better to drive than the Chevrolet Traverse, but that is its main advantage. The Traverse has more space, a more upscale interior and plenty of technology to keep the kids occupied on long trips. The all-new 2018 Traverse was a big hit with my family, and I’m sure it’ll be a big hit with yours.