Every now and then, an automaker just gets it right. They design a vehicle that is perfect for the times, well done, attractive and just works the way it's supposed to. And for too many years, well, GM didn't have any of those except maybe for the Vette.
But now, their mid-sized crossover family is just such a collection of vehicles. The Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, and our test truck this week, the Chevy Traverse. The platform is called Lambda and the trucks built on it utilize unibody construction, like a car. They aren't exactly car-based in the true sense of the word, and they are for all practical purposes trucks. After all, the original small Jeep Cherokee of 1984 was unibody and no one called it a car.
But the Traverse offers the room of a truck, the looks of a truck, the economy and driving experience of a van and a look at how well GM can build them when they try. There are others on the market, but the Traverse is, as GM Vice-President Bob Lutz said a couple of years back, "About as good as we know how to do it right now."
And that was only the first generation. Now, the new, improved Traverse is in showrooms, and it has all the goodness, half the calories.
The look is SUV but smoother. Compared to the Tahoe, the Traverse is obviously in the Chevrolet family but sleeker and more refined-looking. All the traditional Chevy design elements seem to flow better and seem more coherent. It looks large until you walk up and realize it's roughly the size of the old Trailblazer SUV and yet includes a full three rows of seats. It is longer than the Tahoe but lower. Inside, the Traverse is pretty luxurious. Even the base model is well equipped for just under $30-large. Our LTZ el-luxo land yacht was just a bit more. Like, $44-large.
The dash is clean and uses a grade of materials unheard of in a GM truck before now. A full set of analogue gauges stare back at the driver through the attractive wheel. Our test truck was equipped with the Navigation system and satellite radio and the screen occupies much of the center stack. Our fancy-dan model had the 8-way power driver's seat, and every sensory excess possible. The Traverse nets you only 1% less interior room than a Tahoe and 10-17% more cargo room. The third row seat folds into the floor and the second row seats fold flat as well.
Power comes from the all-aluminum 3.6-liter, direct injection V6. This mill is mounted transversely and powers the front wheels unless you pop for another few grand for all-wheel-drive. The V6 makes 288-horsepower and 270-foot-pounds of torque. A 6-speed automatic, developed jointly with Ford, is the only transmission and is geared to make the V6 feel pretty lively. 0-60 miles per hour takes 8.4 seconds and the truck handles much like a tall wagon and less like an SUV. The truck is downright nimble for its size and feels smaller than it is when you're behind the wheel. My 5-foot wife loved driving it.
The Traverse from Chevrolet comes with a full complement of airbags, both side-mounted for the front seat passengers and full curtain for everyone, and the first center-mounted airbag in the industry. ABS and stability control are standard across the line. Mileage is 17 in the city and 24 on the highway. That's not exactly economy car territory, but try it in a Tahoe and see what you get. It's progress. It is also where the industry is for now, at least until $4 gas hits the heartland. The second-generation Chevy Traverse and its sister-ships are beautiful examples of the kind of work GM is capable of. Maybe that's why they're selling like cold beer in August.