I’m gonna go out on a limb here and suggest that even you jaded, powder-blessed mountain folks might find a review of a new Porsche a little ill-timed, given last week’s rather grisly, high-profile crash (not to mention the advent of Real Winter), so let me tell you about something a little more appropriate for the surroundings.
If you’re looking for all-wheel-drive poise mixed with vehicle size that borders on the territory of full-size SUV but is a little easier to get around town in — and park, for sure — it may be time to take a second look at the Chevrolet Traverse crossover.
I hadn’t driven one for several years before spending a recent weekend with the big, teardrop-shaped machine, and despite a significant face-lift for 2013, the vehicle still has reminders aplenty of its 2009 roots — or, more correctly, the underlying structure it shares with the GMC Acadia and the Buick Enclave, as it was pushed out to usurp the very similar Saturn Outlook when that brand bit the dust.
Which is to say that there have indeed been a number of stylistic upgrades, including a more expressive grille and headlamps, some Camaro-esque tail lights, a more modern, chrome-edged instrument cluster and tasteful wood-grain-style paneling on the inside — not to mention the 20-inch aluminum wheels and a Bose audio system.
There’s also an improved AC control system with digital readouts for temperatures, plus a much-updated navigation system with a haptic touchboard around the edges to control the trip computer and set the new lane-departure and forward-collision warning beepers. Heck, you even get some additional shiny metal on the wheel, and a new center air bag has been added for more overall safety.
Beneath the surface, however, it’s certainly got the feel of a legacy vehicle, and buyers who’ve been titillated by some newer work in the import sector might scoff at the standard array of old-school GM touches. If you’re in the market for a substantial, American-built machine that can fit as many as eight passengers — and you see a Suburban or an Escalade ESV as being a little too much for your lifestyle — Traverse might be your cup of tea.
The AWD LTZ-trim-level model I got to try out came to just over $47,000 with the navigation system, a trailering package and a rear-seat entertainment rig added.
Traverse stands its ground on the big part: The SUV is good for more than 116 cubic feet of cargo volume, though I drove a model with two absolutely gigantic captain’s chairs in the second row, giving your lucky rear-seat passengers an absolutely front-seat-worthy experience. The third row’s still a bit of a squeeze for three, but kids will be OK there for a while.
Power is limited to a single 288-horsepower 3.6-liter V6, a direct-injected engine linked to a six-speed automatic. Drive a little less like a bat out of hell and even the AWD model will get close to 23 highway mpg; keep up with traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike and your own results may vary. Four-wheel independent suspension also ate up some very large potholes without a blink.
As mentioned, there’s just a whole lot of underlying presence that’s going to immediately strike a non-Chevrolet-ophile as somewhat dated — the use of plastic, the steering feel, even the Traverse’s stoic chunkiness — so those who cross-shop with the Toyota Highlander, the Honda Pilot or the much more contemporary Ford Explorer will have some serious thinking to do.
From a pure volume, volume, volume perspective, it’s hard to go wrong with the Traverse, and it’s also good for 5,200 pounds of trailer for summertime road trips. I will admit that the car’s size was ample but still easy enough to handle in very challenging traffic situations, and the rearview camera system also made complex parking much less so.