The top five large crossover SUVs on the market outsell the top five minivans, despite having an average of nearly 20 percent less room. So be it. Families who want maximum space without the sliding doors can get the best alternative in one of GM's three-row crossovers: the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia or Chevrolet Traverse.
The 2012 Chevrolet Traverse nearly pulls a minivan out of the crossover hat. It's an impressive vehicle, even in its fourth year on the market.
Little has changed for 2012; you can compare it with the 2011 Traverse here. With front- or all-wheel drive, the eight-seat Traverse comes in LS, 1LT, 2LT and LTZ trim levels. Compare those trims here, or compare the Traverse, Acadia and Enclave here. We tested a front-drive Traverse 1LT.
The Traverse's drivetrain shines even among large crossovers, which aren't slowpokes these days. Its standard six-speed automatic shifts quickly, if sometimes roughly, and highway kickdown happens with little delay. Driven solo, our tester sped from a stop, hustled up to 70 mph, and beat others to the passing lane with a satisfying, muscular whine at full bore. I drove mostly solo, but the V-6 should be up to hauling passengers. When I crammed seven adults into a front-drive Enclave, it needed most of its reserves to ascend uphill onramps — but it did so capably. Expect the same from its Chevrolet sibling.
A dual-exhaust system in the LTZ bumps output up to 288 horsepower, from 281 hp in other trims. Either way, combined city/highway EPA gas mileage is 19 mpg with either front- or all-wheel drive. That's 1 or 2 mpg short of the V-6 Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. The Traverse's 5,200-pound towing capacity edges past all three, however. If you need to tow more, consider the V-8 Dodge Durango or any truck-based SUV.
Of course, once you start looking at trucks, you sacrifice ride quality. Driven back-to-back with its crossover competitors, the Traverse earned praise from our editors for its refined ride. It soaks up bumps large and small, keeping highway chatter from upsetting the cabin. I'm a harsh critic of suspensions that let the little stuff seep up, so consider this high praise for GM.
Cargo room distinguishes the Traverse, which has 24.4 cubic feet — enough for a large cooler — behind the third row. The Explorer has 21 cubic feet, and the others go down from there. Fold all the seats, and the Traverse has 116.4 cubic feet of maximum volume. No direct competitor breaks 100 cubic feet. With removable or stowable seats and tumble-flat third rows, most minivans offer more than 140 cubic feet. The Traverse falls short of that mark, but it is the minivan of crossovers.
Seen in GM trucks as far back as 2007, the Traverse's cabin components are aging — pixelated stereo readouts, outdated gauges — but they're still intuitive. Overall cabin quality, however, disappoints. The low-gloss surfaces found above elbow level degrade to cheaper, harsher veneers below. Competitors like the Durango and Mazda CX-9 are higher quality.
The first and second rows have decent space, and the three-seat second-row bench reclines and slides forward and backward. (Two captain's chairs are optional.) Adults in the third row may need passengers in the second row to move it forward a few clicks to create sufficient legroom. Both rows in the Traverse sit too close to the floor, which leaves adults' knees raised. Squatting seats are the norm in many crossovers, but the Explorer — and Ford's other crossover, the boxy Flex — sit higher.
Safety & Features
Thanks to top scores in all crash tests, the Traverse is a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It also earned an excellent, five-star rating in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's challenging side pole test. Standard safety features include three-row curtain airbags and an electronic stability system; click here for a full list, and here to see our evaluation of child-seat provisions in the Traverse.
The Traverse's reliability has been average, which falls short of the Pilot and Highlander. (The Durango and Explorer, which were both recently redesigned, haven't accumulated enough data for reliability ratings just yet.)
The Traverse LS starts at a pricey $29,430 — most competitors can be had for less than $28,500 — with power accessories, a manual driver's seat, steel wheels and an auxiliary MP3 jack. Features some competitors include standard are optional, including steering-wheel audio controls, a power driver's seat, alloy wheels and USB/iPod compatibility. Also optional are leather upholstery, Bluetooth, heated and cooled front seats, upgraded wheels, a panoramic moonroof, a navigation system and a rear entertainment system. Load up an all-wheel-drive LTZ, and the sticker can top $47,000.
Traverse in the Market
As models age, competitors invariably leapfrog them. How quickly — and broadly — a car is overrun is a good indicator of whether an automaker nailed the job or botched it. Following some quality bungles at the outset, the Acadia, Enclave and Traverse are among the great successes of the modern GM. Even as new competitors hit the scene, their relevance persists.