I decided to rent a car for my drive to see family in Houston, about seven hours away, rather than driving my own. I get a corporate discount through my employer if I book with Hertz, but the $25-a-day Malibu-or-similar deal wasn’t available this time. However, the next best thing was, surprisingly, the Pathfinder-or-similar class, which is to say a largish three-row crossover. If you’ve ever driven the antiquated penalty box that is the current Nissan Pathfinder, you’ll know why I silently prayed that I didn’t get one. I was rewarded with an email from Hertz the morning of the rental, letting me know that I’d been preassigned a white 2019 Chevrolet Traverse LT FWD, the specimen you see above.
General Motors’s C1XX platform spans across a number of crossovers, of various sizes. The Chevrolet Blazer (which my own mother called a “sexy mom car” just this morning, by the way), Cadillac XT5, and GMC Acadia are firmly in the midsize arena, and are about the same size as one another. But only the Acadia gets a third row thanks to its squared-off backlight. The Cadillac XT6 uses almost the same wheelbase as the previous three, but gets a bit more metal behind the rear wheels. And finally, the full-size Traverse and Buick Enclave sit at the top. Measuring roughly 204 inches in length and with a generous 120.9 of those between the wheels, the Traverse and Enclave are quite simply some of the largest and most spacious crossovers out there.
And from the outside, the Traverse wears its large dimensions well. The front end successfully incorporates the latest version of Chevy’s split-grille design, flanked by a pair of slim headlights. The side panels present an interesting mix of creases and curves that echo other recent products, like the Malibu, Equinox, Impala, and recently-defunct Cruze and Volt. The quarter-panel window smoothly wraps around to meet the backlight, and below it are narrow taillights featuring the bow-tie brand’s traditional quad-element motif. I’d call the design midpack among the crossover segment. The Traverse’s shape is a clear step up from the Pathfinder and Honda Pilot and on-par with the Dodge Durango, Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander, and Volkswagen Atlas. However, it’s easily outclassed by the Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride, and Ford Explorer (both the old model and the new one). To say nothing of the significantly smaller, but significantly prettier Mazda CX-9.
That was about the extent of my knowledge on the Traverse when I finally got to the door. It’s worth mentioning that the keyless access system on the Traverse and other GM cars is a bit different. With most cars, you stick your hand behind the door handle to unlock the doors, and press a button or a touch-sensitive area on the door handle to lock the doors. However, GM (and Nissan and Hyundai/Kia) insist on using the button for both locking and unlocking, which is a bit annoying, but not at all a dealbreaker. So there’s that.
Stepping inside, I was disappointed to glimpse cloth seats, the small, monochrome instrument cluster display, and the base 7-inch infotainment system. You could have fooled me into thinking this was a base model. But no. I checked the liftgate and it indicated that this was an LT, which is somewhere in the middle of the lineup. A bit of cursory research revealed that the L trim is the entry point for the Traverse. The LS trim tacks on nothing except darker window tint and lets you add some meaningless appearance packages, yet the LS MSRPs for $3,000 more than the L. There are a whopping 22 L models available nationwide on CarGurus as of this writing, so I suspect the L allows Chevy to advertise the lowest entry price in the large crossover segment, at just under $30,000, excluding destination…even though they have no interest in honoring that deal from a practical standpoint. Gooood luck finding an L anywhere near your home. It’s a classic automaker trick.
Anyway, the LT Cloth trim, which is what my Traverse was, does add some decent equipment. For your $36,595, plus destination charges, you get heated wing mirrors with built-in indicators, an 8-way power driver’s seat including 2-way power lumbar, fog lights, roof rails, satellite radio, and second-row captain’s chairs, making this a 7-seater. Also worth noting: even the L trim comes with HID headlights and LED daytime running lamps.
I started up the Traverse and was greeted with GM’s familiar “bong” seatbelt chime, the one they’ve used for the past fifteen years or so. It’s played through the audio system and it’s nearly always set too loud, though they do let you adjust the volume in the infotainment system. And, in speaking of the infotainment system, there’s a reason I hate the 7-inch system in GM cars. Most other automakers have moved to making these lesser 7-inch-class touchscreens their base offerings, but they do a better job at it. GM’s setup, however, has imprecise touch inputs, and wears a UI that looks like that of an early Android tablet from a decade ago. You can opt for the better 8-inch infotainment system on the LT Cloth, but it comes with a bunch of other stuff and is an $1,800 upcharge. Fortunately, this system includes Apple CarPlay (and Android Auto), so that’s where I spent my time. There’s one other glitch on the 7-inch system: if you were on CarPlay audio before turning the car off and forget to plug your phone in when you start it back up, the infotainment unit defaults to FM radio and somehow at a much louder volume. This led to my ears being blasted by the obnoxious noise that is Cardi B.
Once I got onto the highway, I found that I appreciated the Traverse’s driving behavior quite a bit. It’s GM’s ubiquitous 3.6-liter V6 with 310 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque, mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission. It’s also the only setup you can get in the Traverse now, since the RS trim’s 2.0-liter turbo inline-4 was unceremoniously removed in the middle of the 2019 model year. The transmission in my rental always knew which gear to be in and paired to the engine so well that I was never left wanting for passing power. The Traverse also provided ample force when accelerating from a stop, enough to elicit wheel chirp at times. Overall, it was noticeably less pokey than the V6 Atlas I drove a few months ago.
I had to make a few panic stops due to aggressive drivers, and the Traverse came to a halt remarkably quickly for something so large. It even remained composed during some darty lane changes I performed, as one does when inconsiderate Dallas drivers don’t want to let one cross into the next lane during heavy traffic. Steering was direct and well-weighted without being too heavy, and of course, the long wheelbase really let the Traverse smooth out road imperfections. The only thing is that the start-stop system was somewhat shuddery, but that’s been the case with every start-stop-equipped V6 I’ve ever experienced; V6 engines struggle from inherent balance disadvantages.
Unfortunately, my long highway drive revealed a number of ergonomic deficiencies on the Traverse. The wing mirrors and rear-view mirror were all a bit too small for such a large crossover, I thought. The dead pedal was very vertical, which made it an ineffective place in which to rest my foot. The gear-indicator lights in the center console were much brighter than those in the rest of the cabin, which was annoying at night; I solved this by folding the rental contract so that it covered them. The C-pillars were effin’ huge, which created some massive blind spots. But the one I really didn’t expect in a large American vehicle involved the front cup holders. They lacked the nubs that allow most cup holders to accept variable-width cups, and so were sized for the smallest common size. Thus the water bottle I picked up at a gas station, which was slightly wider than average, did not fit more than halfway in. I imagine the stereotypical 40-oz-soda-swilling customer would be especially disappointed by this oversight.
Another point of contention is the rocker +/- switch on the gear selector for manual mode, which GM has been doing for some time. It’s quite a bit worse than either a manual shift gate or paddle shifters, but it’s also probably cheaper than those. However, that doesn’t matter, because the Traverse and other GM cars don’t even let you shift the gears yourself. When you shift the gear selector into “L” and begin toggling through the L1-L9 modes, all you’re really doing is locking the transmission into a range of gears. So, L5 means that the transmission will only operate between first and fifth gear. But you couldn’t, say, start in second gear during a wintery drive, or anything like that.
Once I got to Houston and gained a few passengers, it gave me a chance to test the Traverse’s seating. As I said, my Traverse had the second-row captain’s chairs, but the default layout is three-abreast for the second and third rows,. That puts the Traverse in the 8-seater category, along with versions of the Ascent, Palisade, Pilot, and Telluride. Most other entries in this segment are too narrow or too space-inefficient to fit three seats in the rearmost row. The rear captain’s chairs adjust manually, but they slide, recline, and collapse neatly against the front seats to maximize cabin space. My passengers in the second row were comfortable. We didn’t use the third row, but I tested it by myself later and realized that, at 5’10”, I was quite comfortable back there, without needing to move the second-row seat at all. The third-row seats each fold with just the pull of a cord and a push on the seat back, although the top-spec High Country trim gives you power-folding capability back there. Even with the last row deployed, there was 23 cubic feet of cargo capacity.
I even got to sample the Traverse’s spare-tire kit. Late as night, as I was headed to my hotel to retire, I both heard and felt the right front tire hit a massive pothole that I could not avoid. I thought I heard the tire hissing as I exited the vehicle in the hotel parking lot, and sure enough when I got there the next morning, it was as flat as a pancake. Little did I know that most rental agencies quietly stopped covering tire hazards, and so I was on the hook for it. Hertz wanted to charge me $79 just to have someone come out and mount the spare tire, plus whatever it cost to fix or replace the original. I decided I’d take care of it myself. There was a storage bin beneath the cargo floor at the back, and removing its four thumbscrews revealed the tire kit, all nestled underneath. Unfortunately, it was the same size spare you’d find in a regular car, and was therefore much shorter in height than the other wheels. I’m not sure if that’s standard or not for this class of vehicle (my own SUV has a full-size steel spare), but I do know that the Traverse was a sorry sight as it sat listing to one side on the dinky donut, while I nursed it to the nearest Discount Tire. It only took six minutes to mount the spare, so I’ll give the tire kit a thumbs up.
As far as fuel economy, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rates the FWD Traverse for 18 miles per gallon city, 27 highway, and 21 combined. I averaged 23.1 MPG according to the trip computer, and my rudimentary napkin math supports that figure. And believe me when I say that I buried my foot in the accelerator pedal quite a bit of the time. So that’s a great figure. The same trip and driving style in my personal vehicle would have netted me 17-18 MPG. That said, the tank was only 19.4 gallons, so I had to refuel a bit more often than I’d have liked. Then again, there was probably a healthy reserve there.
The 2019 Chevrolet Traverse is one of those products that does its job reasonably well. It’s got some niggles, but the foundation is more than solid and I didn’t witness any quality issues or design defects. Beyond that, it exhibits the modern GM trait of a well-sorted and unobtrusive powertrain, and, in upper trims, is a fine place in which to spend time. There’s also the sheer amount of space: it’s the same length as a Chevrolet Tahoe, but utilizes its footprint significantly better for most people’s needs, least of all because it doesn’t have a frame and solid rear axle with which to contend. If you’re in the market for one, I’d say definitely cross-shop some of its exciting new 2020 competitors (which consist of the Telluride, Palisade, Explorer, and Highlander), and if you do go for one, stick to the LT Leather or RS trims for maximum value.