If you’ve wondered why automakers are canceling car programs and adding SUVs to their lineups, let me enlighten you: $53,085. That’s the sticker price of the 2018 Chevy Traverse High Country I recently tested. (I give four out of four stars.) It’s also $16,665 more than the most expensive version of Chevy’s Impala, the slow-selling sedan that used to be the brand’s top offering for family buyers.
Do the math. This is the textbook definition of a sweet spot. The new Traverse rides the crest of a wave that’s changing the auto industry as people flee conventional sedans for taller SUVs that are the functional equivalent of a station wagon, with the added benefit of better sight lines and all-wheel drive.
It’s also a golden goose, with the potential to deliver the kind of profit Chevy hasn’t earned in decades from the family vehicles that are the brand’s lifeblood.
Why? Room, features, comfort, and — my test car’s half-a-hundy plus sticker notwithstanding — value.
Prices for the new 2018 Chevy Traverse start at $29,930 for a front-wheel-drive model. All-wheel-drive Traverses start at $34,050. The top-of-the-line High Country starts at $52,050. All Traverses currently come with a 310-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6. The 2018s are arriving in dealerships now. All prices exclude destination charges.
A 255-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder will be available in the upcoming RS model. Chevy hasn’t announced its price yet.
A nine-speed automatic transmission is standard with both engines.
The Traverse competes with three-row SUVs like the Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Highlander and VW Atlas.
I tested a loaded High Country. In addition to its standard all-wheel-drive, it had 4G LTE Wi-Fi; navigation; LED headlights, taillights and daytime running lights; Bose audio; and a full suite of safety and driver assist features including pedestrian protection with automatic braking; adaptive cruise control; blind spot alert; lane keeping alert and assist.
The $53,085 price is competitive with similarly equipped competitors.
Thanks to a new architecture and smart design, the new Traverse is both lighter and roomier than the old model. General Motors calls the architecture C1Y. It also underpins the upcoming 2018 Buick Enclave.
The Traverse’s wheelbase grew about two inches, but overall length increased less than 0.67 inch to keep the SUV garage-friendly. The extra space went into legroom for the second and third rows and storage behind the third row.
The 2018 Traverse’s styling is intentionally more like Chevy’s Tahoe SUV than the original Traverse, which had a rounded, minivan-style profile.
My High Country’s interior was trimmed in leather and soft materials. The front seat offered plenty of storage. A total of seven USB ports constitute a significant contribution to domestic tranquility when travelling with kids. The controls provide a useful combination of touch screen, voice recognition, dials and buttons.
The body’s upright sides and squared-off tailgate improve shoulder and cargo room. Each row of seats is higher than the one in front of it, improving visibility for kids in back.
The passenger and cargo compartments are the biggest in its class. Even the third row of seats is acceptable for adults, and very accommodating for pre-teens.
Oddly, only the passenger-side second-row seat has Chevy’s “smart slide” feature, which allows it to tip and slide for easy access to the rear seat.
Chevy says that’s because it’s safer for kids to enter on the sidewalk side of the vehicle, but I’m not buying that explanation. It ignores the reality that minivans and other family-oriented SUVs all offer the same mechanism for entering on either side, that kids enter and exit vehicles from both sides in parking lots and driveways all day every day without carnage ensuing, and that vehicles park on both sides of one-way streets.
I smell a rationalization. My money says that Chevy decided to reduce cost or weight by offering its best entry-exit mechanism on just one seat.
That may have been a good business decision, but it reduces the 2018 Traverse’s utility.
FACTS AND FIGURES
The 3.6-liter engine gives the Traverse more power than all competitors except the 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 Explorer Sport and Platinum and Durango R/T’s much larger 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. The auto stop feature, which shuts the engine off when idling to save fuel, is one of the smoothest in the auto industry. I wouldn’t have noticed the engine shut off at all, if not for a slight decline in ventilation when the air conditioning was not set to max.
The transmission is quick and similarly inconspicuous. The V-6 and gearbox deliver EPA fuel economy ratings of 17 mpg in the city, 25 on the highway and 20 combined. The combined figure beats comparable models of the Durango, Explorer, Santa Fe, Sorento and Atlas. The Pilot, CX-9 Pathfinder and Highlander all have higher EPA combined ratings than the Traverse.
The Traverse’s 5,000-pound towing capacity tops the CX-9, trails the Durango and Pathfinder and matches all the other competitors.
The lavishly equipped Traverse High Country leaves virtually no feature unordered, making its spacious and comfortable interior one of the best spots for a family trip. Less expensive models are equally competitive with their counterparts, and maintain the Traverse’s advantages in power and space.
The decision to limit the smart slide seat to the passenger side is perplexing, but a small fault in an excellent family vehicle that looks just a bit tougher and more capable than most of its competitors.
2018 Chevrolet Traverse AWD High Country
All-wheel-drive, seven-passenger SUV
Price as tested: $53,085 (excluding destination charge)
Rating: Four out of four stars
Reasons to buy: Room, looks, features
Shortcomings: Access to rear seat; cost
Competitive base prices (excluding destination charges) for automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive models
Chevrolet Traverse AWD High Country: $52,050
Dodge Durango R/T AWD: $46,295
Ford Explorer Platinum 4WD: $53,235
Honda Pilot Elite: $47,220
Hyundai Santa Fe Limited 3.3-liter AWD: $36,700
Kia Sorento SX Limited V-6 AWD: $46,200
Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD: $44,315
Nissan Pathfinder 4×4 Platinum: $43,760
Toyota Highlander Limited Platinum AWD: $46,260
VW Atlas SEL Premium 4Motion: $48,490
Specifications as Tested
Engine: 3.6-liter 24-valve V-6
Power: 310 horsepower at 6,800 rpm; 266 pound-feet of torque at 2,800 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 120.9 inches
Length: 204.3 inches
Width: 78.6 inches
Height: 70.7 inches
Curb Weight: 4,362 pounds
Where assembled: Lansing, Mich.
Competitive EPA fuel economy ratings
(Automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive models)
Chevrolet Traverse AWD High Country: 17 mpg city/25 highway/20 combined. Regular gasoline.
Dodge Durango R/T AWD: 12/22/17. Regular gasoline.
Ford Explorer Platinum 4WD: 16/22/18. Regular gasoline.
Honda Pilot Elite: 18/25/21. Regular gasoline.
Hyundai Santa Fe Limited 3.3-liter AWD: 17/22/18. Regular gasoline.
Kia Sorento SX Limited V-6 AWD: 17/23/19. Regular gasoline.
Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD: 20/26/23. Regular gasoline.
Nissan Pathfinder 4×4 Platinum: 19/26/22. Regular gasoline.
Toyota Highlander Limited Platinum AWD: 21/27/23. Regular gasoline.
VW Atlas SEL Premium 4Motion: 17/23/19. Regular gasoline.
Key features on vehicle tested
Standard equipment: Anti-lock brakes; stability control; electronic brake distribution; front seat side airbags; front seat center airbag; curtain airbags; keyless open and start; backup camera; teen driver technology; rear park assist; cross traffic and blind spot alerts; lane keeping alert and assist; following distance indicator; forward collision alert; front pedestrian detection and braking; surround vision; adaptive cruise control; compact spare tire; automatic locking rear differential; dual sunroof; 20-inch polished aluminum wheels; front fog lights; LED headlights, taillights and daytime running lights; hands-free power tailgate; trailering equipment; remote start; tinted glass; leather seat trim; seven-passenger seating; power front seats; power folding 60/40-split folding rear seat; heated second-row seats; heated and ventilated front seats; heated steering wheel; tilt and telescopic steering column; wireless device charging; Bose 10-speaker sound system; three-zone climate control; memory for driver settings; universal home remote; 8-inch touch screen; voice recognition; Bluetooth compatible; Apple CarPlay; Android Auto; 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot; trial XM satellite radio service; OnStar trial service.
Options: Iridescent pearl tricoat paint; front license plate mount.