It's kind of hard to believe that the biggest American automaker doesn't build a minivan anymore and hasn't for years now. The quintessential family vehicle, a minivan is useful in so many ways — but General Motors never really found much success with the formula, always seemingly a step or two behind class leaders Chrysler and Honda.
But GM has made trucks and SUVs for decades, and knows how to do that exceedingly well. So why not play to those strengths and make the best family-style SUV you can?
Chevrolet has updated the Traverse quite thoroughly for 2018, providing a larger, lighter, brighter vehicle that still comes in with a unique proposition for the class: bigger is better. No wimpy base Used Engine here, no optional third-row seating (it's standard). Lots of optional technology, including a full raft of electronic safety equipment (not a lot of it standard, strangely), is now present. In our last test of the big Traverse, we weren't all that impressed with how it drove... or felt, or handled people, or how its multimedia system worked. It came in at the bottom of big three-row crossovers in our 2014 $40,000 3-Row SUV Challenge.
But four years down the road means a new generation has arrived, significantly updated in every way. Is it good enough to climb in the ranks of a highly competitive segment?
Even Bigger Than Before
The previous-generation Traverse was unusual thanks to its size — priced to compete among mid-size crossover SUVs, it was roomier inside than a full-size Chevy Tahoe. The new one is even bigger; it hardly seems fair to put it up against things like the Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder or Toyota Highlander. It's nearly a foot longer than a three-row Highlander, with more than 11 inches more wheelbase.
It's even bigger on the inside, with a 2-inch stretch to the wheelbase that's resulted in a 7 percent increase in second-row passenger room, 11 percent more third-row passenger room and 17 percent more cargo room overall. The increase was most needed for the second and third rows, which are now transformed from penalty boxes into genuinely usable areas for full-sized humans. The sliding second-row captain's chairs in my mid-level Traverse 3LT test vehicle made the third row even more usable, allowing passengers to apportion legroom so that everyone got enough. The restyled windows also address our complaint that the third row got very little light and had terrible visibility. Not anymore, thanks to wraparound glass that affords an excellent outward view.
In fact, visibility out of the new Traverse is dramatically improved with the new window configuration. You sit up high enough that you don't feel surrounded in a tub, and the dash and hood are low enough to give a commanding view forward. Views to the sides and rear are clear as well; Chevy's done a good job.
Newly optional is a rearview mirror camera first seen on Cadillacs that effectively eliminates pillars and any other obstacles behind the driver in the second or third row. Not a backup camera, this feature works all the time, even when you're moving forward. The camera mirror is a little funky to use in daily driving given that it requires refocusing your eyes on the screen every time you use it, but if you have a big load of cargo or a car full of kids, it will allow you to see very clearly what's behind you without having to try and look around passengers or stuff.
Lighter, More Responsive
The Traverse platform got a little bit lighter, but it doesn't feel like it. It still handles, stops and starts like the enormous SUV it is — but it's no longer a wallowy, boatlike experience. The best thing about it is the absolutely fantastic ride — smooth over nearly every surface, with very little upsetting the chassis and nothing that makes the steering wheel shake or tug at you. The steering is a new electric power system that has been tightened up considerably, and braking feel is similarly more responsive and immediate. The standard powertrain is GM's ubiquitous 3.6-liter V-6 Used Engine , now making 310 horsepower, mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission. It provides decent power and acceleration, but it still has to move an awful lot of SUV, so while gathering steam for a highway entry isn't terribly challenging, it's not going to win any drag races.
But that's okay, because racing isn't what the Traverse is about. It's about transporting seven people in quiet comfort, and it does well here. Power delivery is smooth thanks to the nine-speed auto. It does shift a lot and is eager to do so, but then, that's kind of the point of a nine-speed transmission — it has a lot of gears to work with, so it's going to work them. That it does so inoffensively is a good thing. It's a far better powertrain than the Nissan Pathfinder's V-6-and-continuously-variable-automatic pairing, although the smaller Nissan does feel a bit more nimble. Compared with the Ford Explorer, the Traverse feels about on par with that big SUV's handling, but it might have a little edge in base powertrain seat-of-the-pants grunt. The Toyota Highlander has a base four-cylinder Used Engine that doesn't light any fires anywhere, but it also offers a hybrid version that will easily beat the Traverse's fuel economy.
Made for Family Duty
Given the space, versatility and amenities with which you can equip your Traverse, it's clear that this is GM's minivan. It's practically made for family duty, with entertainment systems that are meant to keep folks entertained, including an updated Chevrolet MyLink system that's easy to use and quick to respond. Obvious work has gone into making it more user-friendly and simple to read at a glance, and the ancillary downloadable apps like Pandora and Audiobooks work well in the big, optional 8-inch touchscreen.
It's also easy to get in and out of the rear seats, with back doors that swing wide and a second row that tilts forward easily — but only on the passenger side. Strangely, you can't get into the third row from the driver's side anymore. There are seven USB ports scattered throughout the Traverse as well, so every row has power for personal electronics. And while I don't have children myself, I do have geriatric parents who found the Traverse to be eminently comfortable to get in and out of.
Space, Not Features, Is What You've Paid For
The new Traverse starts just a little bit higher than the outgoing model, at $30,875 including destination fee. But my test vehicle was $42,785 for a front-wheel-drive 3LT model. It came with a rear camera mirror, rear park assist sensors, 20-inch wheels, foglamps, bi-xenon headlights, leather seats, a power liftgate, remote start, power front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bose premium 10-speaker audio system, automatic tri-zone climate control and a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot that can accommodate up to seven devices. What it did not have was things that are standard on other vehicles at that price: Forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking are a notable absence, and height-adjustable seat belts aren't available on any trim level.
It's also light on amenities versus other competitors. The Explorer has a turbocharged four-cylinder Used Engine at this price, but you get power-folding third-row seats, heated second-row seats, power-folding mirrors and a heated steering wheel in a Limited model. A Toyota Highlander at this price gets you a V-6, a moonroof and a full suite of autonomous safety technology including pedestrian detection and adaptive cruise control.
But the Traverse dwarfs both of them by comparison. It's easily the most usable, the most comfortable offering in this category, and thanks to its newfound refinements, it's no longer a chore to drive. It doesn't hurt that it's pretty good looking too, especially in new Redline trim that blacks out all the chrome and adds some slick red accents. You can even load one up to premium levels with the Premium or High Country trims, or get a sporty one with the upcoming RS trim and its turbocharged four-cylinder Used Engine and zero-to-60-mph time of less than 7 seconds (according to GM). As family haulers go, it's certainly become one of the best.