I have to confess, when I was driving this rig, the predominant thought that kept coming back to me over and over again, was: What's the point of it? Its not like the world needs another full-size SUV, and the models that it shares its platform and components with Buick Enclave, Saturn Outlook, and GMC Acadia havent exactly proven to be paragons of reliability and thrift. In fact, the Acadia, for example, has a very poor record for reliability..below average, according to Consumer Reports.
On the other hand, Consumer Reports gives the Traverse a slightly better reliability rating than its sibling: average, according to their website, and it gets a recommended designation from this organization. It also comes with a full complement of airbagsin all three seating rows, with side and side curtain coverage. All of which is good.
But this is still a big un. Standard seating is for seven, but it can accommodate up to eight passengers, has a towing capacity of 2358 kilograms, and has almost 3300 litres of cargo space inside with the second and third row seats folded flat. Thats right up there with some mini-vans. The back seats do actually fold completely flat, and the rear tailgate is a one-piece swing-up affair, which is the handiest arrangement of them all, in my opinion.
Power is provided by a robust 3.6 litre V6 that develops over 280 horsepower, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission only. This engine is one of the nicest V6 units The General has ever put forward. It feels like a V8, with an easy kind of driveability about it and a nice linear power delivery. You can also get the Traverse with either front-drive or GMs all-wheel-drive system. AWD adds about $3000 to the price tag, depending on the model, and, were I in the market for this kind of vehicle, Id stick to FWD. Interestingly, some models get a dual exhaust system and some get a single exhaust
My near-the-top-of-the-range 2LT had the latter, and it has some seven less horsepower with this arrangement. If you get the AWD system, as I did, youll lose a little fuel economy as well. But the Traverse is still a lively SUV and makes an excellent highway cruiser. You can thank its suspension as well for this; so many of these kinds of vehicles are either too hard or too soft; this one is somewhere in the middle and feels almost car-like in the way it handles the bumps and turns. Brakes, by the way, are four-wheel disc with ABS.
Speaking of which, I was pleasantly surprised at how little noise it makes when it gets up to speed. By way of comparison, the new Ford Explorer makes a heck of a racket, with wind noise and tire whine emanating up through the floorboards and wheel-wells. This could come down to the tires, but I dont think so. Other GM models Ive driven lately such as the Equinox and Orlando, for example are equally silent on the highway. As a general rule of thumb, this points to good assembly quality.
And, like virtually every GM SUV Ive ever driven, the Traverse is comfortable. My tester had front captains seat with armrests, and this feature by itself puts the Traverse in my good books. Love the armrests. However, itll cost you; this option has a $1755 price tag and includes second row captains seats with a 60/40 folding feature. My tester also had optional chrome assist side steps ($840), which let you get up into the vehicle without having to stretch up and duck down at the same time. Another nice feature, and pretty much mandatory for anyone under six feet, Id say.
Other extras on my tester included an upgraded audio system with back seat DVD player and headphones, and a massive sunroof that has two sections. Loved the latter, but can do without the former.
Which leads me to answer my own question: whats the point of this thing? I suppose if you have a large family, dont want a mini-van, haul large objects or lots of people all the time, need to tow something big on a regular basis and find yourself in snow a lot, it makes sense. But just for the sake of argument, the Traverse and others of its ilk pose significant parking difficulties at the mall, are still the thirstiest vehicles on the road, are much bigger than they need to be, and carry hefty price tags at the end of the day. Although it has a base price just under $38,000, my car, after the dust settles, will run you almost $55,000, and thats before taxes and levies, so make it sixty grand.
So, clearly theres a market for these kinds of vehicles. But you really need to want one for that kind of money.
AT A GLANCE
Type: Seven/eight passenger full-size SUV
Base Price: $46,125; as tested: $54,805
Engine: 3.6 litre V6
Horsepower: 281 hp @ 6300 rpm
Torque: 266 ft. lb @ 3400 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: (litres/100 km): 13.1 city/8.8 highway. Regular gas
Alternatives: Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Dodge Durango, GMC Acadia, Ford Flex, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Murano, VW Touareg, Hyundai Vera Cruz.