With Traverse, Chevy crosses over

Chevrolet is expected to tout the ride and handling, safety and interior space of the new Traverse.
The 2009 Chevrolet Traverse crossover is basically a restyled Saturn Outlook.

Or is it a restyled GMC Acadia?

Either way, it's a good thing for Chevrolet because both General Motors vehicles have received high marks from the motoring press and a "Recommended" pick from Consumer Reports.

Basics: The Traverse (truh-VURSE') seats up to eight people and is Chevrolet's latest attempt to woo consumers looking for a family hauler. There have been failed attempts, most recently with the Uplander minivan.

"The minivan stigma continues to get stronger, and we see more people leaving and going to crossovers," said Don Butler, executive director of truck marketing for Chevrolet. "We expect to take advantage of that trend."

Under the skin, the Traverse's mechanicals are identical to those of the 2009 Acadia and Outlook. Those vehicles, along with the Buick Enclave, are built on the mid-sized Lambda architecture. Differences are limited to suspension changes to give each crossover its own ride characteristics.

The Traverse -- at least for the top-of-the-line LTZ model and, to a lesser extent, the LT -- gets an emphasis on ride and handling that is uncharacteristic of many crossovers. In several runs through a cone-dotted autocross course at GM's proving ground in Milford, Mich., the LTZ's ride and handling seemed more in line with German-engineered cars than the Detroit 3. Ditto for the precise feel to the electronic variable-effort power steering as the Traverse zigzagged around cones. Electronic power steering is optional.

The 2009 Traverse introduces GM's new direct-injection, 281-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 to the Lambda architecture. The other Lambda-based crossovers will add that engine for the 2009 model year.

The engine feels like a V-8 and provides maximum towing capacity of 5,200 pounds. Front- and all-wheel-drive models are available, equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission co-engineered with Ford Motor Co.

Sizing up the Traverse
Chevrolet will emphasize the size and capability of its new crossover. 
 2009 Chevrolet Traverse2008 Toyota Highlander 
Wheelbase118.9 in.109.8 in. 
Length205.0 in.188.4 in. 
Width78.4 in.75.2 in. 
Height72.8 in.69.3 in. (with roof rails) 
Curb weight4,720 lbs. (fwd)3,979 lbs. (fwd) 
Base engine3.6-liter V-63.5-liter V-6 
Horsepower281 @ 6,400 rpm270 @ 6,200 rpm 
Torque, lbs.-ft.253 @ 5,500 rpm248 @ 4,700 rpm 
EPA mpg17 city/24 hwy. (2wd)18 city/24 hwy. (2wd) 
Base price*$28,990$28,185 
*Includes shipping

Notable features: In a market flooded with crossovers, Chevrolet is expected to tout safety, interior space and ride and handling.

Standard safety equipment includes stability control with rollover mitigation, side curtain airbags and OnStar Generation 8, which provides automatic crash notification. Even if the airbags are not deployed, sensors built into the car determine whether there has been a front crash, rear crash or rollover and the force of the impact.

Besides the seating for eight, the Traverse offers a cargo space behind the upright third-row seat, large enough for two golf bags or three large suitcases.

What Chevy says: While Ford's new crossover, the 2009 Flex, purposely has a polarizing, boxy shape, Butler says the Traverse is aimed at "families who are looking for practicality with a little bit of pizazz. They are not ostentatious. They don't need to stand out from the crowd. But they need to feel good about what they are driving. We think Traverse fits that bill."

Nuts and bolts: Sales begin this fall with a sticker price of $28,950, including shipping, for the base LS model.

The skinny: Chevrolet finally gets a solid, comfortable, well-handling, attractive people mover.

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