At first glance, the 2009 Chevrolet Traverse looks like just another SUV, albeit with surprisingly smooth body work. But the Traverse is actually intended as a crossover, its unibody design and independent suspension delivering a more comfortable ride than a truck-based SUV and a downsized engine intended to bring in better fuel economy. But in the case of the Traverse, crossover seems to mean an intersection between minivan and SUV, as it has ample room for people, with its three-row seating, and cargo. Although our model was a front-wheel-drive version, all-wheel-drive is available.
The Traverse is also an example of the new Chevrolet, showing the updated grille design originally adopted on the Malibu. It's a look we like. Inside, the navigation and music package is basically the same as we've seen in GM vehicles for the past few years, but it gets a few extra features to keep up with the competition.
Test the tech: Traffic avoidance
One of the most useful features adopted by GM for the 2009 Chevrolet Traverse is traffic reporting integrated with the navigation system. We saw a version of this system in last year's Cadillac CTS, but this is the first time we've seen it in a Chevrolet. The system gets traffic data from XM's Satellite Radio network and feeds it into the navigation system, showing traffic flow on major roads, along with incidents that might cause congestion, such as accidents and road construction. To test the system, we plotted various routes and looked at how it would help us avoid traffic jams.
For our first test, we drove to a location about 30 miles south of San Francisco, and entered a destination in Berkeley. The usual route for this type of trip would take us over the Bay Bridge, which can often become a choke point. We used the map to input a destination, which worked very well, then let the navigation system compute the route. When it didn't alert us to any problems along the way, we scrolled the map along the route and saw an area of slow traffic, indicated by an amber line, along the Bay Bridge. There are four colors for traffic flow: green, yellow, amber, and red. It seems that the system would let us drive into an amber area, which indicates traffic moving around 30 mph, but would probably avoid a red area.
With this route plotted, we touched the Traffic button on the screen, and it brought up a list of traffic conditions along our route, including the slow traffic on the bridge. Touching that item on the list brought up detailed information about the location and speeds, along with a button labeled Avoid. We hit the Avoid button, and the system recalculated the route, taking us across the bay on another bridge.
We canceled that destination and entered another one into downtown San Francisco. It calculated the route and we started driving. A few miles later a warning popped up on the screen showing a slow traffic incident. We hit the Avoid button immediately, and were given an alternate route. We also noticed that the system would flash traffic alerts even when we didn't have a destination programmed. If you're driving down a road where traffic information is available, the system looks ahead and alerts you to any nearby traffic problems. This feature is excellent, as you're not going to program in a destination for familiar locations.
In the cabin
Although we like Chevrolet's new exterior styling, the company's interiors leave a lot to be desired. The Traverse we had--the top-of-the-line LTZ trim--used a two-tone dashboard with black top and bottom and a beige waistband. This scheme is also taken up on the front doors, but the joint between front door and dash goes from graceful curve to sharp angle. Looks aside, though, we were impressed with the seeming quality of the build, and particularly liked the inset climate control buttons.
We like the onscreen interface for navigation and music, which uses a tabbed structure, making the process to find different music sources or switch to map display very intuitive. But this navigation system is DVD-based, and we often found delays before it brought up a map or computed a route. The maps themselves look pretty good, and entering addresses is easy with its onscreen keyboard. Beyond the traffic feature we looked into above, the navigation system is pretty basic, lacking features like text-to-speech, voice command, or a complete points-of-interest database.
Chevrolet supplements the in-car navigation system with OnStar, which takes the place of voice command and provides additional points of interest. If you want to find a business or other location not listed in the database, you can hit the OnStar button and ask an operator to find it. That operator can send the destination to the navigation system, which will take over from there.