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OnStar also offers a telephone service, which should be redundant in the Traverse LTZ, because the car is supposed to come with a Bluetooth connection. However, we weren't able to test Bluetooth in our vehicle because it didn't seem to be installed. There is a voice/phone button on the steering wheel, but it merely muted the stereo.
Similar to the navigation system, the stereo hasn't been given much of an update for the Traverse. Its audio sources are limited to XM Satellite Radio, a six-disc in-dash changer, and an auxiliary input, along with the usual AM and FM radio. When we tested the Chevrolet Cobalt SS, we noticed that its standard GM stereo had been updated with a USB port, and would like to see that feature added for the Traverse. But one cool thing about the Traverse's stereo is the Music Navigator feature. When you insert an MP3 CD, the system will scan the music and then present it onscreen in standard MP3 player style, letting you browse by artist, album, and genre. The only drawback here is that it takes a while to scan a disc, and you have to rescan it if you take it out.
If you want to make use of the rear-seat DVD system, you will need to remove discs from the in-dash player, as it also works as the DVD drive. With a DVD in, you can watch movies on both the dashboard LCD and the ceiling-mounted LCD. Composite video and RCA jacks on the back of the console let the kids plug in a game console or portable DVD player, restoring the use of the in-dash unit for the front seats. The rear-seat DVD package also includes a remote and headphones, so the kiddies can quietly watch in back without disturbing the parental units.
What took us by surprise was the audio system, which sounded really good. There weren't any obvious logos on the speakers, but a little research showed that Bose supplies the system, explaining the superior quality sound. This system uses 10 speakers, with a center fill and subwoofer, creating an immersive surround experience. We were impressed by the crisp bass and general clarity when playing music.
The LTZ trimmed Traverse also comes with a back-up camera that's sporting a feature we haven't seen before; it doesn't have any trajectory guidelines on it, but as you get close to obstacles, the system overlays a caution icon on the screen at the location of the obstacle. This feature is especially useful in dark parking garages where you might not be able to see an object that you are backing towards. It also employs a low-tech solution for blind-spot detection, with little mirrors inset at the edges of the side mirrors that offer a view of cars at your rear quarters.
Under the hood
Just as the 2009 Chevrolet Traverse's exterior shows a new direction in styling, the engine is a new, modern powerplant. As a crossover, the Traverse uses a V-6 engine, this one with 3.6 liters of displacement. That engine keeps up with the times by incorporating variable-valve timing and direct injection, helping it produce 288 horsepower at 6,300rpm and 270 pound-feet of torque at 3,400rpm. Although the Traverse is large, this engine gets it moving easily, and the power comes through surprisingly smoothly, as direct injection is supposed to produce more engine vibration than port injection.
The six-speed automatic is about what we would expect in a big family vehicle like the Traverse: fairly simple reaching for the high gears, and slow to downshift. It shifted smoothly, but a number of times while we were driving it felt like it was hunting for the right gear. It has a neat trick for taking control of the gear shifting; shift it to the low range and you can move through all six gears sequentially with a rocker switch on the shifter. The only problem with this manual-mode option is that you don't want to put it in low when you are careening down the freeway at 85 mph, because it initially goes to third gear.
Unlike many crossovers we've seen, the Traverse is very long, so in maneuvering it around town we found the need to make wide turns. The power steering is hydraulic, as opposed to newer electric power-steering systems, so it gets a little uneven as the wheel is cranked around. But it does feel precise enough--without much lag--that you won't be drifting around your lane on the freeway. The ride quality is very good, too; it doesn't rough you up, although we wouldn't call it a luxury ride.
Fuel economy is rated at 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway, but in our driving we only achieved 16 mpg. Although our mileage got better on the freeway, city driving consistently dragged it down to 15 mpg. The Traverse seems best suited to long-range cruising--take an economy car for trips to the grocery store. The Traverse does better for emissions, getting a ULEV II rating from the California Air Resources Board.
The front-wheel-drive 2009 Chevrolet Traverse, with the LTZ trim, goes for a base price of $39,025, and that includes the navigation and Bose audio systems. Our car also came with the $1,295 rear-seat entertainment system and a $75 engine-block heater, making our total--with $735 destination charge--come out to $41,130. The next trim down, the LT, bases for $31,545, but you lose the navigation system and traffic. The Traverse finds a worthy competitor with the Ford Flex, which costs a couple thousand more but has better cabin tech. Other cars to consider with similar capacities are the Dodge Journey and Mazda CX-9.
We give the Traverse a very good score for its cabin tech, which earns points for the traffic system and impressive Bose audio. The drive quality is good, but nothing outstanding. We like that Chevrolet fitted it with a direct-injection engine, but there's not much else noteworthy. The design is also very good, from the nicely done exterior to the easy-to-use on-screen interface.