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2018 Chevrolet Traverse RS: A confusing proposition

A unique 2.0-liter engine doesn’t help the RS trim’s appeal.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

There's a lot to like about Chevy's second-generation Traverse. It's handsome, nicely equipped and offers more interior space than just about anything else in the three-row crossover class. With trim levels ranging from spartan LS to top-shelf High Country, there's something for folks of all budgets. There's even a sporty-ish RS model. But I don't really know why.

Let me be clear: This Traverse isn't like Chevy's other RS models. Elsewhere, say on a Cruze or Sonic, RS is an appearance package usually comprised of a sporty-looking body kit, some model-specific wheels and not much else. But on the Traverse, RS is a full-blown trim level. Yes, it incorporates RS-appropriate visual tweaks like dark-finish 20-inch wheels and blacked-out exterior details, but this Traverse also gets a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that isn't available on any other trim. And that's where the Traverse RS loses me, because the 2.0-liter turbo-four doesn't really play to either performance or fuel economy.

The RS is a step above the Traverse 3LT model, so an 8-inch MyLink infotainment screen and leather seats are standard.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

The 2.0T makes a respectable 255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, which is plenty to move the big Traverse with adequate pace. Every other version of the Traverse uses a 3.6-liter V6, which offers more horsepower (310) but less torque (266), so performance is basically a wash between the two powerplants. A 9-speed automatic transmission is mated to either engine, and shift quality is smoother with the V6 -- the 2.0T exhibits some decidedly abrupt gear changes. The stop/start system feels rougher with the 2.0-liter engine as well, and it isn't defeatable (well, not easily, anyway).

The EPA estimates the front-wheel-drive Traverse RS will return fuel economy ratings of 20 mpg city, 26 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined. A V6-powered Traverse, meanwhile, is rated at 18 mpg city, 27 mpg highway, and 21 mpg combined with front-wheel drive. The turbo engine nets you a 1-mpg increase in combined economy, but a 1-mpg decrease in highway efficiency. And if you're wondering why I'm only discussing front-wheel drive, it's because you can't get an RS with all-wheel drive. Yes, really.

In every other capacity, the RS is just like any other Traverse. Driving dynamics are par for the course, with a well-sorted chassis that delivers a comfortable, compliant ride. The steering is relatively light and lacks feedback, but it feels appropriately tuned for cruisin' the suburbs. That said, trailering capability takes a big hit -- the RS is only rated to tow a meager 1,500 pounds, compared to the 5,000-pound rating of V6 models.

The Traverse RS is a handsome thing. Too bad you can't just get that appearance package on a V6 model.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Inside, the RS is once again no different than any other Traverse. There's a huge amount of space in here -- real adult humans can fit in all three rows without issue, and with the second and third rows of seats folded, there's as much as 98.2 cubic feet of storage space. The Traverse is even more capacious than Chevy's larger Tahoe SUV. Material quality is a mix of good and bad, with soft leather found on the dashboard and door tops, but hard, lousy plastics on the center console and steering column stalks.

With an MSRP of $43,595, the Traverse RS is positioned above the range's already nicely equipped 3LT model, so amenities like heated, leather seats and second-row captain's chairs are standard. Chevy's 8-inch MyLink touchscreen infotainment system with built-in navigation is also standard here, with bright, crisp graphics and simple, straightforward menus.

My issue with the Traverse RS isn't the appearance package -- it's fine, and actually sort of handsome. But why bundle it with a model-specific 2.0-liter engine that doesn't offer any real performance or fuel economy benefits, and eliminates the possibility of all-wheel drive? Offer the styling flair on a 3LT V6 model and charge a grand or two for the privilege. Do that, and the RS is as good and competitive as any other Traverse model. With the 2.0T engine, it's a much tougher sell.