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2009 Chevrolet Traverse review: 2009 Chevrolet Traverse

2009 Chevrolet Traverse

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
8 min read

Photo gallery:
2009 Chevrolet Traverse LTZ


2009 Chevrolet Traverse

The Good

XM NavTraffic in the 2009 Chevrolet Traverse pops up traffic alerts even when you aren't under route guidance. The Bose audio system produces impressive sound quality.

The Bad

The six-speed automatic spends too much time hunting for gears, and the fuel economy isn't great.

The Bottom Line

The 2009 Chevrolet Traverse is a big family hauler with a few modern features. It shows a good direction for Chevrolet, but hasn't quite caught up with the rest of the world.

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.

The Traverse shows traffic-flow information and incidents on its navigation system.

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.

When an incident happens on your route, the Traverse pops up this screen, letting you avoid it.

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.

One feature unique to GM cars is the music navigator, which treats an MP3 CD as if it were an MP3 player.

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.

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.

The rear-seat entertainment system uses this drop-down LCD.

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 Traverse's engine uses modern technology, such as direct injection and variable-valve timing.

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.

In sum
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.


2009 Chevrolet Traverse

Score Breakdown

Cabin tech 7Performance tech 6Design 8


See full specs Trim levels LTZAvailable Engine GasBody style SUV