PORT ROYAL, S.C. -- Road traffic stacks up behind the drawbridge spanning Port Royal Sound, a long inlet sheltered by barrier islands like Saint Helena, Parris and Hunting stringing along the Atlantic Coast of South Carolina. We're sandwiched in a line of cars waiting to cross the bridge, engine idling and shifter stick notched to neutral with four 20-inch tires parked on the pavement.
The pause in this dash across Carolina barrier islands while steering a new crossover utility vehicle (CUV) from the Chevrolet Division of General Motors provides an opportunity to scrutinize the styling of what amounts to one of the sleekest CUVs on the market. Chrome-coated block letters mounted on the lip of the tailgate identify this new CUV as the T-R-A-V-E-R-S-E.
It's a big wagon, stretching 17 feet long and more than six feet wide, yet the slippery design of the sheetmetal shell tricks the eye and seems to diminish the scale.
Focal point is the bold front-end carved in elegant lines of a sculpted block with a sharp rake to the windshield and down-sloping hood, and a flashy single-bar grille with chrome mesh inserts and oversized corner headlamp clusters.
The design contains built-in aero enhancers, such as an integrated rear spoiler and a splitter at the base of the frontal air dam. Those devices serve to enhance the vehicle's aerodynamic efficiency, which works to maximize fuel efficiency.
Chevy's new wagon is constructed with an integral body-frame structure which compares to a front-wheel-drive (FWD) car rather than the conventional SUV's rear-wheel-drive (RWD) body-on-frame truck platform.
A stretched wheelbase of 118.9 inches and a wide wheel track of 67.8 inches front and 67.4 inches rear forge a long and broad platform which reduces the center of gravity for the vehicle and sets up a sure-footed ride quality.
And, unlike the usual SUV's solid rear truck axle and crude leaf springs, Traverse carries independent suspension components like a car. There's a MacPherson strut design up front with direct-acting stabilizer bar and aluminum knuckles, and in the rear the independent H-arm arrangement has twin-tube shocks mounted on a road-bump-isolating sub-frame.
As a result, Traverse brings the easy-to-drive manners and smooth ride of a large luxury sedan. Traverse also derives nimble steering attributes from a power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system, and the brakes add a disc at every wheel with electronic link to an anti-lock brake system (ABS). Further, all versions stock StabiliTrak, GM's seamless yaw controller.
The StabiliTrak electronic stability control system also ties to GM's rollover sensing system, dubbed rollover mitigation technology (RMT). It can deploy side-impact air bags and curtain air bags if on-board sensors detect a potential vehicular roll event. All versions of Traverse stock lots of passive safety systems like frontal and seat-mounted side-impact air bags for front seats and the curtain-style air bags mounted above outboard seats at all three rows.
Traverse also offers the choice of FWD traction or a permanently-engaged all-wheel-drive (AWD) system. The smart AWD equipment uses a computer and wheel sensors to determine how much power to apply at each wheel for maintaining tire traction on slippery pavement. Strength for Traverse is derived from a V6 engine by GM which displaces 3.6 liters and contains dual overhead cams and variable valve timing (VVT).
When rigged with a single exhaust system for Traverse's entry-level trim edition, the plant develops 281 hp at 6300 rpm plus torque of 266 lb-ft at 3600 rpm. For Traverse's top trim edition with a dual exhaust system, the engine's output increases to 288 hp at 6300 rpm plus torque of 270 lb-ft at 3400 rpm. Gear control stems from GM's fuel-saving Hydra-Matic 6T75 six-speed automatic.
With this rig the vehicle achieves EPA fuel economy figures up to 24 mpg for highway cruising in a FWD edition. Climb aboard the Traverse and you'll notice another benefit of the car-like structure: Chevrolet designers managed to drop the cabin floor but still retain a reasonable chassis height for ground clearance.
As a result, you don't have to hike up to climb aboard, but simply slip in sideways like you would enter a sedan. On the first row two wide bucket seats flank a floor console. On the second row the standard arrangement shows two captain's chairs that slide to and fro, although a sliding bench to accommodate three passengers is available.
On the third row, a folding bench split 60/40 can squeeze up to three additional riders aboard. Access to the back bench is aided by extra width of the two rear portals plus second-row seats that move out of the way easily, thanks to a single-tap lever dubbed the Smart Slide. Cargo space in Traverse is vast.
With the back bench up, the flat-floored cargo bay has 24.4 cubic feet of stow room. With the back bench folded down, the bay expands to 68.8 cubic feet. And with second and third tiers of seats down, the cavernous bay measures to 116.4 cubic feet.
We're impressed with the easy-driving attitude of Traverse, but also commend this vehicle for the comfortable cabin design and the use of quality materials. Chevy's new CUV trims out in base LS, upgraded LT1 and LT2 or top-tier LTZ. Entry point is the Traverse SL.
Gear standard on Traverse SL ranges from air conditioning and power controls for windows and door locks and mirrors to auto-on headlamps and daytime running lights, a steering wheel that tilts and telescopes, the driver's seat with four-way manual movements, a windshield wiper for the liftgate's window, a sound kit with AM/FM/CD/MP3 player and GM's OnStar telecommunications equipment. Chevrolet establishes MSRP figures as low as $28,255 for Traverse LS FWD and $30,255 for Traverse LS AWD.