As the valet pulls the 2018 Chevrolet Traverse around, it suddenly hits me that I’m about to get into a car I’ve never driven and spend 4 hours behind the wheel with my 15-year-old son. If you really want to examine a car, take your teenage kid on a road trip — it’s a real eye-opener. Personally, I’m happy with a nice-ish coupe or sedan, a comfortable seat, a powerful engine and a good audio system. No one else in my family, least of all my son, cares about those things — well, maybe the stereo.
Also, everyone in my family wants an SUV. "Dad, you can see everything in SUVs. Cars are too low." So with that money-waster in mind (sedans and coupes are usually less expensive than SUVs), I gravitate toward the Chevy Tahoe and Nissan Armada, both excellent 3-row SUVs. It’s tough to beat them.
That being said, I really dislike black interiors, and I see the Traverse I’m driving has a "jet black" interior. For me, cars with all-black or dark grey inteiors look cheap and generic. I know, some light-colored interiors (cream, white, red, light brown) are actually just poor-quality beige plastics intended to trick potential buyers into believing they’re getting something fancy.
Whatever, the trick works on me. The point about interior color is simply coincidence, as the Traverse is offered in a variety of interior trims and colors.
But this is just an initial impression. Ahead of me lie 4 hours of driving in the Traverse, and I have my 15-year-old son to keep me company. The Traverse has 4G LTE Wi-Fi. Right off the bat, Chevy’s newest family wagon has earned the praise of a future driver. "Awesome!" he exclaims. "Now we can download and listen to Kesha’s new album, ‘Rainbow’?" Of course, I’m thinking, "Did I just make a huge tactical road-trip error?"
Turns out, the album is better and a lot deeper than I would have first thought, and the Bose stereo highlights the album’s exceptional production value. Also, you can earn a few extra parenting points by letting your kid control the music in the car for a few hours. And those points can be redeemed for no-argument room cleaning or dinner at a non-drive-thru place. At least that’s the way it works with my kid.
As we leave Detroit on I75 headed for Traverse City, I realize nearly the entire state of Michigan is one giant mistaken snap judgement. Everyone thinks of Michigan as Detroit, snow, Ted Nugent and Motown, but it’s so much more. And Traverse City is one of Michigan’s greatest treasures — unknown to many outsiders, but locals clearly enjoy the lake and the quaint downtown area on a regular basis.
The Traverse I’m driving is the Premiere model — in Chevy-speak, this essentially takes the place of the LTZ trim, so it’s applied to other Chevrolet vehicles as well — like the Malibu, the Tahoe and so on.
But it’s not just names or trim levels: The Chevy Traverse has been completely redesigned. One thing that really shows this is how the new Traverse looks a little more like a truckish SUV and less like a big station wagon. I’m not making a direct comparison, but it’s a little more Tahoe-like.
It’s also got a more Tahoe-like price. The Traverse Premiere I drove was $47,960 with options. Base price for a Premiere with no options is about $44,000. Yes, that’s pricey, but savvy shoppers might notice the pricing strategy has the new Traverse parked just under the Tahoe. Base price for a Tahoe is about $47,000, and it can top out well above $60,000. Opt for a Traverse LT or LS, and the price is even lower. Certainly you’re not going to see a $60,000 Traverse.
About halfway to Traverse City, I decide to skip the freeway and take the back roads. It was the best decision. There’s nothing about Detroit that can really prepare you for the bucolic simplicity of middle Michigan. There are lots of Luminas, lots of Jeeps, open spaces and a fair amount of mom-and-pop convenience stores, some with delicious deli sandwiches.
These back roads are the perfect place to experience the Traverse’s 9-speed automatic transmission, independent rear suspention and 310-hp 3.6-liter V6.
The ride is comfortable, and the interior remains fairly quiet on all but the roughest of roads. Handling is greatly improved over that of the previous Traverse. So despite the more trucky look, the feel is more like that of a sedan.
There are still minivanlike features. I’m not sure if everyone’s kids are like this, but sometimes mine want to sit in the third row even if no one is in the second row. Smart Slide seats, which allow easy access to the third row, and a hands-free rear power lift gate proved invaluable.
The one issue we had was connecting devices to the in-car system. At one point, the Chevrolet MyLink was saying "Not Connected," while the phone said "Connected." We did use the 4G Wi-Fi, but most of the in-car fun and driving directions were powered by Apple CarPlay. Still, Chevy has its own in-car system. I asked Chevrolet if they need to offer both, and the answer was, essentially, "Choices. Buyers want choices."
Fair enough. My choice is Apple CarPlay. It’s simple, and it works the same in every car — plus, in every car, it works without any glitches or hang-ups … about 75 percent of the time. The main advantage with Apple CarPlay is that it incorporates the maps from your iPhone and allows you to send and receive text messages without having to handle your phone — most in-car systems don’t do this, or they do it with Siri Eyes Free, which isn’t as good.
Today, a family car isn’t really just transportation, it’s more of a tool that facilitates family activities. The 2018 Chevrolet Traverse does that and does it well. Be careful with options and trim levels and you can get a good-looking, comfortable family car that’s priced more like a loaded sedan and less like a luxury SUV.