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2018 Chevrolet Traverse RS: First Drive Review

The 2018 Chevrolet Traverse RS is the odd one out in regards to the wider Traverse range. And that can either be a good thing or a bad thing. This 7-seater full-size crossover doesn’t offer the option of all-wheel drive and doesn’t come with a V6 engine, unlike the rest of the lineup. But it does push the Traverse out of the absolute mainstream and nearer to the premium area.

Chevrolet has discovered through research that some crossover customers don’t necessarily want to go the whole luxury hog and get a Mercedes-Benz or a Lexus, but are prepared to spend some extra money for a nicer version of a regular-branded vehicle. Chevrolet has not been able to oblige those lovely people until now.

The Case for the Defense

Where the RS makes its main argument is in looks and equipment. Let’s take looks first. Black is a perennially cool color and a safe choice for the finish of the 20-inch alloy wheels (lower Traverse trims have 18-inch wheels), the grille, Chevy "bow tie" badge and various other little touches. These bring a particular presence to the Traverse, which is all-new for 2018 and enjoys a more streamlined look than the previous generation.

Equipment-wise, we’re looking at black leather upholstery (well, seating surfaces) with heated front seats, tri-zone automatic climate control, navigation, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone connectivity, Wi-Fi, 10-speaker Bose sound system, rearview camera (with a display in the rearview mirror), 360-degree camera system, rear parking sensors, blind spot monitoring, lane-keeping assistance and a powered liftgate.

The cabin feels slightly more upscale than what might be considered mainstream, and it’s certainly classier than older Chevy interiors. It’s hushed, spacious, has clever things like the second row’s leftmost position — that can take a forward-facing child seat yet still be able to tilt and slide forward so people can gain access to the third row — and the suspension feels controlled yet comfortable. Driving or even just sitting in the RS, like every other Traverse, is quite a pleasure.

The Case for the Prosecution

If towing is important, look for a V6-powered Traverse, which can pull 5,000 pounds. The RS can only deal with 1,500 pounds.

Let’s address the engine in greater detail. It’s a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder unit which, oddly enough, doesn’t feel overworked in a big crossover like this, since it makes a substantial 257 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. The other engine in the Traverse family, a 3.6-liter V6, produces 310 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque. So there’s a bit of a trade-off here, but torque is the force that matters when seeking that thrust for overtaking and reaching freeway speeds.

The transmission is a 9-speed automatic, so that helps the RS achieve 20 miles per gallon in the city, 26 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg combined. The V6 with front-wheel drive manages 18 mpg city/27 mpg hwy/21 mpg combined. Again, you win some, you lose some. Those in the city and suburbs will like the RS, but we’ll bid a fond farewell right now to anyone who takes long freeway trips with a trailer.

This engine is lighter than the V6, so the nose is a little more eager with its responses to steering inputs. However, when there’s a few more pounds up front, the steering feels a little more meaty and precise, especially when aimed directly ahead. That may or not matter much to a soccer parent who just wants to get through the day safely and efficiently.

Final Sentencing

The 2018 Chevrolet Traverse RS starts at $43,095 and doesn’t get bogged down in options. What you see is what you buy, pretty much. That honesty is a definite plus.

Other Traverse trims can take eight occupants, but the RS settles for seven. Both the second and third row can fold flat to produce a commodious 98.2 cu ft. of cargo space, which is the best in a class that also includes the 2018 Ford Explorer, 2018 Honda Pilot and 2018 Toyota Highlander.

So the Traverse RS appeals to a particular niche buyer, someone who likes the anti-bling of the black exterior accents, wants a decent level of equipment but finds the usual list of extras too dull or daunting, drives mainly in well-populated areas, has school run duties to perform and might carry some large furniture on occasion. Perhaps the RS could be called a qualified success.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

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