2018 Chevrolet Traverse First Review
Price Range: $30,875-$52,995 Price yours
Max Capacity: 8 passengers
Engine: 3.6-liter V6, 310 hp
Fuel Economy: 21 mpg combined (FWD), 20 mpg combined (AWD)
Warranty: 3 years or 36,000 miles
Similar: Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder, Volkswagen Atlas
Not Just Better -- One of the Best
My daughter and I ate our ice cream sheltering under an umbrella from an unexpected cloudburst, watching the pelting rain break up the Friday Night Live festivities on Front Street in Traverse City, Michigan. It wasn't long before we were joined by others, all of us watching as street vendors hurried their wares back into their vans as potential customers turned tail and ran from the rain.
I struck up a conversation with a woman who had joined us under our island of dryness, and as we exchanged pleasantries, I mentioned I was on a work trip to drive the all-new 2018 Chevrolet Traverse. She exclaimed that she owned a 2009 Traverse, and intended to replace it soon, asking if the 2018 Traverse was worth the wait.
Oh, yes. Definitely worth the wait.
Chevrolet had flown my family and me to Michigan to drive the 2018 Traverse the way families will actually use it. We loaded our bags in Detroit, hit the road for the four-hour drive to Traverse City, and wound up putting nearly 700 miles on this SUV, allowing a much deeper dive into its capabilities, strengths and weaknesses than is the norm for these kinds of vehicle introductions. And after all that, there's one simple conclusion: The 2018 Chevrolet Traverse is a winner.
The 2018 Chevrolet Traverse looks something like a Chevy Tahoe that was left in the dryer too long. The dimensions aren't exactly tidy, as this big vehicle is even longer than the full-size Tahoe. But the proportions are spot on, and we love the body-colored C-pillar and tasteful use of chrome highlights, especially on higher-end models. The Premier and High Country offer unique touches, such as LED headlights with futuristic-looking lenses and unique wheels.
Inside, you'll find seating for seven or eight in an interior that Chevy says takes a lot of its color and trim cues from men's fashion. The idea is to offer a stylish place to spend time that will appeal to both genders equally, and considering the universal approval of our group, we'd say Chevy succeeded. I was particularly fond of the subtle use of color in our gray-on-gray interior, the soft-touch surfaces on the dash and doors, and the piano-black surfaces on the center console. I do wish Chevy would spend more money on the lower door panel and lower console plastics.
Our route took us north out of Detroit, first to visit friends who happened to be staying in Lapeer, Michigan, and then ultimately to Traverse City itself. In my head as we departed our downtown Detroit hotel, I was mentally laying out the luggage Tetris that would be needed to fit our five suitcases and other bags in the Traverse, and had concluded one of the third row seatbacks would need to be folded. So imagine my surprise when it all fit perfectly behind the seats, with enough space to even lay a backpack on top without blocking the rear view. Translate that to a load of groceries -- especially when you use the under-floor storage -- and even minivan owners like me will be won over.
Detroit's famously bad roads gave the Traverse its first workout. The suspension boasts a lot of roll stiffness to keep the vehicle from leaning too much in corners, but it's still compliant enough that big and small bumps don't upset the interior. Even though the new Traverse is a big SUV, it didn't affect maneuverability on the narrow streets of Detroit -- and Traverse City later -- with a relatively tight turning radius, good sight lines, and the available around-view camera making it easy to parallel park, or flip a quick U-turn.
On the open road, I was able to further explore the benefits of the Traverse's updated 3.6-liter V6 engine. The 310-horsepower engine has 350 fewer pounds of Traverse to haul around, making this big crossover SUV feel downright quick when getting on the freeway. The Traverse never lacked for passing ability on the highway, and there was enough power on tap to squirt past traffic from stop lights without drama. The engine drew attention to itself in two ways, with a surprisingly satisfying -- but not too intrusive -- full-throttle roar, and with the smooth operation of the start-stop system that shuts off the engine when the vehicle is at stoplights.
The engine mates to a 9-speed automatic transmission jointly developed with Ford, and it's a highlight of the drivetrain. Unlike the ZF-sourced 9-speed found in the Honda Pilot, the Traverse transmission is completely transparent in its operation, keeping hunting to a minimum, shifting its gears smoothly and without fuss, and downshifting rapidly from 9th to 4th when passing on the highway. In mostly highway-biased driving, with a little bit of lead-footedness thrown in, the all-wheel-drive 2018 Traverse we drove managed about 22.5 mpg during the weekend, which puts it on the better side of the midsize SUVs in our comparison test earlier this summer. We'd expect a front-wheel-drive Traverse to fare even better.
Not All Roses
Settling in for an extended highway drive exposed a significant competitive shortcoming. Our test vehicle had a price tag north of $46,000, and while it came with blind spot warning, it lacked forward collision warning, lane keeping assist, lane departure warning, active cruise control, and a host of other active safety features offered at a much lower price on the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Volkswagen Atlas and others. Most of that is available on the Traverse Premier model, but you have to stretch all the way to the $53,000 High Country if you want active cruise control. By contrast, the Honda Sensing suite of active cruise control, road departure mitigation, collision warning and mitigation, and lane keeping assist is a $1,000 option on the mid-level Pilot EX; similar features are standard on even base Toyota Highlander models.
On the highway, with the cruise control set, I was able to appreciate the front seating area even more. The seats themselves are wide enough to accommodate those with expanding American waistlines, but with enough side support that more slender drivers won't be sliding around. Cooled seats are available on higher trims, but we surprisingly didn't miss them, even during a Michigan summer. The door panel gets multiple divisions for various sized items, including an umbrella storage compartment; sadly, Chevy skimped on the armrest padding, meaning your elbow's going to be sore in a matter of minutes on a long drive. In the center console there's a generous amount of storage space, and the gear selector is an actual PRNDL lever, reminding us once again that the current fad of buttons and knobs used in competitive vehicles is a wholly unnecessary reinvention of the wheel. The rest of the Chevy's ergonomics are equally sensible, including the use of knobs for volume and radio tuning, and climate control temperature.
The second-row captain's chairs in our test car were about as comfortable as the front seats. There's plenty of headroom and legroom, and the seats adjust fore and aft and for angle to get it just right. The second row also has its own climate controls. Chevrolet has introduced a clever tilt system to allow easy access to the third row without removing a child booster seat; that, plus the longer wheelbase, makes getting into the third row a snap. The available bench seat expands total capacity to eight passengers, and the bench is wide enough that there will be few "he's on my side" arguments.
The third row of many midsize SUVs is a penalty box, reserved for the smallest of children...or the most annoying of adults. The 2018 Traverse is nearly minivan-like in its rear seat accommodations. My kids' initial complaints quickly quieted down, and when pressed they admitted that it was actually pretty OK. The two outboard positions have their own USB recharging ports as well, an uncommon touch of luxury.
I already mentioned how the 2018 Traverse swallowed five suitcases behind the third row without difficulty. However, if you do need to expand that capacity, there are some options. First is to use the generously sized underfloor compartment back there, which is big enough to accommodate a couple soft bags on its own, and is the same size in both front- and all-wheel-drive models. If you do need to flip down the third row, it couldn't be simpler, and the same goes for the second row. The total of 98.2 cu. ft. of cargo space is downright cavernous, the biggest in its class.
Infotainment and Tech
A vehicle's infotainment system is rapidly becoming a major sales point...or a sales killer. The Traverse will likely win customers over. The standard system uses a 7-inch screen, incorporating a backup camera and Chevy's excellent MyLink system. We love the big icons and easy to understand menus, and the customizable interface. But we especially love the fact that it comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, meaning you can have navigation in even the base model, if you're happy with the way your phone does it of course. Higher-end models come with inductive charging, and there are six USB ports in the vehicle, the two in front both wired in to the infotainment system (the others are just for charging).
Our test car was equipped with the upgraded 8-inch MyLink system, complete with 4G LTE-based in-car WiFi. This subscription-based system substitutes for a rear-seat entertainment system, which isn't available in the Traverse. The WiFi allows simultaneous streaming of multiple movies so your kids can watch whatever they want on their own devices, instead of being forced to watch the same movie on a ceiling-mounted screen like a pack of Neanderthals.
We alternated between using CarPlay and the on-board navigation to get around, and both systems were just as accurate. The GM system was so insistent on finding the shortest route that it actually took us down an unpaved road outside of the town of Empire after we'd spent the day at Sleeping Bear Dunes. It shaved miles off our trip, and let us check out the off-pavement capabilities of this big crossover SUV; it passed with flying colors.
Two other cool takeaways from the infotainment. First, it serves as the interface for the around-view camera system, providing a big and clear way of viewing the world around you as you park. Second, there's a hidden storage compartment behind it, one you can lock with a programmable PIN if you desire. My wife was particularly enamored with this little touch.
The elephant in the room is the Honda Pilot. It has long been a favorite, and now into its third year after a full redesign, it remains a tough act to follow, similar as it is in size and capability to the Traverse. The Chevy is ultimately bigger, with more cargo space behind the third row, more passenger space, and the Pilot doesn't offer the around-view camera. The 9-speed transmission on the Traverse is standard on all models, while the Pilot's is only on higher-end models and, frankly, is an inferior transmission. In the Pilot's favor are things like adaptive cruise control and other advanced safety tech at a much lower price than the Traverse, and its top model -- Touring Elite -- costs less than the Traverse as well. Another obvious competitor is the Ford Explorer, although despite multiple updates over the years is clearly showing its age compared to the Traverse, and doesn't seat as many people. A surprisingly strong newcomer is the Volkswagen Atlas, which comes closest in interior volume and third-row capacity, and also offers its safety tech on lower priced models. The VW's class-leading 6-year/72,000-mile warranty is also appealing.
The takeaway is that the 2018 Chevrolet Traverse makes a good case for itself in the face of some exceptionally strong competitors.
Inside and Out: 2018 Chevrolet Traverse Photo Gallery
Numbers and Details
How much can the Traverse tow? Which trim level should I buy? Will my kids love it? Some of those questions can be answered below, others will require further research.
Starting Price: $30,875 (FWD only, all prices listed here include $945 destination charge)
310-horsepower 3.6-liter V6
9-speed automatic transmission
Bluetooth and USB phone connectivity
Available 4G LTE WiFi hotspot
Manual driver’s seat
Three-zone auto climate control
Note: The L is the basest model, available in only two colors, and not available with all-wheel drive. Expect this one to show up in rental fleets, not private driveways.
Starting Price: $32,995 (FWD), $34,995 (AWD)
Deep-tinted side windows
Available all-wheel drive
Note: A step up from the rental-fleet L, the LS offers all-wheel drive and a slightly broader color palette.
Starting Price: $35,495 (FWD), $39,295 (AWD)
8-inch Chevy MyLink infotainment
Heated outside mirrors with turn signal indicators
SiriusXM satellite radio
7-passenger seating (8-passenger optional)
8-way power driver's seat
Leather-wrapped steering wheel
Note: Likely to be a volume model, the LT Cloth model also offers a full color palette, including premium paint colors and a choice of interior colors.
Starting Price: $42,490 (FWD), $44,490 (AWD)
Surround-vision camera system
Blind spot and rear cross-traffic alert
Rear parking sensors
Remote vehicle start
Bose 10-speaker audio system
Color driver information center
Rear Camera Mirror
6-way power front-passenger seat
Note: The LT Leather adds much more than just cow hides to the seats, justifying its price, although advanced safety features like forward collision warning still aren't available on this trim.
Starting Price: $45,395 (FWD), $48,690 (AWD)
Power tilt-telescope steering column
Heated steering wheel
Heated and ventilated front seats
Heated second-row captain's chairs
Hands-free power hatch
Note: For an extra $475 we recommend the Driver Confidence II package, which adds low speed automatic braking, forward collision alert, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, front pedestrian detection, and automatic high beams.
Starting Price: $52,995 (AWD only)
Twin-clutch rear differential
Active cruise control
Lane keep assist and lane departure warning
Forward automatic and pedestrian braking
Note: This is the "kitchen sink" model, which offers the most equipment. It's also the only Traverse to offer active cruise control.
2018 Chevrolet Traverse Specs
Engine: 3.6-liter V6
Transmission: 9-speed auto
Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive, All-wheel drive
Horsepower: 310 hp @ 6,800 rpm
Torque: 266 lb-ft @ 2,800 rpm
Fuel Economy, FWD: 21 mpg combined (18 city, 27 highway)
Fuel Economy, AWD: 20 mpg combined (18 city, 25 highway)
Towing Capacity: 5,000 lbs
Curb Weight: 4,362 lbs (L)
Turning Diameter: 39 feet
Wheelbase: 120.9 inches
Length: 204.3 inches
Height: 70.7 inches
Width: 78.6 inches
More 3-Row Midsize SUVs