Look at the 2018 Chevrolet Traverse lineup, and you’ll see one model that is not like the others. Of the half dozen trims offered for Chevy’s midsize 3-row crossover SUV, the new Traverse RS is the only one with a turbocharged engine. While the rest of the lineup is powered by a 3.6-liter V6 that makes 310 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque, the new Chevy Traverse RS uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that puts out 255 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque.

Chevrolet bills the Traverse RS as a sportier, more fun-to-drive variant of this family-friendly crossover. We recently had the chance to find out in a trek that took us from Hollywood to Joshua Tree in this latest Chevy Traverse trim, which itself is all new for 2018. Over a day of driving, we snaked our way around the traffic-snarled Los Angeles to the high-speed suburban highways and finally onto the wonderous scenery of the California desert. The next day we did the same trip in reverse, driving a 2018 Traverse with the standard V6 so we could compare the two. Here’s what we learned.

Small engine, laudable power

At just 2.0 liters in displacement, the small size of this 4-cylinder engine might be a surprising choice for a substantial, 3-row crossover like the Traverse. But while this is the first time a downsized turbocharged four has been employed in the Traverse, Chevy isn’t alone offering midsize crossovers with boosted 4-cylinder engines. Ford Explorer has offered such an engine for years, and it’s the only one available in the Mazda CX-9. Others to use them include the Volkswagen Atlas and the forthcoming Subaru Ascent.

While you might think a smaller engine would be reserved for an entry model, as in the VW Atlas, the Traverse RS falls in the higher end of the range. While a base Traverse LS starts just under $31,000, the RS begins around $43,000. For that extra money, the new 7-passenger Traverse RS includes a long list of features like leather seating, power tailgate, blind-spot monitoring, 10-speaker Bose premium audio system, and an 8-inch infotainment system with navigation and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto phone integration. Moreover, the RS aims to inject a sporty flair into the Traverse lineup with aesthetics that include darkened 20-inch wheels, blacked-out badges and other dark elements.

While the turbocharged 4-cylinder in the RS and the V6 in the rest of the lineup differ in size and how they make their power, both move the Traverse in a respectable manner. What the turbo-4 gives up in horsepower to the V6–a gap of 55 ponies–it makes up for in torque, where it has an advantage of 29 twist units. The Chevy RS hustles up to speed remarkably well, and has power in reserve for passing. Does it feel sportier? Maybe a little, mostly provided by the whoosh of the turbocharger and its ensuing power surge.

Also: See the 12 Kelley Blue Book Best Buys of 2018

Different heart, same body

Other than that, the Traverse RS uses the same components and thus feels like the V6 models. The RS steering, suspension, 9-speed transmission and chassis setups have not been tweaked for a sportier feel. So, while the engine feels peppy, the overall ride favors comfort and suppleness rather than the spryer and more athletic Mazda CX-9. The Mazda benefits from being nearly 200-pounds lighter while having a 250-horsepower engine that nearly matches the Chevy, and yet offers more torque at 310 lb-ft. The Traverse, though, tops the Mazda in interior space. A more direct rival to the Chevy is the Ford Explorer, which has a larger, more powerful 2.3-liter turbo 4-cylinder making 280 horses and 310 lb-ft of torque.

Some caveats

In addition to its sportiness–perceived or otherwise–Chevy touts the Traverse RS as being more efficient overall than other trims. This is true, but there are caveats. The RS is EPA-rated at 22 mpg combined, vs the 21-mpg figure for the V6 models. In city/highway ratings, the 4-cylinder lands at 20/26 mpg, vs 18/27 for the V6. Anecdotally, we saw better numbers on our return from the desert in the V6, with the computer showing over 25 mpg, vs. just over 22 in the 4-cylinder on the way out. As for rivals, the Mazda CX-9 is rated higher at 22 mpg city/28 highway and 24 mpg combined, while a 4-cylinder Explorer is similar at 19 mpg city/27 highway and 22 mpg combined.

Also see: 2018 Chevrolet Traverse First Review

Then there’s the issue of fuel. According to the EPA, you’ll actually spend more money on fuel in a given year for the RS’ 4-cylinder than the standard V6--$2,100 vs. $1,850. That’s because premium unleaded is recommended for the turbo, while the V6 makes do on less-expensive regular. Again, for comparison the EPA lists the annual fuel costs for a Mazda CX-9 at $1,650, and a 4-cylinder Ford Explorer at $1,800, both running on regular unleaded.

Another caveat is that the Chevy Traverse RS is available only with front-wheel drive, while the rest of the lineup (and the rivals just mentioned) can be had with all-wheel drive. As for towing, that, too is limited in the RS: 1,500 pounds vs. up to 5,000 for the standard V6 Traverse.

Finally, there’s the stop-start system, which is standard on all 2018 Traverse models. When you come to a stop where the vehicle would otherwise idle, the engine shuts off to conserve fuel. GM is hardly alone in using such a system to eke out efficiency, but it does stand out for not letting you disable the system. So, when we were in stop-and-go LA traffic or inching our way from one stoplight to the next, the engine was constantly shutting itself off only to restart moments later. In such scenarios, it can be frustrating.

The takeaway

The new 2018 Traverse RS is indeed a model that stands out from the rest of the lineup, but its appeal will be limited to a specific set of buyers. Namely, they’ll be ones who only need front-wheel drive, already plan to spend in the mid-$40,000 territory for a well-equipped Traverse, want a model that feels peppier than the naturally aspirated V6 and has the looks to back up its turbocharged appeal. If that sounds like you, give the Traverse RS a shot.

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