2009 Chevrolet Traverse review

Times are tough in GM land right now. Currently, as of this writing, the company is going through a painful reorganization (aka bankruptcy) and they are trying to slim down the number of models and brands that they sell. And when they bring out new ones, they had better be world class in order to regain consumer confidence. This week I had the opportunity to try out their new Traverse crossover – the replacement for the Trailblazer so I’m told. This is supposed to be the latest and the greatest – the new dawn for GM, the crossover that shows the world that they are serious. Pretty heady promotion. Let’s see how it lived up to the hype.

Giving it the once-over on the outside, something looks – off – in the proportions. The front end appears huge, with an enormous grille staring back at you, separated only by a large Chevy symbol. Moving around to the side shows you just how bulbous that nose is.

Side point – why is it that all of Chevy’s current model introductions have a nose that is way out of proportion to the rest of the car? It’s not a flattering look on humans, and certainly not on automobiles either.

The rest of the car is inoffensive. It is plain as vanilla ice cream, and obviously built to please the lowest common non-auto enthusiast denominator. Move inside and you can see GM old ways are still alive and well. Unfortunately. The plastics used in the Traverse are hard and cheap. You would think that they would try to produce a world class product here, but it seems they’ve settled for whatever Rubbermaid had leftover from 10 years ago. The plastics are hard, brittle, and look like they would show wear within a month from the beating that they are likely to take from a normal family. You can even see evidence in this cheapness on the outside as well - the bottom all around the car is made of flat, cheap-looking black plastic no matter what your exterior color. VERY disappointing.

I found the driver’s seat very uncomfortable and couldn’t seem to dial in the right driving position. It did offer both a tilt and telescopic wheel, but still a comfortable position eluded me. Once I had the front seat pushed back far enough for my 6’ frame, backseat room diminished greatly. My two year old had no problem continually kicking the back of my seat. Accessing the third row was a fairly easy affair however.

The only way I can describe the way the Traverse goes down the road is the way that I imagine an 8000 lb slug might. It feels much heavier than it probably is. The engine’s output is barely a match for the heft of the car. While it gets down the road, it just doesn’t seem to enjoy its work. Worse, look at the dash and you can see GM has deleted the redline on the tach. I don’t really know what the redline is because it wasn’t even worth pushing to that point, but I can tell you with 100% certainty it is not the indicated 8000 RPM. Handling is available, but it is neither confidence inspiring or remotely enjoyable. Again, think 8000 lb slug. Yes yes yes, I understand that this is NOT an enthusiast machine. But there is a lot to be said about a confident feeling when the primary mission of a vehicle is going to be shuttling your family around. Surviving the worst case isn't enough - can the vehicle do as much as it can to help you avoid a problem in the first place? It's something serious to consider.

While the Traverse is mostly quiet on the highway, there seems to be a significant amount of wind noise coming from the outside mirrors. Not a dealbreaker on its own, but just another demerit in a long list of disappointments.

Worse, the one I drove only had a smattering of options from the most basic model. And I was SHOCKED to discover that GM has the nerve to ask $35,000 in exchange for one of these. Who are they kidding??? I would’ve guessed $24k TOPS for the one I sampled. (Although by the time you factor in employee pricing, the rebates no doubt in effect on it, and so forth you may not be far from there – but if you’re going to play that pricing game it might be fair to only ask $14k in return). Get careless with the options and you can quickly zoom the price past $40k. Let that number sink in for a minute – FORTY THOUSAND DOLLARS. When you get to that territory, there are so many more compelling options from genuinely prestigious manufacturers that the Chevy value proposition goes right out the window. I’ll go out on a limb and guess that the Traverse will suffer from the same astronomical and eye-watering depreciation that afflicts most mainstream GM transportation, meaning that your money would lose less in the stock market last fall than the beating you’ll take on this at trade-in time.

I was also told that GM has pretty much stopped leasing, and it’s a good thing. Because again, factoring in typical GM depreciation, they would probably have to quote $700 a month to not lose their shorts on a lease. That would make the Traverse more of a punchline than it already is.

Is this really the best they could do? And this is a vehicle that is supposed to lead the way for GM’s future? The upcoming Cadillac SRX is going to be based on this, disappointing SRX fans nationwide. And they should be disappointed. If you want a little more upscale impression, you can get a GMC version. Although why you would purposely try to spend more on this thing is beyond me. Even thinking hard I couldn’t come up with a worse crossover. It’s terrible. Why did they even bother? Wasn’t there a “car guy” – Bob Lutz – running product development as this thing was being designed? Where is his input? No true car guy would sign their name to this. There is absolutely nothing compelling at all in this package, and absolutely no reason anyone should waste their time on it. It really is that bad.

I really hope they’re not pinning their hopes and turnaround on vehicles like this. If so, you can kiss GM goodbye forever. Then again, if this is the overpriced junk they are going to turn out, no one will miss them.

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