2009 Chevrolet TraverseEnlarge Photo
The best vehicles exude character befitting the vehicle's brand. Character doesn't magically appear by some accidental assemblage of parts. A vehicle's character comes from engineers and designers who know, systemically, what the vehicle should look and feel like. This is why luxury drips from the grille of a Rolls-Royce and why one look at a Lotus explains the car's purpose in life.
Similarly, 2009 Chevrolet Traverse, Chevy's version of GM's full-size crossover (see our full review here) has spot-on character. This notion struck us after returning from a trip to drive the 2010 Volvo XC60, an all-new mid-size crossover from the Swedes.
The Volvo was certainly "a Volvo" because of its focus on safety. (Every Volvo has to be about safety first.) Furthermore, the XC60 trumpeted its Scandinavian heritage with design cues such as natural wood tones and sweeping interior shapes. These are elements of the Volvo's character.
The 2009 Chevy Traverse was waiting for us in Detroit upon our return. Compared to the XC60, the Traverse looked plain but handsome. The modest interior featured high-quality cloth seating and clean instrument cluster adorned with well-placed bits of chrome. Build quality was excellent, something we could tell because our test drive took place during a particularly cold week in Detroit with temperatures well below freezing (this often causes rattles and squeaks in vehicles that aren't particularly well assembled). Compared to the XC60, the seven-passenger Traverse (with three rows of seats) was huge inside, a reality born out by the Chevy having about 49 more cubic feet of maximum cargo volume than the Volvo.
The direct-injected 3.6-liter V-6 engine (new to the big GM crossovers in 2009) feels as smooth in the Chevy as it does in the Cadillacs from whence it came. A six-speed gearbox performs as it should, automatically keeping the crossover in the right gear at the right time (that's why they're called "automatics"). The Chevy doesn't come with trendy titanium paddle shifters like some other crossovers, but what's there works fine and returns mileage that should make the XC60 blush in embarrassment; 17 city mpg, 24 highway mpg. This figure is for the front-wheel drive version, but even the all-wheel drive Traverse beats the smaller XC60's, with 16 mpg city, 23 mpg highway. The five-passenger XC60 gets 16 city/22 highway.
2010 Volvo XC60Enlarge Photo
The 2009 Chevy Traverse equipped in its base 1LT form is perhaps the perfect embodiment of Chevrolet; handsome, comfortable, efficient, and affordable. The Traverse stickered for about $31,000. (Compared to the XC60 sticker that's closer to $38,000.) This is the combination of character traits that made Chevy one of America's great brands. Obviously, the designers and engineers who worked on the Traverse knew what they were doing.
Before the comments fly about comparing the Traverse to the XC60; we know that these vehicles are not competitors and that buyers won't cross shop these two crossovers. The above is simply an object lesson in how two companies express the character of their vehicles.