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Chevy's famous for its big, tough SUVs, like the Tahoe, Suburban, and the old TrailBlazer. But today's families want something a little more road-friendly, a little less trail-blazing. That's what brought about the Traverse, a seven- or eight-seat crossover that's one of the best vehicles in today's Chevy lineup, thanks to excellent safety scores and good features. It's not a minivan, but it's nearly as functional as one, even without the sliding doors.
The Traverse's styling is inoffensive. It suits the mission, we suppose, but there's not much excitement in the mildly contoured shape, nothing of the flair that you'd find in the chunky, trucklike GMC Acadia and flowing, curvilinear Buick Enclave that share the Traverse's platform. The Chevy's simple, elegant, even spare, and that has its own charm. The design influence from other Chevy products is clear, especially up front where a Malibu-like split grille sits tall. The lack of detail makes the rear end of the 2012 Chevrolet Traverse as forgettable as any minivan, though, and the same holds true for the interior--it's functional, but not exciting, by any means, and the sheets of hard, dull plastic that wrap the dash and doors could use an upgrade.
Performance is quick and competent. There's only one drivetrain offered, a direct-injection 3.6-liter V-6 engine coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission. The 288-horsepower six (281 hp in models with a single exhaust) generates leisurely acceleration and a bit of V-6 grumble at the top of its powerband, but it doesn't really feel anemic unless you've taken on a full load of passengers and chosen the optional all-wheel drive. Chevy's six-speed automatic dithers sometimes when downshifts are requested; it's a bit less on the mark than the Ford transmission that was co-developed alongside it. The Traverse's handling isn't nimble--it's just the predictable norm for its size, with mild steering feedback and moderate body roll when it's pressed to act more like a sport wagon.
The Traverse's strengths lie in its roomy, comfortable interior. It's almost a minivan in terms of raw space, but the lack of sliding doors does put it at a slight disadvantage in a couple of ways. Front passengers have it best, with plenty of head and leg room, but the second-row seat's nearly as spacious for adults, and seating three across isn't out of the question. You'll want the sliding side doors of a minivan when loading anyone older than 10 in the third-row seat, as it's not easy to clamber in there even when the second row's folded and moved forward, but the third-row seat itself can hold three children while still leaving 24.4 cubic feet of cargo space behind it. Flip down the second and third rows and the Traverse opens up 117.5 cubic feet of space and a just-about-flat cargo floor.
One of the safest vehicles on the road today, the 2012 Traverse earns nearly perfect crash-test scores. Overall, the NHTSA gives it five stars, with a four-star rating for front impacts and five for side impacts. The IIHS names it a Top Safety Pick, too. Along with standard airbags, anti-lock brakes and traction control, Bluetooth and parking sensors, the Traverse can be fitted with a rearview camera, to help with its middling visibility to the rear quarters.
All 2012 Traverse crossovers come with a tilt/telescopic wheel; power windows, locks and mirrors; cruise control; Bluetooth; and an AM/FM/XM/CD sound system. Major options include the rearview camera; a power liftgate; heated and cooled front seats; and a DVD entertainment system. The top-spec LTZ can be equipped with 20-inch aluminum wheels; a rear spoiler; dual exhausts; and a panoramic sunroof.