When General Motors went bankrupt in 2008, one of the explanations given to explain its skidding off the rails was the American giant's stubbornness to multiply the number of models it produced on a single platform. All too often, the same vehicle was being put on the market wearing a different set of clothes. The series of minivans produced by the automaker (the Chevrolet Uplander, Pontiac Montana SV6, Saturn Relay and Buick Terraza) is but one eloquent example of this unfortunate habit.
Starting with the sinking of Pontiac, Saturn and Hummer in 2008, this overuse of the same platform has gradually given way as the company restructured. But there are still indelible traces of this past mentality in today’s lineup of models under the GM banner.
Take the company’s three-row crossovers. GM offers the Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave, with the Cadillac XT6 joining the fray in recent months. They're all family utility models, and while there are a few elements specific to each model, in the end, we’re still uncomfortably close to the “old GM” formula. On the other hand, given the head start proffered on any model dubbed an SUV these days, you can’t really fault the top brass at General Motors for going back to the same well over and over.
The most budget-friendly of GM’s quartet of crossovers, the Chevrolet Traverse is one of the most welcoming for occupants in its segment, and it's also decidedly better built than its predecessor. I spent a week with the spruced-up RS version of it at the tail end of winter.
A welcoming interior
Featuring a "stretched" exterior proportions, the Chevrolet Traverse provides an equally expanded environment inside. There's no shortage of space in this big SUV. Up front, occupants have nothing to complain about, nor do passengers in the second row of seats; the two buckets can be moved forward or backward to improve legroom if needed. Third row access, however, is not the Chevrolet Traverse's greatest strength.
The RS trim is a bit plusher than the LS and LT versions of the Traverse, and that’s clear as soon as you get inside, with the leather upholstery adding an element of luxury you don’t always associate with a Chevy.
As for the dashboard, it does not yet inherit elements from the new dashboard designs of the brand's big pachyderms, the Tahoe and Yukon, which now have a screen inserted right in the middle, as is increasingly the case throughout the industry. The Traverse's touchscreen can however be lifted by pressing a button located underneath it, which also reveals a hidden storage space.
Once again, I found that GM's infotainment system is still one of the best in the industry, in good part because of its image quality and ease of use. I should also mention that the responsiveness of the touchscreen is excellent. Hats off to the designers of the system.
In terms of comfort, the seats in the first two rows are soft enough to ensure a smooth ride. Passengers in the third row will have to make do with less well-padded seats. In any case, that row is mostly reserved for children.
Under the hood, the outdated 3.6L naturally-aspirated V6 is back this year in the Traverse RS, and in my opinion, it's the best mechanical option available. The 6-cylinder is no beast but it does a fine job of moving this big vehicle around. Bolted to that unit is a 9-speed automatic transmission tasked with sending power to the wheels. Note that the Traverse gives drivers the option of a two-wheel-drive configuration to save on fuel consumption or outright four-wheel drive, which of course comes in handy in Canadian winter conditions.
Fun to drive the Traverse?
The answer to that question is simple: not really. The Chevrolet Traverse RS, despite the glamour of its red badge, isn't a hot rod or a thoroughbred. The Traverse's mission is purely family-oriented, and fulfilling that mandate is when the big SUV is at its best. Those moms and dads who want to have a little fun behind the wheel of their family vehicle should look elsewhere. The suspension was designed for a comfortable ride, the steering is nothing like that of a Camaro, to say the least, and accelerations aren't overwhelming.
Despite its chintziness on the driving-pleasure front, the Chevrolet Traverse RS is not unpleasant to use on a day-to-day basis... thankfully! The familiar naturally-aspirated 3.6L V6 engine does its job very well, the 9-speed automatic transmission remains seamless and you can even choose the desired drivetrain. I had a soft spot for the 2WD mode, which is less wonky than the 4WD in my opinion. However, it's still reassuring to be able to count on all-wheel drive; my week-long test drive in snowy and icy conditions brought that home pretty clearly.
The last word
I have to address the issue of price, simply because the RS version of the 2020 Chevrolet Traverse RS retails for $49,098 - before options, preparation fees and taxes, of course! And that's not the most well-equipped trim in the lineup.
At this price, there's no shortage of choices in this segment. The offer is extensive and there are many models to consider, this on top of the fact that the Traverse is already "old" in a constantly renewed category. Driving pleasure isn't its main strength, though that might not be a big handicap in this segment, and the powertrain is probably not the most technically advanced.
On the other hand, Chevrolet's second-largest SUV relies on a trusty powertrain that's in wide use in GM models, and the quality of construction and finishing of this second-generation Traverse is definitely superior to the first model, sold until 2017.
Comfortable, roomy and capable of towing up to 5,000 lb, the Chevrolet Traverse is at least worthy of consideration for those with extended families looking for a roomy three-row SUV. But, at the risk of repeating myself, there are plenty of choices in the segment.
The "attitude" of the RS badging and accents
Space on board
Overall quality on the rise
We like less
The colourless performance of the powertrain
The absence of intelligent cruise control at this price
Difficult access to the third row