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Chevrolet's big eight-passenger crossover, the Traverse, enters its sixth year for 2014, having received some exterior styling tweaks, interior enhancements and new technology just last year, all designed to make a great vehicle even better.
Prices for 2014 begin at $34,895 for the base LS model with front-wheel drive and run as high as $51,145 for the LTZ with all-wheel drive.
Arguably one of the best of its class, the Traverse is an eight-passenger large crossover with lots of room for the family and their stuff.
Changes last year brought a more-athletic exterior design, which included a new power-dome hood, horizontal grille, headlights, chrome accents and sculpted front corners. The changes were intended to make the Traverse look more like other Chevrolet car models.
There were also new taillights and a new tailgate, and the cabin got some aesthetic upgrades, including contrast stitching, chrome and silver trim and soft-touch surfaces on the doors and instrument panel.
In the middle of the dash is a standard touch-control radio with a 6.5-inch colour screen, with the addition of the optional MyLink infotainment system, which is available with or without navigation.
A cool new feature that's been appearing on a number of vehicles recently is the optional blue ambient lighting that fills the lower part of the interior.
MyLink is similar to systems such as Ford's Sync and Toyota's Entune that allow for integration of the on-board audio system with smartphones for hands-free calling, Bluetooth audio streaming and connection to popular Internet sites such as Pandora and Stitcher. It's nowhere near as confusing as the Ford system, though, and includes real volume-control and tuning knobs for the radio, which allow for basic operation of the system without having to look at the touch screen.
There are larger controls for the heating/air conditioning system, and front seats now have headrests that can be adjusted forward and backward along with up and down. This allowed me to find a comfortable position that kept the headrest from annoying me, as it does in so many cars.
Also, the front passenger seat has eight-way power adjustment, and there is wood trim standard on the mid-level LT and top-end LTZ models. Three interior colours are offered, with cloth on lower grades and leather on the LTZ model we tested.
Built on a car-style unibody structure, unlike traditional SUVs that are on a truck chassis, the Traverse is one of a trio of large crossovers from General Motors that share the same architecture. The others are the Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia, which also got makeovers for 2013.
Power comes from a 3.6-litre V-6 engine with 288 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque, when equipped with dual exhaust outlets. With a single exhaust outlet, used on less-expensive models, the engine has 281 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque.
Official fuel-consumption ratings are 12.7 litres per 100 kilometres city and 8.4 L/100 km highway for the front-wheel-drive model, and 13 L/100 km city/8.6 highway for the all-wheel drive.
A six-speed automatic transmission is standard, and all models are available with either seven- or eight-passenger seating, and front- or all-wheel drive.
To make the Traverse one of the roomiest of the crossover vehicles, the wheels were moved as close to the four corners as possible.
Cargo capacity is 116.3 cubic feet with the middle and rear seats folded. There is 24.4 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third seat, about 10 cubic feet more than the trunk of the average mid-size sedan. With the third seat folded, there is 70.3 cubic feet of space behind the second row.
Body fit and finish, including gaps between body panels, were designed to be comparable with those of premium sedans from Lexus and BMW. Wind tunnel testing helped give the vehicle a sleek exterior, with a 0.33 coefficient of drag, an important design aspect in achieving the best possible fuel economy.
Because the Traverse is intended to be a family vehicle, strong emphasis was placed on safety, with features to protect occupants before, during and after a crash. Among these are electronic stability control and traction control, antilock brakes and rollover mitigation to help prevent one of the most dangerous of common SUV accidents.
There are seat-mounted side air bags for the front-seat passengers and roof-mounted side-curtain air bags for all three rows, along with the standard front air bags.
To assist after a crash, the Traverse comes with GM's OnStar satellite-based communications system.
Built with a high-strength safety cage to help protect the occupants from the forces of a collision, the Traverse has earned the coveted Top Safety Pick designation from the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and the top scores in crash tests by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Our tester had more-than-adequate power for everyday driving, allowing the Traverse to accelerate quickly to freeway speeds on even uphill ramps. On some rather steep hills, the engine still allowed for decent acceleration, and the vehicle never seemed to bog down even with a full load of passengers and gear.
Inside, there truly is room for everyone. The Traverse is designed to accommodate up to eight adults comfortably, although our LTZ model came with two captain's chairs in the middle row, giving it a maximum capacity of seven. Two teenagers sitting in those middle seats on a long trip were quite comfortable.
But even the third seat is pleasant for average-size adults and larger children, whereas most vehicles with a third row make it barely adequate even for kids.
To accommodate longer legs in the rear seat, the middle seats have GM's Smart Slide feature, which allows them to move forward or backward up to four inches. We did find it hard to do this while sitting in either seat, however; the seats need to be adjusted before you sit down.
Among other features of the Traverse -- some of them optional -- are a panoramic sunroof, rear-view camera, in-dash navigation system, rear-seat DVD entertainment system, leather upholstery, power tailgate, remote vehicle start, turn signals in the outside mirrors, and XM satellite radio.
Most of that was included in the base price of our LTZ version, although we didn't have the sunroof. We did have the touch-screen navigation system, which also featured XM NavTraffic and a rear-view camera; and the rear DVD entertainment system, which also added a Bose audio system and rear 110-volt power outlet for game consoles.
We also had the trailer-towing package, which allows the Traverse to pull trailers weighing up to 2,358 kilograms.
The optional all-wheel drive gives the Traverse great all-weather capabilities, along with limited off-road ability -- allowing it to handle many of the dirt roads that might be found in national and state parks. But it has lower ground clearance than most traditional SUVs (just over 17.8 cm or seven inches), and the all-wheel drive doesn't include low-range gearing for serious trail driving.
The all-wheel drive is intended to give the vehicle better traction on slippery roads, but it's also valuable on dry pavement at times, particularly during cornering. The system is fully automatic and no driver action is required to activate it.
Standard amenities on our LTZ model included heated and cooled leather seats; power/heated outside mirrors; three-zone automatic climate control; an intermittent rear wiper; ultrasonic rear parking assist; a power rear liftgate; an extended-range remote vehicle-starting system; heated windshield washer fluid; XM satellite radio; 20-inch aluminum wheels; an eight-way power driver and passenger seat; tilt and telescopic, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls; cruise control; a self-dimming rear-view mirror; and rear-seat audio controls.