Big is the operative word when it comes to the 2021 Chevrolet Traverse. Most three-row crossovers are large, but the Traverse apes all except the upcoming Jeep Grand Cherokee L in length. That’s great for somebody who wants the most utility for their dollar, but the Traverse leaves much to be desired in other areas beyond size.
There’s very little imagination to the design and styling in most trims (the RS pictured above is the best looking of the bunch). It’s a box with rounded edges — no other vehicle in GM’s lineup gets closer to capturing the minivan aesthetic than the Traverse. Competitors like the Kia Telluride, Ford Explorer and others are much more attractive and enticing vehicles. The design story doesn’t improve much inside. In order to remain cheap and big, you feel the consequences in subpar material quality.
If basic and super-huge family transportation is all you’re after, the Traverse can fit that bill. Being bigger than the rest means there is reason to buy it over others, but the Traverse is missing that standout factor that sets it apart like so many others in this class have. The number of Explorer variants from the Hybrid to the ST make it compelling. Both Hyundai and Kia have huge design wins on their side with the well-rounded Palisade and Telluride. And now that the stylish and premium new Grand Cherokee L is coming to take its place as King Big, the Traverse just keeps sinking deeper on our list of favorites. The scarcity of advanced driver assistance systems in a vehicle directed at families is another big miss, especially as it puts a serious dent in what is otherwise one of the Traverse's strongest attributes: value.
What’s new for 2021?
Very little changes for 2021. Chevy replaced the Driver Confidence II package with the Chevy Safety Assist package. It’s now standard on RS, Premier and High Country trims.
The real update will come for 2022. We already know this upcoming model year will be treated to an updated look, more tech and the same powertrain options as before. For the foreseeable future, we’ll have to deal with the 2021 model.
What’s Traverse interior and in-car technology like?
The interior is dull and uninspiring to look at, but it’s designed with utility in mind. Its switchgear and controls are all textbook GM. Nothing is premium in appearance or especially luxurious in the lower trims. The RS model adds some visual excitement with red accents, and the upper trims bring more leather with a sprinkling of niceness. All this said, the general layout of buttons with their very basic design makes operation of vital functions like the climate controls or radio easy to use.
You won’t be impressing anybody with a tech-forward interior, but Chevy at least does the basics well. All rows get at least two USB ports (even the base model) and a wireless charger comes on upper trims. Lower trims feature an easy-to-use 7-inch touchscreen that runs Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A tiny 3.5-inch screen (higher trims have a 4.2-inch screen) can be found in the analog gauge cluster. If you pay for a higher trim, Chevy will upgrade you to a snappy 8-inch central screen w/navigation. The hideaway space behind the screen is the Traverse’s best party trick. One button press prompts the screen to motor up, revealing a large storage space behind it that you can empty your pockets into. Distinctive tech like the rear mirror camera is optional — it's not GM's latest version and is less resistant to weather clouding its view, but it remains a useful function when your rearview would otherwise be blocked by cargo or the heads of passengers.
How big is the Traverse?
This section’s already been spoiled, but needless to say, the Traverse is very big. It measures in at 204.3 inches in length. That’s half a foot longer than most three-row competitors and only a half foot shorter than a Tahoe. All this extra space is best realized in the cargo numbers and third-row legroom. The Traverse has 23 cubic-feet of space when all three rows are raised — that’s easily the best of all three-row crossovers. It keeps its crown by a wide margin with the third row lowered and continues to demolish the competition in maximum space, too. If you need more, then nothing in this segment will do. You'll likely need to step all the way up to the Suburban since the Tahoe isn't that much bigger inside.
The third row is livable with 33.5 inches of rear legroom — better than others, but the margins are much closer here. Second-row occupants will find it expansive, but slightly less roomy than the Palisade or Telluride (both of those beat the Traverse by 4 inches for this spec). You get the choice between eight- or seven-person configurations with the latter netting you second-row captain’s chairs. Both setups benefit from Chevy's trick SmartSlide curbside second-row seat. A simple lever moves the seat up and forward out of the way, allowing for much wider access to the third-row than you'll find in most competitors. You can even move it with a child seat still in place. A total of 10 cupholders throughout the cabin means that there’s a spot for everyone’s drink plus empties.
What’s the performance and fuel economy?
The Traverse is only available with a 3.6-liter V6 that makes 310 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. The previously standard 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder has been discontinued. The V6 is exclusively paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, and all-wheel drive is an option.
Fuel economy is average for the segment. Front-drive models return 18 mpg city, 27 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined. Opting for all-wheel drive lowers those figures to 17/25/20 mpg.
What’s the Traverse like to drive?
Driving a Traverse around is like driving a competent appliance to and fro. The V6 is spunky enough to get out and move with traffic. It’s no torque monster in the lower rpms, though, as quick acceleration requires you to keep your boot in it. Going up and down hills causes the nine-speed automatic to shuffle around a bunch as it tries to maintain speed. Thankfully, the transmission is competent and smooth at its job. More sound deadening (specifically to quell engine noise) and road isolation would be our two biggest requests for improvement.
The Traverse is predictably comfortable with no pretenses for handling prowess. Its bigness is obvious on the road, as it begins to feel ungainly the second you ask for much more than simple commuting work. Torque steer on front-drive models is clear and present, but opting for all-wheel drive solves that issue. A Mazda CX-9 or Ford Explorer ST are two choices that are more entertaining for somebody wanting better handling from their family-toting vehicle.
Parking this beast and navigating narrow streets is easier than in a Tahoe, but it’s still no cakewalk. A more advanced lane-centering system would make it better for long highway hauls, as it’s limited to an optional and rudimentary lane-keeping system — adaptive cruise control only comes equipped on the expensive, top-trim High Country, too. It comes standard on many competitors, or is at least optional on lower trims.
What more can I read about the Chevrolet Traverse?
Our first drive of the Chevy Traverse’s first full redesign — the second (and current) generation.
Here’s what the Traverse will look like in a year’s time. Plus, we go over the tech updates.
What features are available and what’s the Traverse’s price?
The 2021 Traverse starts at $30,995, including the $1,195 destination charge. It’s an L, and it’s only available with front-wheel drive. Equipment is generally sparse, but it includes 18-inch aluminum wheels, HID headlights, heated mirrors, cloth seats (8-passenger configuration), tri-zone automatic climate control and a 7-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. You're also stuck with the choice of either black or white paint.
If you want all-wheel drive, the entry point is the LS trim at a base price of $36,095 (or $2,000 less with front-wheel drive). The LS unlocks the ability to spec a number of appearance options, but is nearly equivalent in every way to the L except for the tinting of all rear windows and a full color selection.
The RS trim is mostly about the sporty appearance package, but it also brings a number of more premium tech and convenience features to the table. If you want it all, the leather-slathered, tech-loaded High Country is available for its $52,095 starting price. Base prices for all models are listed below, and you can find more information on pricing and features here on Autoblog.
LT Cloth: $36,595
LT Leather: $40,295
High Country: $52,095
LT Cloth: $40,395
LT Leather: $42,295
High Country: $54,295
What are the Traverse’s safety equipment and crash ratings?
Very few driver assistance features come standard on the base Traverse. You get a rear seat reminder and teen driver configurable key fob, but that’s it. Step up to the LT Leather trim, and you unlock more. This model nets you blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning and a higher quality backup camera. Hopping up to an RS adds forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, automatic high beams and the rear camera mirror. The last step up is in the High Country trim that adds adaptive cruise control and enhanced automatic emergency braking that works at higher speeds.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety doesn’t award the Traverse with Top Safety Pick status, but it does receive Good scores across all crash test categories. The standard HID headlights were rated Poor, and the upgrade LED projectors received an Acceptable rating. Chevy’s front crash prevention technology got high marks, so it was just the poor headlights that held the Traverse back from being a Top Safety Pick. Similar results for crashworthiness were found in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration testing, where the Traverse scored a five-star rating.
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