If you’ve wondered why automakers are canceling redesigns of cars and adding more SUVs to their lineups, let me enlighten you: $53,085. That’s the sticker price of the 2018 Chevrolet Traverse High Country I recently tested.
It’s also $16,665 more than the most expensive version of Chevy’s Impala, the slow-selling sedan that used to be the brand’s top offering for family buyers.
Do the math. This is the textbook definition of a sweet spot. The new Traverse rides the crest of a wave that’s changing the auto industry as people flee conventional sedans for taller SUVs that are the functional equivalent of a station wagon, with the added benefit of better sight lines and all-wheel drive.
It’s also a golden goose for General Motors, with the potential to deliver the kind of profit Chevy hasn’t earned in decades from the family vehicles that are the brand’s lifeblood.
For consumers, the Traverse offers room, features, comfort and — surprisingly, given its hefty price tag — value.
The 3.6-liter engine gives the Traverse more power than all competitors except the 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 Ford Explorer Sport and Platinum and Dodge Durango R/T’s much larger 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. The auto-stop feature, which shuts the engine off when idling to save fuel, is one of the smoothest in the industry. I wouldn’t have noticed the engine shut off at all, if not for a slight decline in ventilation when the air conditioning was not set to max.
A 255-horsepower turbocharged 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine will be available in the upcoming RS model. Chevy hasn’t announced its price yet.
A 9-speed automatic transmission is standard with both engines.
I tested a loaded High Country. In addition to its standard all-wheel-drive, it had 4G LTE Wi-Fi, navigation, LED headlights, taillights and daytime running lights, Bose audio and a full suite of safety and driver assist features including pedestrian protection with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, blind spot alert and lane keeping alert and assist.
The $53,085 price is competitive with similarly equipped competitors. The Durango R/T with all-wheel drive, for instance, is priced at $46,295 and the Explorer Platinum is $53,235.
Thanks to a new architecture and smart design, the new Traverse is both lighter and roomier than the previous model. Traverse’s wheelbase grew about 2 inches but overall length increased less than 0.67 inches to keep the SUV garage-friendly. The extra space went into legroom for the second and third rows and storage behind the third row.
The 2018 Traverse’s styling is intentionally more like the Chevy’s Tahoe SUV than the original Traverse, which had a rounded, minivan-style profile.
My High Country’s interior was trimmed in leather and soft materials. The front seat offered plenty of room. Seven USB ports constitute a significant contribution to domestic tranquility when traveling with kids. The controls provide a useful combination of touch screen, voice recognition, dials and buttons.
The body’s upright sides and squared-off tailgate improve shoulder and cargo room. Each row of seats is higher than the one in front of it, improving visibility for kids in back.
The passenger and cargo compartments are the biggest in its class. Even the third row of seats is acceptable for adults and very accommodating for preteens.
Oddly, only the passenger-side second-row seat has Chevy’s “smart slide” feature, which allows it to tip and slide for easy access to the rear seat.
Chevy says that’s because it’s safer for kids to enter on the sidewalk side of the vehicle, but I’m not buying that explanation. It ignores the reality that minivans and other family-oriented SUVs all offer the same mechanism for entering on either side and that kids enter and exit vehicles from both sides in parking lots and driveways all day every day without issue.
I smell a rationalization. My money says Chevy decided to reduce cost or weight by offering its best entry-exit mechanism on just one seat.
That may have been a good business decision, but it reduces the 2018 Traverse’s utility.
The lavishly equipped Traverse High Country leaves virtually no feature unordered, making its spacious and comfortable interior one of the best spots for a family trip. Less expensive models are equally competitive with their counterparts and maintain the Traverse’s advantages in power and space.
The decision to limit the smart slide seat to the passenger side is perplexing but a small fault in an excellent family vehicle that looks just a bit tougher and more capable than most of its competitors.
WHAT STANDS OUT
Stop-start: One of the smoothest out there.
"Smart slide" seat: One side isn't enough.
Price: In the high country.
2018 CHEVROLET TRAVERSE HIGH COUNTRY
What? A seven-passenger all-wheel-drive SUV.
When? Coming later this year.
Where? Made in Lansing, Mich.
What makes it go? A 3.6-liter V-6 that produces 310 horsepower.
How thirsty? 17 miles per gallon in the city, 25 mpg on the highway and 20 mpg combined.
How big? 17 feet long.
How much? Base priced at $52,995 when shipping is included.
Overall? An excellent family SUV.