Review: 2020 Chevrolet Traverse RS
No dynamic or fuel efficiency superstar, but value on point.
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Lots of space for the dollar in a rare three-row SUV with room for up to eight; Teen Driver mode and Rear Seat Reminder systems worthy standard safety features for parents; RS trim offers some styling kick; decent real-world fuel economy for something this large.
- What’s Bad: Starting to show its age, outside and in; wireless charging and active cruise control reserved for priciest models; easy-tilt second row seat feature available on passenger side only; no hybrid or plug-in hybrid option.
Those looking for a roomy, three-row family-friendly vehicle have trampled away from the minivan and large sedan aisles to the crossover/SUV corner of the automotive market, a trend that has left these former sales powerhouse segments gasping for their collective air. This 2020 Chevrolet Traverse RS proved itself to be a fine family hauler for city and suburban commuting, but it was on long drives and a pre-COVID19 road trip – especially when loaded with gear, groceries, and offspring – that the room and comfort of the Traverse truly came to the fore.
The Traverse first emerged onto the market in 2009 as somewhat of a replacement for GM’s three-row minivans, as well as the former Chevrolet TrailBlazer SUV, so practicality was a top priority right from its day of automotive conception. The revised yet not radically different second generation Traverse’s arrival in 2017 saw it grow to near full-size proportions, though that technically makes the even larger Tahoe and the super-sized Suburban SUV Chevrolet’s extra large and double-XL models.
The Traverse plays a delicate dance in the market, with a base Traverse LS starting around the $40k mark, which is at the low end of crossovers that come standard with a V6 and three rows of seats. At the top end, the Traverse’s High Country trim starts right around the $60k mark, encroaching or occasionally surpassing lower trims of its corporate cousins at GM’s other brands in the increasingly upscale GMC Acadia, Buick Enclave and Cadillac XT6, while also nibbling into snack brackets dominated by popular luxury SUVs like the Lexus RX and the three-row Acura MDX.
Our mid-level Traverse RS tester fell right in the middle of this price spectrum, its as-tested price landing at $51,473 before freight, dealer fees, and taxes. It doesn’t feel or look nearly as modern as recently introduced rivals such as the Kia Telluride or Hyundai Palisade, nor does it offer less thirsty and more enviro-conscious hybrid models like the Toyota Highlander and the Ford Explorer, sadly. Though to be fair, the latter two dominate the sales charts in this segment largely via its gas-only models.
Traditional looks, roomy and device-friendly inside
Though the RS model’s blacked out wheels, roof rack, and badges provide a touch of style to the Traverse, as do its subtly whispering twin rear exhausts, there’s a fairly traditional SUV shape here overall. It’s a similar story inside, where there’s a large 8-inch touchscreen, yet the high number of traditional gauges in front of the driver (tach, speedo, fuel level and engine temperature) give it a more dated overall appearance. Plus it means the smaller driver information screen available for selectable functions such as station presets doesn’t have any surprise-and-delight functions, such as a camera view of your blindspots when signalling on the highway as in the Palisade and Telluride.
No, this interior is all about traditional stretch-out comfort with plenty of leg and headroom, a useful step-in height, and generous elbow and hip room front and back, especially with the adjustable second row captain’s chairs complete with comfy fold down armrests. There’s a handy seat lever that can tip the second-row passenger seat forward, which allows for easy access to the relatively roomy third row, though there were a few times I wished for this tipping ability on the more frequently accessed driver’s side door. Yes, it’s safer to unload the kids on the passenger side away from traffic in town, but in your driveway or in school/mall parking lots, offering it on both sides would be welcome.
One of our tester’s few options was a large dual panel sunroof, but the RS trim comes with plenty of niceties inside, including leather, heated front seats and steering wheel, a full three-prong 120-volt outlet and two USB ports in the second row, plus another set of outboard USB ports for third-row passengers. With another two USB ports up front, handy for leaving one cable in the Traverse to access Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, it’s no surprise then that the device-friendly Traverse also offers onboard LTE WiFi via its OnStar service, though it’s going to involve subscription fees after its trial period is done, as will the SiriusXM satellite radio.
Like most GM new vehicles now, there’s also a video rear view mirror that either operates as a regular mirror, or takes advantage of a separate rear camera to provide a wider range of vision out the back. This is especially handy when there are people or headrests in your rear view, and provides a good incentive to keep your car clean (or at least the cameras) if you like this view, which some don’t, but I found super useful.
It lost some tech points via no wireless charging for the RS, but that feature is standard on the Premier and High Country trims. Some practicality points are gained back with the cargo area’s generous size, whether the third row was up or down.
Safety good, with some unique standard features
From a safety perspective, the Traverse has good but not particularly noteworthy crash ratings, scoring a healthy 5-star score from NHTSA while lacking a couple of recommended technologies. And from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), it garners Good ratings all around, but no Top Pick award for the 2020 model, or for the Buick Enclave, which it rates together because they share a body architecture. Interestingly, the IIHS site says that the Traverse hasn’t been fully tested for its Top Pick awards because GM says there are changes coming to its structure, and indeed, GM has announced recently that a heavily revamped 2021 Traverse will hit the market later this year.
From an active safety point of view, the kind that works to prevent crashes versus survive them, there is an impressive set of standard equipment, even down to the base Traverse, including both Teen Driver mode and a rear seat reminder system. The former doesn’t allow the driver to shift out of Park for 20 seconds without first buckling their seatbelt. It also mutes the radio until both front passengers are buckled in safely and then limits the vehicle’s maximum stereo volume.
The Rear Seat Reminder system was introduced by GM, but like backup cameras, will spread to the standard equipment list of all vehicles in the next five years by law. It is meant to reduce or prevent the yearly injuries and deaths caused by inadvertently leaving infants in the back seat. The system uses the opening of a rear door before setting out to chime if that same door hasn’t been opened when the ignition is turned off.
The Traverse RS adds various 360-degree camera views, with special tow hitch and overhead views, an auto emergency brake system, forward collision alert, blind spot monitor, and lane keep assist. Plus there’s the statistically most useful active safety system, according to GM safety director Maureen Dowd: rear cross traffic alert. That’s the one that beeps at you when a vehicle’s driving down your street as you’re backing out of your driveway.
On the active safety down side, it’s unusual these days to be in a $50,000+ vehicle and not have active cruise control, which is available only on the top-end High Country model. Those who never use cruise won’t care, but these systems do tend to make for a more stress-free drive, and will be available more widely on the 2021 Traverse.
No dynamic or fuel efficiency superstar, but value on point
Driving performance tends not to be the top priority for shoppers in this segment, and the Traverse is certainly no automotive athlete; but then, it’s tough to name a 2-plus tonne three-row SUV that is, outside of your six-figure Tesla Model Xs or rare German AMG or M products. The standard 3.6-litre V6 and its 310 hp provide healthy if not mind-blowing acceleration (reportedly low to mid-seven seconds for the 0-100 km/h run), its 266 lb-ft of torque more useful for its ability to tow up to 5,000 lb (2,268 kg) than peeling your eyeballs out at stoplights.
Quiet comfort is clearly the dynamic goal here, the engine a subtle companion track if you push it hard, but most often nicely muted in the background. This is partly thanks to its Stop/Start system, which also helps contribute to its fairly impressive overall fuel economy average of 11.1 L/100 km by the end of our time with it. That’s actually better than its official combined city and highway rating of 11.8 L/100 km, which is slightly behind most of its V6 rivals, and tied overall with the non-hybrid Explorer AWD.
Putting all of these factors together, the 2020 Chevrolet Traverse RS may be a bit dated, but it makes a compelling value case for itself. Its size, practicality and spaciousness provide a healthy size per dollar ratio that has traditionally been the calling card of large, mainstream (and minivan) family haulers. Usually the last year of an outgoing model before extensive changes means available bargains and we’re already starting to see that, along with many COVID-19 extended and waived payment incentives.
Looking at the 2021 Traverse’s more modern styling tweaks front and rear (standard LED lights, twin rear exhausts more integrated into the rear bumper), the newly wireless CarPlay/Android Auto, plus adaptive cruise and more safety features on more trims, however, this may be one time where it’s worth it to be patient. It’s still somewhat disappointing that the powertrain doesn’t step up as well to at least a hybrid or ideally a plug-in hybrid offering. But GM has promised a slate of fully electric but lower volume SUVs by 2025, which is where its truly forward-thinking powertrains and technology will reside.
2020 Chevrolet Traverse RS AWD
BODY STYLE: Mid-size, 5-door, 7-passenger crossover
CONFIGURATION: Front-engine, Selectable all-wheel drive
ENGINE: 3.6-L V6 (Power: 310 hp @6800 rpm; Torque: 266 lb-ft @ 2800 rpm)
TRANSMISSION: 9-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY: (Regular Gasoline in L/100 km) 13.6 city; 9.6 highway; 11.8 combined
OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY: 10.8 L/100 km (mixed driving)
CARGO CAPACITY: 651-2,781 litres
PRICE: $49,098 (base); $53,373 (as-tested, includes $1,900 destination charge)
WEBSITE: Chevrolet Canada