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Kretz just dealt her boss a fourth straight ace. The 2009 Chevrolet Traverse completes a lay-down hand and gives Chevrolet its best family hauler in decades.
It's the fourth and final model to debut from GM's Lambda family of midsize crossovers. The Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook went on sale last year.
Buoyed by an exceptionally clean and attractive design, appealing features, good fuel economy and a competitive price, the Traverse will probably outsell the other three put together.
The Traverse comes in seven- and eight-seat models and with either front- or all-wheel drive. All Traverses get GM's six-speed automatic transmission and a new direct-injected version of the automaker's 3.6-liter V6 engine. The 288-horsepower V6 improves power and fuel economy versus versions of the engine that powered the 2008 Acadia, Enclave and Outlook. Those vehicles also get the direct-injection engine, with its power and fuel economy upgrades, for 2009.
Prices for the 2009 Traverse start at $28,555 for a base LS front-drive model. The least-expensive all-wheel drive model is a $30,255 LS. The top-of-the line all-wheel drive LTZ costs $41,075 and includes leather upholstery, a navigation system and memory seats. All prices exclude destination charges.
I tested a nicely equipped front-drive Traverse LT2 that stickered at $33,515 and had no options. The LT2's standard equipment included a power tailgate, Bluetooth hands-free phone capability, ultrasonic parking assist and a handy little rear-video display projected onto the rearview mirror.
It lacked a memory function for the driver's seat and mirrors, however. Well-heeled families will probably add options like a rear entertainment system or leather upholstery.
The Traverse's key competitors include the Ford Flex, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Veracruz, Mazda CX-9 and Toyota Highlander.
The Traverse I tested falls in the middle of the price range for comparable models of those vehicles. It surpassed them for looks, comfort and practicality, making it an ace in the hole for stylish kid-carrying.
Like the other seven- and eight-seat crossover SUVs, the Traverse also aims to compete with minivans like the Dodge Grand Caravan, Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna by offering kid-friendly room, ease of entry and luggage space without the baggage that comes with minivan looks.
From its twin-port grille and gold bowtie badge to its round taillights, Traverse builds on the design direction Chevrolet set with the 2008 Malibu. Clean, sweeping lines set it apart from GM's other crossovers and make the Traverse appear smaller than its 205-inch length.
It has ample interior space, with comfortable accommodations for all three rows of passengers.
A low step-in height and sliding second-row seats give easy access to the rear seat. The flat-folding rear seats require a bit too much effort to return to their upright position, but the interior is otherwise comfortable, practical and attractive.
Chevrolet trimmed the interior with good materials, although the fits between some pieces were slightly uneven.
The Traverse is smooth and quiet on the road. The variable-assist steering is nicely tuned for parking lots and highway driving.
The V6 has plenty of power for confident acceleration. The six-speed automatic transmission is smooth and quick, but it's programmed to hold gears for maximum fuel economy. The gearbox doesn't kick down as quickly as you initially expect for highway passes.
That tradeoff for fuel economy will strike most shoppers as a good one. The Traverse scored EPA ratings of 17 m.p.g. in the city and 24 m.p.g. on the highway for front-drive and 16 m.p.g. city/23 m.p.g. highway for all-wheel drive models.
The front-drive Traverse's EPA rating beats the Veracruz and CX-9, just edges the Pilot and matches the Flex. It trails the Highlander by 1 m.p.g. in both city and highway driving, which works out to an extra $145 in annual gasoline bills, by the EPA's calculation.
The all-wheel drive Traverse beats the Flex and Pilot by 1 m.p.g. on the highway and tops the Veracruz and CX-9 by 1 to 2 m.p.g. in both highway and city. It trails the Highlander by 1 m.p.g. in the city but got the same combined rating and estimated annual gasoline cost from the EPA.
Style, value, practicality and comfort. That's another four aces, and this hand has been played. The Chevrolet Traverse wins.
Competing automakers can push their chips to the middle of the table and wait for the next deal.