First Drive: 2018 Chevrolet Traverse RS
Depending on your perspective, the 2018 Chevrolet Traverse RS could either be the star performer or the black sheep of the Traverse family. While the rest of the range deploys a 310-hp V-6, the RS uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter/4-cylinder unit to deliver 257 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque.
Fuel consumption on the highway is 26 mpg, compared with 27 mpg from the V-6. The turbo engine works most efficiently on premium gas, while the V-6 is happy on regular. Towing capacity is 1,500 pounds, as opposed to 5,000 pounds with the V-6. And the RS comes solely with front-wheel drive, whereas its Traverse compadres with the bigger engine offer the option of all-wheel drive. So far, so unconvincing.
It’s as a complete package, though, that the RS comes into sharper focus. Standard equipment is generous, including 20-inch alloy wheels, black leather seating surfaces, tri-zone automatic climate control, powered tailgate, Bose 10-speaker audio system, navigation, wi-fi, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration, heated front seats, and several advanced safety features like blind spot monitoring.
It also sports some cosmetic additions to differentiate it from the rest of the range, such as a blacked-out grille, black-finished wheels, bow tie badge and other accents.
Naturally, the eye of every beholder will have its own opinions on the styling, but this second generation of Traverse (which is all-new for 2018) appears to be quite sleek for a full-size crossover. The stacked, double grille (a current Chevy design hallmark) looks more like a single unit, which is no bad thing.
Driving a Traverse with the V-6 is pleasant enough. The ride is refined, the cabin is quiet, the steering feels adequately direct and the brakes are confidence-inspiring. With this 2.0-liter turbo four, the nose is a little lighter, which makes cornering feel a touch quicker but also brings a smattering of vagueness to the steering when the vehicle is pointed straight ahead.
Regardless of engine, the Traverse feels almost like a premium vehicle as opposed to a mainstream crossover. And with both back rows of seats folded down flat, cargo space is a generous 98.2 cubic feet. Even though it’s possible to seat eight occupants in other Traverse trims, the RS is a dedicated seven-seater. It’s cool, however, the way that the left-hand seat in the second row can tip and slide forward — even when there’s a forward-facing child seat positioned there — to make access to the third row a little easier.
Although this engine is shorter on horsepower, it does have 29 lb-ft more torque. And torque is really what matters when trying to move off the line or speed up to join a freeway. Ninety percent of this surge comes in at 2,100 rpm. Driving around the city and suburbs, or at usual freeway speeds, it always feels like there’s some extra push just waiting for a flex of the right foot. In fairness, compared with the V-6, the 2.0-liter unit does have better fuel consumption in the city (20 mpg against 18 mpg) and is one mile per gallon less thirsty overall at 22 mpg.
The Traverse RS is one of those “no thinking required” purchases. For the soccer parent doing the school run who wants an extremely well-equipped crossover with punch and panache but no fretting over an options list, this is it. Well, as long as paying $43,095 doesn’t require a whole lot of consideration.
Chevrolet reckons this might be the case with many people. It has carried out some research and found that buyers are often ready and willing to pay extra before reaching the level of the real premium brands like Lexus and Mercedes-Benz. But the company never really had anything along those lines to offer until now. The Traverse RS represents Chevy’s upward expansion and ambitions.
However, some companies are already vying for these higher-spending customers. The similarly priced 2018 Ford Explorer in Limited trim, for example, with a 2.3-liter turbo four making 280 hp and returning 22 mph, which is as well-equipped as the Traverse RS and capable of towing 3,000 pounds. Or the Honda Pilot in high-spec Touring trim with a 280-hp 3.5-liter V-6, an average of 23 mpg (these consumption figures refer to front-wheel-drive versions) and a towing ability to the tune of 3,500 pounds. The great thing about competition between companies is that the buyer always ends up winning.
2018 Chevrolet Traverse RS
Vehicle type: Seven-passenger full-size crossover
Base price: $43,095
Price as tested: $43,095
Engine: Turbocharged 2.0L I-4
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Horsepower: 257 @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 295 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
Curb weight: 4,362 pounds (FWD)
Towing capacity: 1,500 pounds
EPA mileage rating (city/hwy/comb): 20/26/22 (FWD)
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