2013 Chevy Traverse illustrates distinctions between minivans, crossovers
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You're in your mid-40s, married for 18 years, and for a decade you've been hauling your family around in a minivan, a Honda Odyssey.
Now the three kids are growing up, with the oldest just starting her teenage years and the others not all that far behind.
It's time for another vehicle. The venerable Odyssey has done yeoman duty but it can't last forever. With the children bigger and taking up increasing amounts of space on long vacation trips, the sensible thing to do would be to replace it with another minivan.
Yet there's that 40-something recalculation of family priorities and perhaps a nagging desire to escape the image of soccer parents, not to mention the stigma sometimes attached to minivans. What to do?
Fortunately, there's a lot. The biggest trend in people movers in recent years has been toward crossovers as substitutes for once-dominant minivans and sport utility vehicles. The latter have been falling out of favor for a number of reasons: poor fuel economy, dwindling need for vehicles that can go-off road and tow heavy loads, and a desire for something with nimbler handling as well as a degree of luxury.
There still are some large truck-based SUVs with body-on-frame construction, thirsty V-8 engines and four-wheel drive, even some very luxurious ones like the Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator.
But the big behemoths are being supplanted by an increasing number of car-based crossover utility vehicles (CUVs) with unit-body construction, V-6 and sometimes even four-cylinder engines and full-time all-wheel drive.
They range from small to family size. Witness the 2013 Chevrolet Traverse, which offers three rows of seats and seating for up to eight. You'd think it would rival the average minivan. It comes close, but no cigar.
Though the Traverse is a full 17 feet long, its passenger space measured in cubic feet does not stand up to the minivans, though most families could live with the difference.
For example, the 2013 Honda Odyssey, which is an inch shorter at 16 feet 11 inches, has 170 cubic feet of passenger space, along with 38 cubic feet of cargo space with all the seats up. It has a 248-horsepower V-6 engine and, on the top-line Touring Elite model, a six-speed automatic transmission. Its city/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 19/28/22 mpg and it carries a sticker price of $44,855.
The tested Chevy Traverse AWD LTZ crossover has 151 cubic feet of passenger space, or 19 less than the Odyssey. Cargo space behind the third row measures 24 cubic feet, or 14 cubic feet less. That gap is substantial, about the size of a trunk on a mid-size sedan. The Traverse has a 288-horsepower V-6 engine with a six-speed automatic transmission and 16/23/19 mpg. It has a sticker price of $46,410 as tested.
The $1,555 price difference can be attributed to the tested Traverse's all-wheel drive. The Odyssey has front drive, standard on the Traverse as well.
What are the arguments on each side? For openers, the Odyssey is unquestionably bigger inside, with more comfort and room for the growing children's belongings. However, as one father contended, his kids already take too many things along on trips. The Traverse would force better choices.
The Odyssey is lower to the ground, so it's easier to enter, exit and load. Despite its size, it drives much like a car. On the other hand, a lot of people, particularly women, like the Traverse's high, command-of-the-road driving position. It also has the advantage, in this instance, of all-wheel drive for nasty weather.
Passenger comfort in the Traverse's front and second rows is first cabin. The second row seats --captain's chairs on the test vehicle --easily fold flat, and slide fore and aft to divvy the knee space with the third row. Nevertheless, the third row is way less comfortable and should be reserved for resilient young folks. It also folds flat for extra cargo space.
Bottom line: The choice of a crossover like the Traverse versus a minivan like the Odyssey, Toyota Sienna or Chrysler Town and Country comes down to a few tradeoffs and the buyer's personal preferences.
Model: 2013 Chevrolet Traverse AWD LTZ four-door crossover utility vehicle.
Engine: 3.6-liter V6, direct gasoline injection, 288 horsepower.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Overall length: 17 feet.
EPA passenger/cargo volume: 151/24 cubic feet.
Weight: 4,956 pounds.
EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 16/23/19 mpg.
Base price, including destination charge: $43,250.
Price as tested: $46,410.