2023 Chevrolet Traverse RS Review: Makes Growing Up Easy

As much as it pains me to say this, spending a week with the Chevy Traverse might have changed my mind about SUVs.

byNico DeMattia| PUBLISHED Jan 6, 2023 10:00 AM
2023 Chevrolet Traverse RS Review: Makes Growing Up Easy
Nico DeMattia
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I’m a stubborn bastard. Nearly every day, my life consists of struggling to stuff two kids into the back of a 16-year-old BMW 3 Series sedan without hitting their heads on the roof while one is crying and throwing Cheerios and the other won’t stop talking about why Spider-Man is better than Batman. By the end of it, I’m physically and mentally exhausted. And yet, I refuse to make my life easier by getting a bigger car. Maybe it’s because I watched too much Top Gear in my 20s and was indoctrinated with a hatred of SUVs. Or maybe it’s because I can’t admit to myself that I’m no longer in my 20s and I need to finally grow up. Whatever the reason, a week in the 2023 Chevy Traverse RS may have finally made me realize that it’s OK to grow up. 

Before my week with the Traverse, I’d have yawned and fallen asleep just hearing its name. That was until I was able to walk in between its second-row captain’s chairs to tighten the anchor strap on a car seat. There was no climbing in the trunk or unnaturally bending my arms around a headrest to reach it, like I have to in my sedan. In the Traverse, I just walked behind the seat. That was the lightbulb moment, when I came to a scary realization. Do I like SUVs?

Driving the Traverse RS, I felt like a responsible parent. I felt like someone who had accepted their job proudly and wasn’t clinging onto romantic delusions of automotive grandeur. And, frighteningly, it felt kind of good. 

2023 Chevrolet Traverse RS Review Specs

  • Base price (as tested): $48,440 ($50,385)
  • Powertrain: 3.6-liter V6 | 9-speed automatic | all-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 310 @ 6,800 rpm
  • Torque: 266 lb-ft @ 2,800 to 3,500 rpm
  • 0-60 mph: 6.9 seconds 
  • Curb weight: 4,602 pounds
  • Cargo volume: 23 cubic feet behind second row | 57.8 cubic feet behind third row
  • EPA fuel economy: 17 mpg city | 25 highway | 20 combined
  • Quick take: The no-frills family car that makes real life easier by doing everything you need it to.
  • Score: 8/10

The Basics

The Traverse is Chevy’s full-size, three-row SUV. The first generation debuted in 2008 for the 2009 model year and this current second generation launched in 2017 as a 2018 model year. Riding on General Motors’ C1XX platform, it shares underpinnings with the GMC Acadia and Cadillac XT6. The Traverse RS tester might have a sporty badge, reminiscent of ‘60s Camaros, but it’s the furthest thing from sporty. All the “RS” badge does is bring black exterior accents—the front badge and window trim—20-inch black wheels, and a black interior with red accents. Mechanically, the Traverse RS is identical to every other trim level. 

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Those visual changes make a big difference, though. The Traverse is normally pretty vanilla-looking, possibly by design, and blends into the sea of American family SUVs. But the RS trim’s black wheels and black badges do make it look more fun, especially in contrast to the test car’s Radiant Red paint. Black wheels and a great color can’t completely overcome a bland design but RS-spec is surely the Traverse at its best. 

Only one interior option is available for the Traverse RS—black with red stitching. The overall design is handsome, if a bit boring, and there are certainly many cheap-feeling plastics throughout, but I wasn’t expecting anything different from a three-row family SUV with a fully loaded, as-tested price of under $50,000. However, its ergonomics are great; there are physical buttons for almost everything and it has physical gauges that are simple and easy to read. When you get into the Traverse RS, it seems as if it’s trying to put you at ease and it does a good job of that. No fuss, no frills, no worries. It just does its job and it does it well.

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The Traverse familiarity continues under the hood as well. Powering the Traverse RS is the same 3.6-liter naturally aspirated V6 that powers every other Traverse. It makes the same 310 horsepower, the same 266 lb-ft of torque, and uses the same nine-speed automatic transmission. Power is sent to just the front wheels as standard but my test car was equipped with optional all-wheel drive. 

Driving the Chevrolet Traverse RS

The Traverse RS did not drive how I expected it to. Despite being a front-wheel-drive-based, three-row SUV, the Traverse RS drives with a solid, sure-footedness that surprised me. The pickup truck-like gear lever thunks into place with a reassuring solidity, the steering has a meaty weight that builds up well off-center, and it somehow keeps its body motions in check. It’s a big, tall SUV but it doesn’t wallow or wobble through corners. I was thoroughly impressed with its body control, considering its size and cost. 

There’s a downside to those impressive body motions, though—its ride. Despite a tall ride height, loads of suspension travel, and tall 55-section tire sidewalls, the Traverse RS is a bit crashy over bumps. It’s not horrific and passengers won’t complain but there may be a spilled juice box or two caused by big bumps throughout a customer’s ownership. Thankfully, its cushy seats will keep passengers happy, even during long journeys. There’s little lateral support to be found but that actually makes getting in and out of the seats easier. 

The Traverse also feels every bit as big as it is. Thick A-pillars make forward visibility a challenge through corners and its vast cabin makes it feel dangerously wide when navigating bank drive-throughs or narrow parking lots. Thankfully, standard surround-view parking cameras help with that. Without them, I’d be terrified to back the Traverse out of a tight parking spot. 

Speaking of size, its brakes provided much-needed confidence that the three-row SUV would stop when it needed to. The pedal feel was a bit soft at the top but once I got used to where the meat of its pedal travel was, I never felt uneasy about its stopping ability. 

Its 3.6-liter V6 engine might lack the turbochargers of its newer competitors like the Ford Explorer, but it packs plenty of power to hastily move the big seven-seat family hauler. The nine-speed automatic also blends nicely into the background and never seems to fuss, regardless of how you drive it. There’s luxury in utility, and the Traverse RS is just an incredibly useful SUV that makes life easier. 

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The Highs and Lows

What makes the Traverse attractive is how easy it is to use. Its cavernous cabin makes stuffing in people and luggage a breeze, cup holders and storage cubbies are aplenty, and there are enough USB and charging ports to keep iPads charged and kids quiet. 

The second row captain’s chairs might be my favorite part of the Traverse. They make car seats an absolute breeze to use and they were so easy to get in and out of that my 5-year-old son was able to climb into them on his own, which saved me loads of time each and every time we used the car. Getting into the third row was easy-peasy, too. The second-row seats easily fold out of the way and the third row is accommodating for even small adults. I’m pretty much the average American male’s height and weight and I can fit in the third row of a Traverse just fine. Three kids can squeeze back there without issue. Would adults be a bit tight over long journeys? Probably. But as something that’s mostly used for kids, it’s great. 

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That doesn’t mean the Traverse RS is perfect, though. While its engine is powerful enough to get the job done, it’s also a bit coarse and raspy and just not very enjoyable to use. Admittedly, most Traverse customers will never see more than 4,000 revs but if you do need to haul a bit of ass, Chevy’s ubiquitous V6 never really seems to want to. Also, while its interior is practical, comfortable, and spacious, its bland design grew old in just my week with it, so I can imagine customers getting bored well before their lease deals are up.

Chevrolet Traverse RS Features, Options, and Competition

The RS trim level for the Traverse is mostly cosmetic but there are a few options that come standard that the base model doesn’t get. For instance, power folding mirrors, Chevy’s Convenience and Confidence package (upgraded infotainment, heated seats, remote start), a heated steering wheel, and second-row captain’s chairs are all standard on the RS. This test car didn’t come with any extras on top of that but there was nothing I was missing. The RS is pretty loaded right out of the box and will satisfy all but the snobbiest of customers.

In terms of competition, the Chevy Traverse RS competes in one of the most popular segments in America. So competition is tough. At around the Traverse RS’ $48,440 starting price, you can also get the Honda Pilot Touring, Jeep Grand Cherokee L Altitude, and Hyundai Palisade Limited, to name just a few. While customers will undoubtedly find utility in the Traverse’s roomy third row, the car itself is older than the competition and hasn’t been significantly refreshed since it came out six years ago.

Sustainability 

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If there’s a clear disadvantage for the Traverse among its competitors, it’s fuel economy. The 3.6-liter V6 is a solid, durable, and reliable engine that makes enough power. However, because it's naturally aspirated rather than turbocharged, it drinks more fuel than some of its competition. For instance, Toyota just added a new turbocharged four-cylinder engine to its Highlander, which not only added more low-down torque but it increased fuel economy. The Traverse could use a bit of both and a turbocharged engine could do the trick. 

Value and Verdict

At around $50,000, an all-wheel drive Traverse RS seems like a hell of a lot of car for the money. It can easily shuttle around a family of seven, it has great seats, top-notch cabin tech (the surround-view cameras are among the best I’ve ever used), and it drives much better than you might expect from an SUV of its size. 

The Chevy Traverse RS isn’t the sleekest-looking SUV in the segment, its ride is a bit rough, and its engine is overly thirsty. However, I enjoyed my week with it more than I thought I would. The Traverse was like that big comfy sweater that you’ve had for years and just makes you feel at home, especially in cold, December New Jersey weather. Again, I’m a stubborn bastard, so I’m still not so sure I could ever see myself owning a three-row SUV but I completely understand why customers buy the Traverse. It just makes grown-up, adult life easy and comfortable and that’s something that I’m quickly growing to appreciate. 

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