If I'm buying a crossover vehicle with three rows of seats, there's one question at the top of my mind: Will I feel safe putting my family in this car?
In the case of the Chevrolet Traverse, the answer is yes.
It's got the requisite safety accolades, including an overall five-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It's also got some innovative safety features, including the industry's first center air bags that are mounted in the front seats and designed to protect from side-impact crashes.
But more important than that, the Traverse has a solid, substantial feeling that inspires confidence from the driver's seat.
This feels like a heavy vehicle, one that drives with car-like agility but SUV-like solidity. There's a lot of meat on its bones.
That kind of feeling is becoming rarer as new crossovers are being introduced with lightweight designs to save gas mileage. The best ones have some seriously eye-popping mileage numbers.
The older Traverse platform, though, does not. It's rated for just 17 mpg in city driving and 24 mpg on the highway for 2014, a sign of its age in an era when fuel economy is king.
On the flip side, those mileage figures don't seem so bad if you’re looking for a crossover that seems robust enough to put your children in. The more efficient crossovers often feel flimsier and slower, whereas the vault-like Traverse still has ample acceleration from its 288-horsepower engine that makes it feel safer when merging or passing on the highway.
In other words, do you want a car that feels like it's made of aluminum foil or steel I-beams? For the best fuel economy, the foil will suffice. But if you're in a wreck, you want the heaviest, thickest steel you can find, which is the feeling you get in this big Chevy.
All these things combine to make the Traverse stand out in my mind, even in a very competitive crossover market. Its cabin has moved upscale in the past few years, at least in the high-end LTZ trim with its soft-touch stitched dash materials and soft leather seats, and its ride has just the right amount of softness for a car this size.
But it's the safety features that push it toward the top of my list. That's even more true in 2014 as Forward Collision Alert and Lane Departure Warning are standard on LTZ models and optional on LT trim.
It inspires confidence, and that's critical in a family vehicle.
Derek Price is an independent automotive columnist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.