By Isaac Bouchard
Two of the larger crossovers on the market are the Chevrolet Traverse and Volkswagen Atlas. Both have more interior volume than some of the body-on-frame SUVs like the Tahoe, in a package that is more car-like to drive. Both are powered by 3.6-liter V6s and come in either front- or all-wheel drive. Their third rows are relatively easy to access and comfortable for folks of most all sizes. And, even with all three rows in use, there is room in the cargo area for some luggage. These attributes differentiate them from many of the smaller seven/eight passenger crossovers, that are comfy for five but cramped for more occupants.
The Atlas looks as large as it is, and it really benefits from the R-Design option package, with its 20in wheels, as they help make its proportions more palatable aesthetically. The Traverse seems smaller outside, yet is equally commodious. The interior design of the VW is well thought out, but material quality is low, with many cheap and easily scratched plastics in prominent places and some truly awful faux stitching running across the dash. Its seats, covered in vinyl on all but the top model, are more supportive than those in the Chevy, however. The Traverse’s front chairs have small squabs and backs for such a large vehicle, and when adjusted to higher positions they seem to dump their occupants forward into the footwell, since height adjustment for the front of the lower cushions is limited. The Traverse has generally nicer materials, though it reflects the knack Chevrolet has for using grains, textures and colors that make it look cheaper than it is. There are some cheesy cost-cutting choices in the Traverse, such as a simplified second-row seat slider on the left side, which precludes tumble-folding the available bucket seat all the way forward. Both are stingy with options unless one springs for the most expensive models; lacking are such things as memory for the driver’s seat, heated steering wheels and many other pleasantries. The VW infotainment system is fast and easy to navigate and looks a bit more modern than the one in the Chevy, but many functions aren’t accessible on the move, for “your safety”. Both have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, if that’s more to the driver’s taste.
Perhaps the Travers and Atlas differ the most in how they drive; the VW is softly sprung and underdamped, meaning it initially seems like it rides smoothly, but bigger bumps or series of ripples have it running out of suspension travel and becoming rough and loud. Its steering is decent in terms of accuracy and it corners in a fairly flat manner, which imply it has large antiroll bars. The problem is that certain surfaces and pavement blemishes cause occupants’ heads to get tossed back and forth. In contrast, the Chevrolet is a dynamic benchmark, handling with astonishing alacrity for such a large vehicle, dealing with rough roads in a superb manner and handling like a much more sporting vehicle. Its 310hp/266lb-ft engine and 9sp transmission combine in a way that allow it to run much quicker and feel less strained, loaded or unladen. 0-60mph takes 6.5 seconds and the quarter mile 15.1sec. The Atlas’ powertrain, comprised of a 276hp/266lb-ft engine and 8sp automatic, is much more put-upon, with an 8sec 0-60mph and 16.1sec quarter mile runs placing it 1.0 to 1.5sec off many competitors. At least the noises emanating from under its hood remains much more refined than those from the Nissan Pathfinder/Infiniti QX60 twins, both of which use an obnoxious-sounding continuously variable transmission. Colorado’s altitude especially shows up the VW’s comparative weakness, especially compared to something like the Honda Pilot, one of the only other crossovers of this size. Both the Atlas and Traverse make good minivan substitutes; it is easy to fit big loads such as TVs and bikes into the back of both with the seats folded, and they make good road trippers. If power or ultimate dynamics aren’t priorities, the Volkswagen does the job just fine. The Atlas also has the longer warranty and leases for less. But if a modicum of driver involvement or a potent powertrain are necessities, the Chevrolet is the choice.
EPA Ratings: Atlas: 17/23/19; Traverse: 17/25/20mpg
0-60mph: Atlas 8.0sec; Traverse 6.5sec (indep test)
Price as tested: Atlas $45,096;
Here is what VW has to say.
Here is what Chevy has to day.
3.5/5 Stars Atlas
4.0/5 Stars Traverse
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