First Look Review: 2024 Chevrolet Traverse Z71

Grace Houghton

Automakers like to brag about radical improvements from one generation of a vehicle to the next, but the outgoing Chevrolet Traverse—even though it was the oldest three-row SUV on the market—got a lot right: a spacious interior, a quiet driveline with a healthy towing capacity, and a $35,915 starting price. After spending a few hours with the third-generation Traverse, which arrives for the 2024 model year, it appears that Chevrolet, wisely, didn’t fix what wasn’t broken. Even with its new handsome sheetmetal, tech-focused cabin, and first-ever Z71 trim, the ethos of the Traverse is much the same: An affordable, spacious family hauler that can take a beating.

Context matters, because the ambitions (and the success) of the Traverse’s competition are not so modest. The chief threats, in Chevy’s eyes, are the South Korean manufacturers, Hyundai and Kia, which came in for 2020 with their first three-row SUVs—Telluride and Palisade, respectively—and hit immediate home runs. Dealers, it’s rumored, nicknamed the former “Selluride.” Sales have increased each year since launch, and Kia continues to add new paint shades and interior colors that help the upper trims feel far more luxurious than their price point. A new rival from another trusted brand has entered the three-row space, too—the Toyota Grand Highlander, introduced for 2024.

The 2023 Traverse, which you can still configure on, is neither fresh nor fancy. It is the six-year-old representative of the second generation. Built on the C1 platform, the 2018–23 Traverse came with a V-6 or a 2.0-liter turbo four but dropped the latter as of 2020. The design was slightly larger and more square than that of the original Traverse, which was a bulbous, van-like affair on the Lambda platform (think V-6, front- or all-wheel-drive GM crossover: GMC Acadia, Buick Enclave, Saturn Outlook). Wikipedia says the first Traverse, which debuted for the 2009 model year, was based on a 2005 concept called the Sequel. If only something that interesting had made production, Chevrolet might not have needed to rehaul the sheetmetal for this third generation. The new look is handsome and reminiscent of the burlier full-size Silverado pickup and Tahoe SUV. The new Traverse costs three grand more than the outgoing, 2023 model, and it looks the part.

Built on an evolution of that C1 platform, the new Traverse ditches the two most luxury-oriented trims of yore to add another, aimed in a different direction: The $47,795 off-road-oriented Z71. Marketers were keen to point out that the Z71 is more than a sticker package, and they are right. The calling card of this trim is a twin-clutch rear differential sourced from the Cadillac XT6, which is capable of directing torque laterally; up to 100 percent of the available twist can be sent to either the right or the left rear wheel, as needed. (The AWD system that gets the torque from front to back uses a hydraulic clutch housed in the power take-off unit.) Both the Terrain and Off-Road drive modes take advantage of this diff. The former is meant for use at any speed and can prevent you from getting stuck in loose dirt or sand by sacrificing some yaw control to maintain higher wheel speed. Off-Road, meanwhile, is a low-speed sort of “crawl” mode that reprograms the accelerator pedal to apply the brakes upon throttle lift. Think of it as one-pedal driving, but for off-road. The active dampers, made by ZF and shared with the rest of the Traverse lineup, boast hydraulic rebound stops and unique tuning on the Z71. (The dampers on the 2023 model are passive.)

PR specialists and engineers work together to curate first drives in order to reflect the strengths of a given vehicle. The routes are designed to show journalists exactly what automakers want to highlight, and to avoid situations that would make the car look incompetent, especially in inexperienced hands. The short, 15-minute course chosen for the Traverse Z71 illustrated the type of intensity for which this driveline is built: a mown two-track across a smooth, grassy field (a section we were advised to take at around 40 mph), followed by more two-track in the forest, which was mostly Georgia orange clay but overlaid, in some spots, with chunky gravel. The Z71 was hush-quiet across the grass, with nary a rattle from the cabin; on the clay, the array of camera angles (front, overhead, and both sides) projected onto the center display minimized anxiety around tight bends. Several times, in fact, the camera showed that we had far more room to skirt a sapling than we thought, after peering over our shoulders and out of the second-row windows. Neither a first-time “off-roader” nor their passengers will find anything to be scared of here and will probably feel quite adventurous after that first jaunt off the tarmac.

Terrain mode was easy-peasy to use. Take your foot off the gas, and the Traverse squeezes its own brakes to bring itself to a stop. Nudge the gas, and you’ll creep forward at a gentle pace. We didn’t have much time with the system, but our only complaints concerned the user interface: There’s only one, teeny icon on the expansive touchscreen to tell you what mode you’re in. Unless you’re in Terrain mode, it’s hard to tell which mode you’re in just by seat-of-the-pants feedback. Several times we’d prod the rocker switch, mounted on the dash to the left of the steering wheel, just to see which mode was active, then prod it again to re-signal that mode. (For the new Traverse, Chevy moved the gear selector to the column to create more space in the console, so we aren’t surprised that a rotary mode selector, as used by the Telluride or Grand Highlander, didn’t make the cut.)

Though the Z71 is the newest Traverse variant, and the one Chevrolet was most eager for us to drive, the off-road-oriented trim seems honest in its goals. As the chief engineer noted, the Z71 Traverse is not some sort of rock-crawling monster you’d drive in Moab—it’s the kind of vehicle you’d drive to Moab. Indeed, the Z71’s off-road paraphernalia is unobtrusive on-road. Though the tires look chonky, the Goodyear all-terrains are surprisingly quiet on-road, with a murmur of road noise rather than the howl of the K02’s on your spouse’s Wrangler. Crossing a railroad track is quieter, with these smaller-diameter wheels, than in the up-scale RS trim ($56,090, FWD), with its 45-section tires and 22-inch rims. Both versions nod their heads upon aggressive braking and squat a bit under brisk acceleration, but that’s to be expected from a family-hauling crossover that prioritizes comfort.

2024 Chevrolet Traverse RS engine turbo four 2.5
Grace Houghton

We didn’t drive the Traverse above 60 mph, and our route didn’t involve any highway segments, so there’s much we have yet to learn about the turbocharged 2.5-liter four behind the Traverse’s handsome new face, although it does share a bottom-end design with the 2.7 four in the Colorado and is the only powerplant available in the new Traverse. Output is up by 18 horses compared to the outgoing V-6, for a total of 328 @ 5500 rpm, and torque is improved by 60 lb-ft, to 326 lb-ft at 3500 rpm.

2024 Chevrolet Traverse Z71 driving
Grace Houghton

Our first impressions are that this turbo four, mated to a responsive and unobtrusive eight-speed transmission, is sufficiently spunky and also capable—as was its predecessor—of remarkably smooth starts, which is noteworthy for a driveline that has no hybrid component. An electronic, rather than a hydraulic, phaser deserves much of the credit. A GM first, this component can advance or retard timing by 100 degrees (measured on the crankshaft) to achieve the proper valve timing before the first engine combustion start (credit to this SAE paper for helping us understand the arrangement). Overall, fuel economy is up compared to the V-6. The city rating for the FWD model increases by 2 mpg, which raises the combined average from 20 to 23 mpg; the AWD model also improves in the city by 2 mpg but is slightly worse on the highway, by 1 mpg. As a result, the combined rating is up from 20 mpg to 21.

A few improved conveniences that anyone with a family will appreciate: Smart Slide is finally available on both driver and passenger sides of the second row. The nifty system folds the back of the second-row captain’s chairs forward while scooching the seat forward to allow access to the third-row bench seat. The rear hatch now opens without the need to touch a button or kick awkwardly beneath the bumper; just stand close to it with the key fob on your person and four beeps will announce its opening. (If you move away from the vehicle within those four beeps, it will stay closed. For those anticipating garage-door disasters, you’ll be relieved to know that you can disable the proximity-open system altogether.) Another nice feature of the top-trim RS is that you can electronically lower and raise the back of the third-row seats from the cargo area using a set of buttons. You can also fold the second-row captain’s chairs using the same set of controls. With second- and third-row seats folded flat, the Traverse offers 98 cubic-feet of cargo space.

Many complaints about the outgoing Traverse centered on its half-hearted attempt at luxury. One way in which Chevy has addressed this is by adding Super Cruise to the Traverse lineup: The hands-free system is standard on the highest trim, the RS, optional on LT and Z71, and unavailable only on the base-model LS. Adding it to an LT costs $3280 and $3755 to an Z71. The difference in price on the Z71 is due to the inclusion of the camera mirror along with Super Cruise.

2024 Chevrolet Traverse RS interior dash
The interior of an RS.Grace Houghton

Two other obvious upgrades to the cabin are the giant, two-pane sunroof and the 17.7-inch diagonal touchscreen. Google is built-in, meaning that the native map displays will be familiar to anyone who prefers Google Maps to the Apple version. We especially appreciated the option to display the map directly behind the steering wheel, on the “digital instrument panel.” Both adaptive cruise control and Super Cruise are still easy to control, even when most of the digital real estate is occupied by directions. CarPlay, by the way, is available on the new and improved Traverse: Evidently, it’s more important to GM to phase out the tethering system from its EVs than its gas-powered vehicles, in part because those EVs (especially the Cadillacs) rely on navigation and audio apps that require more computing power than is available on your average smartphone.

Even with those technological improvements, the materials and color choices in the 2024 Traverse don’t wow. Black is the dominant hue in any trim or color configuration, even when you spec the lightest colorway, which upholsters the seats in gray cloth. (Where did Maple Sugar go?) Red is the only pop of color available, and it’s restricted to the Z71 and RS, where the shade appears in small sections on the seats and in the plastic trim on the doors and dash. Unfortunately, the look and feel of that decor is chintzy. We’d far prefer that Chevy use the red-and-black fabric available on the seats of the RS-spec Equinox EV. One more complaint: The spare tire is not full size—for a vehicle with off-road pretensions, this is an oversight. (The Pilot Trailsport judges you, Z71.)

We cumulatively spent an hour and a half with Z71 and RS versions of the new Traverse, so there’s much we don’t know about living with the vehicle—specifically, the new engine and that huge touchscreen. But, at first blush, we’re confident in the success of this three-row. Sure, several competitors are more luxe, but the value proposition of the Traverse is strong, especially with Super Cruise, one area in which the Traverse outclasses its competition. Jettisoning the High Country and adding an off-road trim that costs less than almost every competitor (Telluride X-Pro, Pilot Trailsport) looks like a smart choice. Meanwhile, GM has clearly left much room for the new Acadia (the Denali, specifically) to be the premium offering. When we get our hands on a Traverse for a week, you’ll know.

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    Not a fan of FWD SUV models trying to pretend they are off road.

    It may look like a Tahoe but it is not a Tahoe.

    This article is incorrect the previous generation traverse had trim options that included the 2.0T…look at an RS trim (idk maybe that wasn’t mention on Wikipedia…)

    thanks for the catch! looks like chevy dropped that two-liter in the traverse for 2020–23 … i’ve updated the article.

    I think that the pillar on the rear quarter panel that stops abruptly before the roof and changes color is ugly.

    So it looks like a baby Tahoe but it’s FWD with a turbo 4. I still can’t believe they have models near $60k for this thing. It’s not that fancy, better off with a Tahoe instead.

    I’d really love to buy something new like this but not with a turbo four-cylinder are you crazy? I’ve been a GM guy since the late 60s my 98 Tahoe just went to the auto recycling center that I’ve had since new. What do I buy now that Chevrolet makes that doesn’t cost more than my house and it doesn’t have a four-cylinder?

    21 mpg combined.
    With a turbo 4.

    I get 19 combined in a midsized 4×4 SUV with a V8. A V8 with more HP, more torque, more towing, and an actual 2-speed transfer case (real crawl ratio).

    But true, not a Z71 sticker edition. 🤣

    No homelink, so you can have a garage remote to look at.
    No memory seat, anytime you switch drivers, you get to adjust the seat and mirrors.
    No ventilated seats.
    Passenger seat is manual with no lumbar.
    The 4 banger sounds like it’s on it’s last leg.
    It’s a $40,000 vehicle for $55,000. Pass.

    I have a 2016 traverse and I love it. I love it. I have fall in love with it but in the future, I am looking at getting a new one and I’ve never been fond of the newer models but this 2024 looks really tempting, I love them so I just might have the 2024 in my future it’s not electric right not fond of the electric vehicles had a car. It was a joke.

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