When a car is redesigned, it’s more likely to become larger than smaller. Understandably so: Extra space is an obvious selling point to justify the new model over its predecessor.
General Motors bucked this trend with the fully-redesigned 2017 GMC Acadia. Once a plus-sized crossover, the all-new 2017 model slimmed down into the midsize class, gaining fuel efficiency and handling agility, even if interior volume declined.
But the Acadia’s former mechanical twins – the Chevrolet Traverse and the more luxurious Buick Enclave – didn’t follow the same path. Redesigned for 2018, these two crossovers remain unapologetically massive, with among the best space for passengers and cargo in anything short of a minivan.
The 2017 Enclave and Traverse were the oldest vehicles in their class, dating back a full decade. They remained popular even at the end of their lifespans, largely on the strength of their generous dimensions. The 2018 redesigns bring improved fuel economy, modernized styling, upgraded cabins and up-to-date technology.
Between the two vehicles, the Traverse is purely the family car. It’s styled to blend in rather than stand out, and the cabin prioritizes functionality over flashiness. While the Traverse wears a large grille, think of it more as a modestly adorned box than sleek, butch or particularly endearing cosmetically.
Chevrolet saved the main appeal for inside the Traverse – though here, too, it’s not cosmetic. This crossover seats up to eight passengers, and unlike in nearly every competitor, no one is too badly squeezed.
Even more impressively, the 2018 Traverse fits 23 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third-row seat. That’s nearly twice the new GMC Acadia, and it means that the Traverse is especially well-suited for carrying three rows of passengers in addition to their cargo. Note that total cargo space has declined from the 2017 to 2018 model – from a whopping 116 cubic feet last year to a still-outstanding 98 cubic feet for 2018.
Other areas of the Traverse are more serviceable than stellar. Seats are spacious but don’t feature particularly compelling cushions. Some cabin plastics feel downscale, and the tested car had areas of poor panel fit and roughly-finished trim. And a weeklong test revealed an overall acceptable but unremarkable driving experience. While simply avoiding complaints will suit many buyers just fine, a Mazda CX-9 or Volkswagen Atlas offer some additional spunk and the Honda Pilot boasts slicker comfort and refinement.
Another Traverse complaint is that Chevrolet reserves full-speed emergency automatic braking for the top-of-the-line $53,000 High Country model – while this valuable safety feature is more widely available on most competitors, and even comes as standard equipment on the CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander.
Traverse pricing starts at $30,925 and rises quickly. Even if you find a steep discount from the sticker price, shop it carefully against the excellent Atlas and Pilot, among other three-row crossover contenders. However, if maximum space is a top priority, it’s hard to trump the Traverse.
The upscale Enclave, meanwhile, shares its mechanical equipment with the Traverse but boasts far more luxurious styling. Graceful curves inside and out give the Buick a slimming effect – particularly when viewed from the rear, it doesn’t look like the extra-spacious seven-passenger barge that it is. There’s slightly less interior room than in the Chevrolet, and no optional eighth seat, but the Enclave still impresses against the Infiniti QX60 and Acura MDX.
Buick also managed to dress up the Enclave’s interior compared to the Traverse while retaining user-friendly ergonomics. Look closely and you’ll find most buttons and knobs in the same place, just surrounded by a more artful dashboard and richer materials in the Buick than in the Chevrolet. No other luxury crossover has the Buick’s smooth, gracefully flowing curves. Some buyers will wish Buick included Chevrolet’s simpler gear selector, though.
Enclave prices start at $40,990 and can exceed $60,000 in the tested Avenir trim. A brief preview drive didn’t reveal the sort of thorough luxury experience that you’d find in an Audi Q7 – a seven-passenger model that feels almost like a good sports sedan on the road. But the Enclave wins for sheer utility while holding its own against the Infiniti and Acura.
Like the Traverse, the Enclave curiously restricts some safety features to top-trim models. But the Buick is nonetheless an impressive balance of style, luxury and utility.