On Autos: Chevrolet, Buick full-size crossovers prioritize interior space

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The 2018 Chevrolet Traverse is the biggest and roomiest crossover on the market. (Brady Holt/The Current)
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There are multiple ways to get a roomy car. Various automakers have become adept at space-efficiency techniques that offer ample interior volume in a relatively compact package. But the most tried-and-true method is to get the largest vehicle.

The redesigned 2018 Buick Enclave is the luxury version of the Chevrolet Traverse. (Brady Holt/The Current)

That’s the path that General Motors takes with its Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave crossovers, mechanical twins that have been fully redesigned for 2018. At more than 204 inches long, they’re some 10 inches longer than a Honda Pilot or Toyota Highlander.

The result is a clear advantage inside: There’s a best-in-class 23 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third-row seat, compared to 14 and 17 in the Toyota and Honda, respectively. Those numbers can mean the difference between truly fitting seven passengers plus their cargo or seven passengers holding backpacks, groceries or suitcases in their laps.

Meanwhile, fold down all the seats, and the Buick and Chevrolet offer 98 cubic feet of total cargo volume; the Pilot and Highlander hit just 84 cubic feet.

The 2018 Chevrolet Traverse is pleasant but unremarkable to drive. (Brady Holt/The Current)

Now, these numbers are certainly impressive. But readers who frequently need to fit into small garages, tight alleys or parallel-parking spots may not be sold on the Traverse or Enclave’s extra bulk. The good news is that these crossovers have respectable 39-foot turning circles, on par with many smaller competitors. For some drivers, though, there’s no getting around the fact that the Enclave and Traverse are the biggest vehicles on the outside in their class — perhaps making a competing crossover the better fit.

Aside from its exemplary passenger and cargo space, the Traverse is an unremarkable vehicle in a highly competitive market segment. Ride, handling, acceleration and seat comfort are all competitive but unremarkable. EPA ratings did improve significantly over the 2017 model — now ranging from 20 mpg with all-wheel-drive and a V6 engine to 22 mpg with a front-wheel-drive-only four-cylinder, all with mixed driving — but that’s only average for the class. The dashboard is ergonomically sensible, but it’s plain and uses some cheap materials.

The 2018 Chevrolet Traverse has user-friendly controls but drab decor. (Brady Holt/The Current)

In another issue, the Traverse restricts valuable safety equipment to high-end models. For instance, you can’t get all-speed emergency automatic braking — standard equipment on the Highlander — for less than $50,000 on the Chevrolet. Traverse prices start at $30,925 and can rise quickly. If maximum interior volume is a priority, shop it against the Volkswagen Atlas, Nissan Pathfinder and Honda Pilot; these models aren’t quite as spacious, but none is downright cramped and each can be an appealing option. Also note that a minivan offers significantly more passenger and cargo room than even the largest crossover.

The 2018 Buick Enclave’s subtle curves give it a graceful elegance that’s lacking from its Chevrolet Traverse sibling. (Brady Holt/The Current)

The Enclave, meanwhile, is the luxury version of the Traverse. The Buick is distinguished by more elegant looks inside and out — particularly on the gracefully curvaceous dashboard — and an extra-hushed ride quality. While the Traverse looks every bit the part of big family bus, the Enclave — despite being equally large — looks and feels a little more svelte.

Think of the Enclave as a competitor to the Acura MDX and Infiniti QX60, which are also higher-end versions of mainstream crossovers (the Pilot and Pathfinder, respectively). At least based on a brief preview drive, the Buick offered similar driving dynamics to those models. None has the all-out luxury feel of an Audi Q7 or a Volvo XC90, though these models aren’t as roomy for seven passengers.

The 2018 Buick Enclave has a stylish and well-finished dashboard. (Brady Holt/The Current)

Enclave pricing starts at $40,990, and as on the Traverse, some valuable safety gear comes only on top-of-the-line models. Still, its interior space and distinctive looks will give it an edge for some buyers against the Infiniti and Acura. Also, while those models edge out the Enclave’s EPA ratings (20 mpg in mixed driving with all-wheel-drive), the Buick claws back by accepting regular fuel while the other two request premium.

General Motors also offers a third seven-passenger crossover: the GMC Acadia. Once a twin to the Traverse and Enclave, the Acadia took a different path with its 2017 redesign. It’s now a size smaller than the Buick and Chevrolet, which boosted the GMC’s maneuverability and handling agility. However, fuel efficiency and value for the money aren’t much better than the bigger models.