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Bigger and lighter, the second-generation 2018 Chevrolet Traverse reboots Chevy’s midsize SUV. The three-row Traverse, available now, is aimed squarely at the Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Toyota Highlander which have dominated the midsize SUV segment in recent years.

The Lansing-built Traverse is one of General Motors Co.’s most important launches of the year. The first full redesign since debuting as a 2009 model, its sportier exterior and premium amenities are intended to better compete with the Explorer and Grand Cherokee, said Steve Majoros, marketing director for Chevy crossovers. Those SUVs have doubled the Traverse in annual sales and Majoros is hoping he can break through to some new buyers, including more men in the growing but crowded three-row SUV segment.

The redesigned Traverse, now on sale, adds new trim levels including a sporty RS, top-of-the-line High Country and Redline package featuring black with red accents that Majoros says will bring in new owners and push manufacturer’s suggested retail prices higher. The Traverse now trails the segment median of $41,200 by about $2,500.

Majoros admits that a single man or a couple owning a Grand Cherokee or an Explorer seems like a good fit. That contrasts somewhat with the Traverse, which has mostly been known as a family vehicle.

“I think that’s the big challenge for us,” he said. “How do we become a product that handles all the great things it has done up to this point, but how do we break into a category or a dimension of the category that’s like, hey, I just want it because it’s a great looking car and it’s got some cool stuff and it fits what I need to do.”

Traverse sales through July this year are down 6 percent to 65,584. The company sold about 700 new Traverses in July and is on pace to sell about 2,000 to 3,000 in August. It has about 5,000 new Traverse SUVs on the ground and an inventory of about 20,000 of the previous generation to sell, Majoros said.

LMC Automotive has predicted Traverse could see a slight boost in sales volume over the next two years to 120,000 to 125,000 annually. Traverse’s best sales year was 2015 when it sold nearly 120,000.

Most Traverse advertising will come early next year and will be more overt and direct against the competition, Majoros said. Part of that will be to boost familiarity of the Traverse.

Ditching the familiar “boat bow” rear window and wrap-around, Impala-like front grille, the Traverse sports a more squared-off shape, giving it a boxier appearance than the outgoing generation and bringing it more in line with the styling of its smaller Equinox sibling. The result is a less expressive SUV, especially when compared to its stylish GMC Acadia cousin, built on the same platform.

But the real focus of this family hauler is its inside creature comforts. The 2-inch longer wheelbase mostly benefits passenger space (cargo room is slightly diminished from the previous generation). Second-row seating is optional as a bench or twin captain’s chairs, with the latter offering a nifty, one-step tumbling feature for easy third-row access for the rugrats — while not affecting an installed child seat, rear or forward facing. The feature rivals competitor Honda Pilot’s one-step button feature, although Chevy only offers the tumble seat on the curbside of the vehicle.

The interior also features GM’s patented interior connectivity with 4G Wi-Fi and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. In addition to a suite of infotainment apps that include iHeart Radio and Audiobooks, GM’s touchscreen infotainment system will offer over-the-air connectivity — to date an exclusive feature of Tesla — for future app upgrades.

The Traverse’s added size does not come at the expense of fuel efficiency, however, as the big Chevy goes on a 351-pound diet. The lighter chassis complements the Traverse’s familiar, 310-horsepower V-6 engine which gains 5 miles per gallon in fuel economy (and up to 27 mpg on the highway for a front-wheel drive model) and a full second in zero-60 acceleration. The fuel economy gain can largely be attributed, however, to Chevy’s 9-speed automatic transmission, the first application in a large, front-wheel-drive SUV. A smaller, 2-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine also will be offered – but only in the RS trim with front-wheel-drive.

“It’s the biggest car in the segment but also one of the lightest,” GM Light Truck Chief Engineer Rick Spina said. “We’ve put together a package with good aerodynamics and fuel economy, good ride and handling dynamics.”

Remade from the ground up on GM’s C1Y platform, the Traverse — which shares architecture with the GMC Acadia, Cadillac XT5, and forthcoming redesigned Buick Enclave — continues the General’s transformation to lighter, more maneuverable vehicles across its vehicle lineup. Despite its bigger dimensions, the Traverse’s predictable, smooth, AWD handling and drivetrain gives it the road confidence of a large sedan.

The Traverse’s premium High Country trim comes standard with the same sophisticated, torque-vectoring system found in the smaller Acadia and Cadillac — helping the large SUV’s on- and off-road maneuverability.

The Traverse starts at $30,875, including destination charge.

mburden@detroitnews.com

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