The RS is a new, higher-end Chevrolet trim now available on Canada’s 2018 Traverse. This RS designation has recently been introduced to the Traverse in the US along with the even-higher-end Premier and High Country trims, neither of which is available here as yet. New to Traverse, the RS trim was previously available on American versions of the Sonic, Cruze, and Camaro, though again not Canadian.
There may be a good deal of dancing between American and Canadian stats in the next few paragraphs. Last week, I was the only hoser invited on an exclusive trip with a handful of other auto writers, all of whom make music for a hobby – some of us at the High Country level, others like me nearer the depressingly titled LT Cloth. Chevy invited us on a musical mystery tour which includes making and recording music.
The reason? The Chevrolet name has a long history with popular music. For decades country and pop artists sang about Chevy without prompting. Lately Chevy’s marketers have begun to bank on all that publicity.
These drive events have become what Chevy’s PR people call a trend, this being the third year running that they’ve hosted one. The first two musical tours were based in Nashville. This particular trip starts in Los Angeles, California – specifically the Sunset Marquis Hotel in West Hollywood, whose legendary music stories stack higher than the hills – and rocks and rolls into the desert near Palm Springs.
Four hours through the California desert
Back to trends, Chevrolet USA is currently enjoying a three-year increase in brand recognition and sales. Moreover, sales are increasing in less traditionally Chevy-friendly markets like San Francisco, Miami, New York, Boston, Austin and, yes, in LA, where our day begins.
They’ve noticed a gap in this urban mid-size SUV market, where they could probably up-sell more baubles to buyers. It would appear that urban Traverse customers are leaving money on the table. Hence, these new trims.
Talking about city drivers, I think the Traverse is a huge beast – but when compared with such elephantine enormities as its sister Suburban, the Ford Expedition, or Toyota Sequoia, you appreciate what an arms race auto sales can be.
The beastly Traverse RS has an appropriately pushy engine: a 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder. Paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission, this direct-injected four-banger’s capable of 257 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. To allay fears of turbo lag, 90 percent of that peak torque can catapult you past desert cacti at as low as 2,100 cycles. (Being smaller, the engine features better mileage stats than the other Traverse trim’s 3.6L V6.)
Torquey and tanky, the RS proudly sports its own look
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To this urban driver, the Traverse feels like a truck – or maybe a tank. The RS trim exacerbates the visual effect with unique design elements: a front fascia like Joe Cocker’s pugnacious out-thrust mandible; rocker panels like Jimi Hendrix’s bellbottoms; brilliantly painted, upsized 20-inch aluminum wheels; and a rear spoiler.
Meanwhile, black accents abound. Note the groovy black Chevrolet bowtie-logos (versus the often-clashing corporate yellowy gold; every gentleman knows that black goes with everything). Then there’s the black roof rails, black ice grille, black window surrounds, and black fog light bezel.
As mentioned, the ride is trucky. (Without needing to collapse the backseats, the trunk easily accommodates a backpack, cleverly cached beneath the floor, plus a suitcase and oversized protective guitar case for a gorgeous and ancient acoustic Gibson.) Braking requires some planning, though breaking away from traffic is surprisingly easy. There’s plenty of room in the back seat for bandmates.
We’re on a tight schedule, moving due east from West Hollywood across LA into high desert. After the brief morning ride, packed as the day is with music-related activities, there isn’t time to experiment with the Traverse’s off-roading capabilities. (But this vehicle’s bull’s-eye buyer lives in town and probably doesn’t get off-road much.)
Some standards that come with the RS trim include a Bose premium 10-speaker audio system, rear camera mirror, surround vision, and effective navigation, which snaked us 140 miles to Janky Acres, an 11-acre desert getaway replete with scores of Joshua trees. Yes, Joshua trees. You’re thinking of U2 right now, aren’t you?
Let’s reprise Chevrolet and its long-time associations with music.
The bowtie brand and pop music have a deep connection. The mention of Chevy in popular songs totals well over a thousand if you include its sub-brands – and not just yer baccy-chawin’ country-truckin’ stuff. Consider Prince’s classic Little Red Corvette, which was much too fast, baby. Or The Dead Milkmen’s punk elegy Bitchin’ Camaro, wherein the hero runs over his neighbour but gets off in court “because my dad’s the mayor.”
The point? Between such examples as Bitchin’ Camaro and Little Red Corvette, it’s easy to forget how many Chevy models contain their own mythology.
The association between Chevy and music is not coincidence, but at least partially down to history. Remember Canadian media philosopher Marshall McLuhan’s insight, the medium is the message?
Chevrolet was the first manufacturer to install radios in their cars – it was 1933! Thirty years later, they were first to include FM with the AM. In 1970 Chevy was the first to install 8-track tape players.
Other car-as-music-hall Chevy firsts include compact disc players in 1990 and XM satellite radio in 2003. You could argue that Chevrolet was McLuhan’s musical medium that brought generations the message. Indeed, it would not be much of an exaggeration to say Chevrolet inadvertently invented product placement. Just think about it.
American Pie was a number-one hit for four weeks in America. The song is 8.5 minutes long! (Eat your heart out, Stairway to Hotel California.) With that number of choruses, how many mentions of Don McLean’s Chevy going to the levy a day do you think would have been chanted between commercial breaks when listeners would be invited to “See the USA” in their Chevrolet?
Likewise, Bruce Springsteen still plays the odd four-hour show; that’s plenty of time to drag out Thunder Road. He ain’t playing for the man, this note’s for you, as Neil Young would say.
And in case it seems we’re tipping the scales a tad old, let’s not forget how Taylor Swift fell for boys in Chevy trucks as early as 2011 when she was barely grown up.
Back to our beautiful scrubby desert destination. According to our Chevrolet hosts, these wonderfully named Janky Acres have inspired famous artists including Keith Richards, Jim Morrison, the Foo Fighters (what is Foo and why fight it?), Iggy Pop, The Doors, Donovan “Mellow Yellow” Leitch (who offered to buy his muse not just a Chevrolet, but also a Ford Mustang and even a Cadillac if she just gave him some of her love – must be some refined love, that).
And of course U2, who recently completed their 30th anniversary tour of the Joshua Tree record, which they played a fifth lower than when released.
Blinking in the sunshine beside a fleet of shiny Traverses, our little contingent of auto writers is corralled into practice by big-time Nashville producer Frank Rogers. Having written and produced dozens of hits, Rogers has worked with such names as Brad Paisley, Sheryl Crow, Carrie Underwood, Darius Rucker, and now a bunch of 50-something auto writers. Outside, we acoustically rehearse three songs, including Queen’s Crazy Little Thing Called Love and U2’s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (though this hauntingly beautiful desert escape must be pretty darn close to whatever that is).
Tonight we are scheduled to record nearby in a studio co-owned by Queen’s musical director and keyboard player. Sadly I won’t be able to stay. I have to catch an early flight back to the frozen north due to a previous commitment.
On the way to the airport in a Little Red Traverse RS, The Eagles encourage me to Take it to the Limit one more time. Good idea. We arrive even earlier than needed.