2023 BraunAbility Chevrolet Traverse

This 2023 BraunAbility Chevrolet Traverse First Drive wheelchair-accessible SUV offers minivan-like mobility in a trendier package.

With more than 3 million Americans using a wheelchair full-time, you’d think there would be more accessible versions of the ever-popular SUV. Sadly for fans of choice, minivans—with their large, flat floors, sliding doors, and uncool images—remain the most common platform for mobility conversions. BraunAbility, which has been putting wheeled folks on wheels for half a century, aims to offer a more compelling choice with its wheelchair-accessible conversion of Chevrolet’s big Traverse SUV.

There are so few wheelchair-accessible SUVs on the market simply because there aren’t many that fit the requirements. Though myriad SUVs work as companion vehicles (where the wheelchair user is the passenger), making one drivable is another matter; the vehicle has to have enough floor space for a driver to wheel in, turn around, and either transfer to the driver’s seat or secure their chair behind the wheel. Generally, only minivans offer that sort of flexibility.

Furthermore, in order for a vehicle to be cost-effective for a conversion company like BraunAbility, it needs to be projected to remain in production for some time with no major changes. That’s because mobility conversion of an SUV requires extensive reengineering; the unibody must effectively be cut into two large pieces, separating the floor from the rest of the structure in order to lower and flatten it, a process that unfortunately precludes the use of all-wheel or rear-drive models. The exhaust, wiring, and brake and fuel lines must be rerouted as well. And, of course, the vehicle must have a ramp installed.

By sticking with the front-drive version and engineering a floor that is rounded at the back, Braun was able to modify the Traverse to provide the necessary space. Access is via a cassette-style ramp installed under the right rear door, which is itself rather spectacularly reengineered as a power-operated plug door that moves out and back to provide a wide opening. BraunAbility was even able to preserve the Traverse’s towing capacity, which is as high as 5,000 pounds.

For all the changes, the 2023 BraunAbility Chevrolet Traverse maintains its style. Black body cladding extends below the rocker panels to help hide the changes in body height, and although there is more space between the top of the tire and the fender arches, that’s never a bad look for an SUV. Most remarkable is the fitment of the plug door, which closes flush to the body with panel gaps identical to a stock Traverse.

The driving experience is also quite close to stock. The Traverse’s 310-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 has plenty of power to handle the weight of the conversion. With the driver’s seat raised along with the body, we expected body lean to be exaggerated, but it wasn’t; the BraunAbility conversion corners like any other Traverse. We did note more noise from the back of the vehicle, no surprise given that so many noise-absorbing elements (seats, carpet) are missing.

All of the MotorTrend editorial staff is ambulatory, so we enlisted the help of Julienne Dallara, a staffer with Abilities Expo, to evaluate the 2023 BraunAbility Chevrolet Traverse from a wheelchair user’s perspective. She noted that even with the kneeling suspension, which uses a chain to pull the right-rear corner down to its bump stop, the underfloor ramp has a rather steep angle. (The folding ramps used in van conversions provide a more gentle grade, but the Traverse’s plug door precludes their use.) Once inside, though, she thought the amount of maneuvering room was excellent, if not quite as generous as in a van.

Our test vehicle wasn’t equipped with an accessible driver’s seat, but had it been, Dallara was sure she had all the room she would have needed to turn and transfer to a behind-the-wheel position. Both front seats are detachable and mounted to wheeled platforms that allow them to be removed via the ramp (similar to those seen in BraunAbility’s Ford Explorer from a few years ago), and the platforms also have extensions that fill the footwell to provide a stock-height floor. Racks in the floor accommodate tie-down straps to secure wheelchairs into passenger positions.

2023 BraunAbility Chevrolet Traverse

Dallara also liked the lift-over height of the cargo bay, which she said was ideal for someone in a wheelchair, and the fact that the third-row seat remains, as it provides a handy backstop for cargo. The seat can also be folded down to expand cargo space, just as in a stock Traverse.

That third row now serves as the back seat and is one of the elements engineered to accommodate ambulatory passengers. It’s reasonably comfortable (something we can say about few third-row seats, even in large SUVs), with climate controls and power ports intact. The rear A/C blows through stock ceiling vents, though heat comes through only a single hip-level register on the right side.

In the past, we’ve seen some pretty shoddy mobility conversions, but we were impressed by how well the BraunAbility Traverse was assembled. We liked that the new switchgear closely matched stock GM parts. Not all was perfect, however. We thought the plastic that houses the abbreviated center console (which can be repositioned according to the owner’s needs) looked rather cheap, and our test car sometimes had trouble recognizing when the key fob was in the vehicle, a fault BraunAbility says has since been resolved by relocating the sensors. Mostly, though, the 2023 BraunAbility Chevrolet Traverse felt as if it could have rolled fully realized out of Chevrolet’s own factory.

Pricing is in line with accessible minivans. The Traverse 1LT lists for $38,440 as it comes from Chevrolet, and the basic conversion adds $35,810, for a total of $74,250. But that’s before you add in the hardware that owners will need to drive, such as a transfer seat or hand controls; every mobility vehicle is effectively a custom build, so final pricing varies. The happy news is that the Traverse’s base price is right in line with BraunAbility’s minivans—they don’t charge a premium for that SUV cool factor. In addition, there are grants, manufacturer mobility programs, and tax deductions that can lower the price further.

We’re happy to see BraunAbility offering non-ambulatory folks a vehicle that is both stylish and on-trend, and that the final result keeps the stock styling and driving characteristics largely intact. Like any other Traverse, the BraunAbility conversion is a roomy, comfortable, and flexible hauler. Let’s hope it’s but the first of many more-compelling vehicles for those on wheels.

2023 BraunAbility Chevrolet Traverse Specifications
Base Price $74,250
Layout Front-engine, FWD, 7-pass, 4-door, wheelchair-accessible SUV
Engine 3.6L/310-hp/266-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmission 9-speed auto
Curb Weight 5,000 lb (mfr est)
Wheelbase 120.9 in
L x W x H 205.9 x 78.6 x 74.0  in
0-60 MPH 7.5 sec (MT est)
EPA CITY/HWY/Comb Fuel ECON 18/27/21 mpg (est)
EPA RANGE, COMB 524 miles
On Sale Now

Leave a Reply