Crossover & Midsize

Ford Explorer vs. Chevy Traverse: American 3-Row SUV Showdown

The Chevy Traverse isn’t necessarily the best or most reliable 3-row SUV/crossover Chevrolet offers. But the Traverse still has a lot to offer the average buyer, and Consumer Reports found owners were extremely satisfied with it. However, the new Ford Explorer has also recently garnered positive reviews, beating out the Toyota Highlander in Kelley Blue Book’s test. So, which of these 3-row American SUVs is the one to buy?

Chevy Traverse specs and features

2019 Chevrolet Traverse High Country
2019 Chevrolet Traverse High Country | Chevrolet

The current Chevy Traverse is available in 7 trims: $29,800 L; $32,900 LS; $35,400 LT Cloth; $39,100 LT Leather; $43,600 RS; $45,800 Premier; and $50,900 High Country.

Previously, Car and Driver reports, the Traverse was available with both a four-cylinder and V6 engines. However, with the 2020 model year, the only engine is the 310-hp 3.6-liter V6, with a 9-speed automatic. Front-wheel drive is standard on all trims, though all-wheel drive is optional on all but the L trim. Ever Chevy Traverse trim, though is rated to tow up to 5000 lbs.

2020 Chevrolet Traverse interior
2020 Chevrolet Traverse interior | Chevrolet

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard on every Chevy Traverse trim, and there are USB ports available in all 3 rows. However, advanced driver-assistance features like lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control are only available on higher trims. Lane-keeping assist and rear cross-traffic alert, for instance, are only standard starting at the LT Leather. However, every Traverse comes with a 360-degree camera as well as a camera view that helps with trailer hook-up.

Car and Driver recommends the Chevy Traverse Premier. That comes with leather upholstery, heated 2nd-row seats, heated and ventilated front seats, wireless charging, 10-speaker Bose audio system, power liftgate, and built-in navigation.

Ford Explorer specs and features

2020 Ford Explorer Platinum
2020 Ford Explorer Platinum | Ford

The current Ford Explorer also has 6 different trim levels: the $32,765 base; $36,675 XLT; $48,130 Limited; $52,280 Limited Hybrid; $54,740 ST; and $58,250 Platinum. The SUV was majorly refreshed for the 2020 model year, receiving a brand-new rear-wheel-drive platform, a new interior, and updated powertrains.

The base, XLT, and Limited trims get a 300-hp 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, while the Platinum has a 365-hp 3.6-liter twin-turbocharged V6. The ST has the same V6, only tuned to 400 hp. The Limited Hybrid, meanwhile combines a 3.3-liter V6 with an electric motor to deliver 318 hp. A 10-speed automatic is the only transmission. AWD is optional, though the twin-turbo V6 only comes with AWD.

2020 Ford Explorer ST interior
2020 Ford Explorer ST interior | Ford

As with the Chevy Traverse, the Explorer comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay standard across the board. However, unlike the Chevy, the Ford’s ADAS features come standard. And the Ford Explorer can also tow slightly more: even the four-cylinder trims can tow 5300 lbs.

Car and Driver recommends the Ford Explorer Limited. This comes with a 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system, parking assist, heated steering wheel, and power-folding 3rd-row. For those who spend more time in the city, the hybrid does get appreciably-better fuel efficiency there. However, for those who need to tow, or spend more time on the highway, it’s not worth the upcharge.

How reviewers ranked them

Comparisons of the Chevy Traverse and Ford Explorer have been somewhat conflicting.

Motor Trend ranked the Traverse above the Explorer both in its head-to-head test and its extended 3-row SUV comparison. Although neither 3-row SUV had a particularly good interior, MT found the Traverse more spacious, especially its 3rd-row seats, and its interior materials were better than the Explorer’s. In addition, MT reports the Chevy’s transmission shifts smoother and quicker than the Ford’s. Plus, the Traverse has a better infotainment system, as well as ventilated seats.

However, Cars.com scored the Ford Explorer higher than the Chevy Traverse in its 3-row SUV comparison. Reviewers found the Ford was faster and handled better than the Chevy, something that Car and Driver also noted. The Explorer also has more standard safety features, more storage space, and its brakes can be better modulated.

But, Cars.com and Car and Driver also found the Explorer’s interior materials weren’t up to the SUV’s price tag. In addition, the sportier handling comes at the expense of some ride comfort. Cars.com also reports the Chevy Traverse has more-comfortable seats. And in terms of passing ability, MT reports the Traverse is actually faster from 45-65 mph than the Explorer.

In terms of fuel efficiency, both SUVs are roughly equal. MT observed 19.7 mpg in the Chevy Traverse and 18.9 mpg in the Ford Explorer. Meanwhile, Cars.com saw 21 mpg in the Traverse and 23.3 mpg in the Explorer.

Which is the better buy?

Ultimately, both 3-row SUVs have their respective strengths and weaknesses. The Ford Explorer can tow slightly more and has more ADAS features. The Chevy Traverse, though, is more spacious, with better infotainment and a lower sticker price.

Choosing between the two will have come down to a test drive.

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