If this were a championship fight between middleweights, it would definitely go the full 15 rounds, because the 2015 Chevy Traverse and 2015 Ford Explorer are vehicles from two industry giants that couldn’t be more evenly matched. I took a test drive in each to see which of the “Big Two” has what it takes. Neither model is new, but both have kept up with the times with numerous updates. By the time you read this, the 2016 models will be making their way to market, but the Traverse won’t change much and the Explorer’s changes are mostly cosmetic, so going with the 2015 models might save you some money.
Surprisingly, many three-row crossover/SUVs, such as the Acura MDX, Infinity QX60, Dodge Journey and Nissan Rogue, have tow ratings of 3,500 pounds or less, which realistically restricts them to towing boats less than 20 feet long. But both front-wheel drive models I tested can tow at least 5,000 pounds of trailer weight, despite neither offering a V-8. Both have all-wheel drive options for extra grip up slippery ramps. With trailers averaging around 1,000 pounds, the Traverse and Explorer can tow most boats 24 feet or shorter.
The Ford Explorer has a trailer capacity of 5,000 pounds when you equip it with a Class III towing package and a 3.5L 290 hp V-6 that puts out 250 foot pounds of torque. The Chevy Traverse can tow 5,200 pounds when equipped with the Class III package combined with the 3.6L V-6, which puts out 288 hp (281 hp with single exhaust). Despite having less horsepower, it puts out slightly more torque at 266 foot pounds.
Edge: Chevy Traverse
Performance & Handling
The Chevy Traverse is a larger vehicle, with a 119-inch wheelbase, and appears to share at least part of its DNA with the minivan family, though since its makeover in 2013 it is more stylish inside and out. It has 17-, 18- or 20-inch wheels, and its 3.6L 288 hp engine is the most powerful available. When I stomped the accelerator, its decent, albeit not blazing, acceleration was enough to bring Matthew from Regal Chevrolet in Lakeland, Fla., to full attention.
The Ford Explorer, equipped with the 290 hp 3.5L V-6, felt very similar to the Traverse during hard acceleration, but the top-of-the-line Explorer Sport I tested was a different animal altogether. Mine was Darth Vader black and sat tall on 20-inch sport wheels, looking like a linebacker ready to blitz. And it was no sheep in wolf’s clothing, sporting an EcoBoost 3.5L V-6 with twin turbochargers under the hood that help it crank out a best-in-class 365 hp with 350 foot pounds of torque. Mileage was only slightly worse than the normally aspirated 3.5L engine: 18 mpg (combined) vs. 19 mpg (combined) when both had all-wheel drive. Given permission to let loose the ponies by Sandra at Mike Davidson Ford in Jacksonville, Fla., I waited until the policeman in front of me exited, then mashed the accelerator and quickly experienced a blast of adrenaline as I was pushed back into my seat. I was surprised, though, to learn its tow rating is the same 5,000 pounds as the less-potent Explorer. Handling was virtually a dead heat for me, with both vehicles exhibiting tight steering and excellent line-holding ability. The Explorer was a touch more nimble, due to its shorter wheelbase.
Edge: Ford Explorer
The Ford Explorer is 6 inches shorter, with a wheelbase of 113 inches, and the resulting interior space reflects its smaller stature. The most noticeable difference is its seven-passenger rating — one less than the Traverse, which has 2-3-3 seating. Interior cargo space with the seats folded down is a big advantage for the Traverse: 70.3 cubic feet of space vs. 43.8 cubic feet for the Explorer. Third-row passenger space is roomier on the Travers: 7.8 inches more hip room and 6.8 inches more shoulder room. Headroom was an identical 37.8 inches.
Edge: Chevy Traverse
Both models have been liberally slathered with the latest gadgetry. As far as learning curves go, the MyLink in-dash control center on the Chevy Traverse had the shortest one. I found the Ford’s control panel a bit more baffling, but the upgraded SYNC with MyFord Touch puts up to 10,000 voice commands at your disposal. I didn’t try it, but I’ll bet “find doughnuts and dancing girls” would register a hit.
One thing I did love on the Explorer was the power third-row seats that tumble into seating or cargo mode with the touch of a button. The Chevy’s are manual flippers. In addition, the Ford has the kick-activated automatic tailgate.
Both have available collision-avoidance, lane-departure and blind-spot warnings, which will save many lives in this text-happy world we live in. Ford takes its safety features a bit further by initiating braking on its collision avoidance and also has Curve Control, which senses when you are throwing it into a corner a little too hot and gently slows you down. It also has standard Trailer Sway Control, keeping your trailer steady through selective braking and speed control and will even automatically parallel park for you (without your boat. of course).
Edge: Ford Explorer
The Other Stuff
Bumper-to-bumper coverage for both vehicles is a three-year, 36,000-mile warranty, but one big plus for the Chevy Traverse is its five-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, compared to Ford’s five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain coverage. Chevy’s Complete Care also gives you five-year, 100,000-mile roadside assistance. Both rate extremely high in safety during NHTSA crash tests, with five-star ratings overall. Starting MSRP is slightly less for the Ford Explorer at $30,700, with the Chevy Traverse priced at $30,795. Most people will option them up enough to push the price to the $40k range.
Edge: Chevy Traverse
The overall winner by the narrowest of margins: the Chevy Traverse, if you are viewing it from a strictly practical standpoint. The Ford Explorer Sport is likely to be the choice for boaters more into high performance and with a penchant for high-tech wizardry. Looks like a right brain/left brain win-win to me.