The giant American SUV is back!
Not too long ago, Americans were fixated with huge SUV’s. Seating for 29, leather seats, and a V8 engine made these things…hard to park, and very thirsty at the pump. The luxury barges were pretty disappointing too (Escalade/Navigator). With their cheap interiors and “look at me!” styling, these LuxUV’s left a lot to be desired. Thankfully though, high gas prices saw an end to the lumbering, American Ute. But, American carmakers got creative, and now, the American Ute is back! And it’s a lot more clever than it used to be.
The 2011 Chevy Traverse and the 2011 Ford Explorer are both fullsized kid chariots, capable of hauling 7-8 misbehaved kids to soccer practice. But the similarities to the old Chevy Trailblazer stop there. Instead of the body-on-frame design, used in traditional SUV’s, these trucks use a uni-body car chassis. Making them much lighter, and more fuel efficient than their forbearers. They also have plenty of power, thanks to computerized, direct injected V6’s. But sadly, that car chassis limits towing capacity to 5,200 lbs with the Traverse (V6 AWD), and just 5,000 lbs with the Explorer (V6 AWD).
These trucks aren’t like the truck-based SUV’s of old. They’re car based, so they…drive like a car. Making them better suited to pavement pounding, than off-roading. But since most buyers rarely go through much more than the occasional snow drift, they can provide comfortable family transportation, with an unmatched level of occupant protection. So, Traverse vs Explorer, which one is better?!
2011 Ford Explorer
The new Explorer is based on the same front-wheel drive platform as the new Ford Taurus. And it’s available with either a 3.5 liter V6 with Twin-independent variable camshaft timing and 290-hp. Or, a 2.0 liter EcoBoost 4-cyl. Complete with a turbo & direct injection, for a healthy 237-hp and 250 lb-ft torque.
The base model comes with FWD, but the XLT, and the top-shelf Limited can be had with AWD (which includes Ford’s new Terrain Management System). Borrowing heavily from Land Rover, Ford’s engineers programmed the Terrain Management System to make the truck respond to different surface conditions. The system can be adjusted by a large knob on the center console, and the settings are; Normal, Mud & Ruts, Sand, Gravel/Snow. By varying the throttle response, transmission shift points, stability control program, traction control program and the power split between the wheels, the Ford Explorer manages to be quite capable off-road. And its new-found off road prowess is further enhanced by the available Hill Descent Control, and Hill Ascent Control.
So the AWD 2011 Ford Explorer is like “Off-roading for Dummy’s”. And, just in case you can’t drive on the road either, Ford gave the new Explorer a feature that it calls Curve Control. This system uses a variety of sensors to detect if you’re entering a curve too fast. It can then apply individual wheel brakes to slow the car down before…you flip it. Or, you could just…learn how to drive?
Besides all of the Idiot Assist features (including active park assist, & blind-spot warning, optional on the XLT & Limited), the 2011 Explorer offers a host of standard safety features including; inflatable rear seatbelts, front, side & side curtain airbags, stability, traction & trailer-sway controls, and the Explorer Limited can be optioned with a collision warning system that works in conjunction with radar guided cruise control, to keep you from rear ending the car in front of you. All of this safety tech helped the 2011 Explorer to win a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Which is actually pretty impressive.
This new, friendlier Explorer has a lot to offer on the road too. It has controlled, car-like driving characteristics, thanks in part to its well-tuned electric power steering system. An electric power steering system increases fuel efficiency, and it allows the truck to steer itself into a parking spot, using the Active Park Assist program. But, I’d gladly trade all of that for a conventional hydraulic steering setup, where the steering wheel is actually connected to the front wheels, instead of a Mickey Mouse sensor…
The new Explorer benefits from Ford’s improvements in the build quality department too. Instead of using recycled milk jugs to make the dash and door panels, Ford used soft-touch materials, and high-quality switchgear to give this family-wagon a very upscale feel. Add to that, a standard LCD gauge cluster (another Land Rover feature), the latest version of SYNC, and a choice of colors for the ambient lighting, and you have a CUV that feels a bit like an expensive Audi.
Optional on the XLT & Limited is the new MyFord Touch system, which incorporates a huge touchscreen, flanked by a large touch panel for the climate & audio controls. This system is sure to delight any technophile, but it can be somewhat distracting to use while you’re driving. Maybe that’s why this thing has so many safety features?
2011 Chevrolet Traverse
Compared to the new Ford Explorer, the 2011 Chevy Traverse just seems a bit dull. It has handsome lines, and an aggressive stance. But, you have to really look at it to appreciate the styling. In this competitive segment, you need looks that’ll stand out in a crowd. And the Chevy Traverse just looks like something that you’d rent at an airport…in Cleveland.
Looks aside, the Traverse delivers on practicality. With a rear bench, it can seat up to 8 passengers. Opt for the rear captain’s chairs and you get the Smart Slide function, which allows you to easily access the third row by flipping a little lever.
Other backseat amenities include the ambiguous TV package, a rear console, a 110v plugin (for junior’s playstation), tri-zone climate control, and a twin-pane sunroof. The Traverse keeps all three rows of passengers safe with front, side, and side curtain (for all 3 rows) airbags, standard traction & stability control with roll mitigation (keeps you from crashing), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution & OnStar emergency response.
On the road, the Traverse handles much like a minivan. Which is to say, it feels like you’re driving a top-heavy car. But, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, since most traditional SUV’s used to feel like you were driving a top-heavy…U-Haul.
The direct-injected 3.6 liter V6 produces 281 horsepower, which is just about right for a vehicle of this size. Step up to the top-shelf Traverse LTZ and you get 288 horsepower, thanks to a different exhaust system. But that’s still 2 horsepower less than the Explorer’s 290-hp 3.5 liter V6. Fuel economy in the AWD Traverse is EPA rated at 16 mpg city / 23 mpg highway (17/24 for the FWD). By contrast, the 2011 Explorer AWD gets 17 mpg city / 23 mpg highway. The Traverse’s available AWD system isn’t as advanced as the Explorer’s. But, this truck has no intentions of being an off roader..it’s very proud of being a soccer shuttle.
To sum up the differences between these two crossovers – The 2011 Explorer is Digital & the 2011 Traverse is Analog.
The Explorer offers an upscale interior, with a huge touchscreen & a bunch of integrated infotainment features. And while the Traverse offers many of the same features, technology is not really the focus of this truck. It can be optioned with a touchscreen Nav/Satelite radio with rear backup camera, but it’s not as big, or as functional as the Ford system. The Traverse has an (optional) ultrasonic rear park assist system, but it won’t park the truck for you, like the Ford system will. The Explorer has an electronic blindspot warning system with buzzers and flashing lights. The Chevy has (optional) convex mirror inserts. The Ford has SYNC voice-activated controls, the Chevy has to make due with push buttons on the steering wheel. So, the Chevy Traverse is for the practical do-it-yourselfer, and the Ford Explorer is for the technophile…who can’t drive. When you are looking for a SUV that is less expensive, we advice you to checkout this top 10.
Traverse vs Explorer
|Specifications||2011 Ford Explorer||2011 Chevrolet Traverse|
|DRIVE-TYPE||Front wheel drive / AWD||Front wheel drive / AWD|
|AVERAGE FUEL USAGE||20.0 mpg||20.5 mpg|
|POWER||290 hp||281 hp|
|TORQUE||255 ft-lbs.||266 ft-lbs.|