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When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

A white 2021 Ford Explorer is shown from the front parked on a dock after winning a 2021 Ford Explorer vs 2021 Chevy Traverse comparison.

Three Row SUV Showdown: 2021 Ford Explorer vs 2021 Chevy Traverse

Three-row midsize SUVs seem to be taking the roads of Suburbia these days, being the go-to vehicles for moms and dads with their cadres of kids, dogs, cats, and multitasking activities. Looking for ones that are safe, affordable, and dependable will lead most suburban families to realize that the choice often comes down to the 2021 Ford Explorer vs 2021 Chevy Traverse. Each of these models offers plenty of room for family members, as well as decent room in the back for plenty of cargo. In addition, the 2021 Explorer and 2021 Traverse check the critical box when it comes to vehicle safety.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the 2021 Ford Explorer a Top Safety Pick+, while the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration gave the 2021 Chevy Traverse 5 stars for overall vehicle safety. This is important since it shows that independent agencies consider these two of the safest models in the three-row midsize SUV vehicle class, with plenty of active and passive safety features as part of the Co-Pilot360 system on the Ford Explorer and the Chevy Safety Assist system on the Traverse.

Nevertheless, there are a number of critical differences between these two models that should lead you to decide that the Explorer is the better overall buy of these two midsize SUVs. We will explore further why you should consider the Explorer instead of crossing to a Traverse.

Pricing and Trim Choices

The 2021 Chevy Traverse has a lower overall price point than the 2021 Ford Explorer, starting an MSRP of $29,800 on the Traverse L model.* In contrast, the MSRP of the base model Explorer has an MSRP of $32,925.* Both Chevrolet and Ford offer their models with seven different trim options, with the top model Traverse trim being the High Country, while Ford offers the top-trim Platinum and King Ranch on the Explorer.

A black 2021 Chevy Traverse is shown from the side parked in front of a mountain.

Engine Options

Ford offers the 2021 Explorer with a choice of three different engines. The base model has a 2.3-liter EcoBoost Turbocharged I-4 that produces 300 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. There are also two other available engines. The 3.0-liter EcoBoost Turbocharged V6 produces 365 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque, while the 3.3-liter Hybrid V6 provides 318 horsepower and 322 lb-ft of torque. In comparison, Chevy only offers one standard engine on the 2021 Traverse, a 3.6-liter V6 that produces 310 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque, which is less than the figures on any of the three engines on the Traverse.


The 2021 Chevy Traverse pairs its engine with a 9-speed automatic transmission. The 2021 Ford Explorer comes standard with a 10-speed automatic transmission, giving you greater engine responsiveness, as well as improved control over your powertrain’s performance.


One thing that both of these midsize SUVs feature is the ability to tow trailers, something that it is a good feature to have especially if you intend to use your SUV as a recreational vehicle. The 2021 Chevy Traverse can tow up to 5,000 pounds, the same amount as the 2021 Ford Explorer with the hybrid engine. If you choose the Explorer with the Turbo I-4, you can tow up to 5,300 pounds, while choosing the Turbocharged V6 will let you tow up to 5,600 pounds. This will come in handy if you are planning to tow a boat or camper.

Performance, Acceleration, and Handling

The 2021 Chevy Traverse comes with a front-wheel drivetrain, with available all-wheel drive. In contrast, the 2021 Ford Explorer is rear-wheel drive with available all-wheel drive. As a result, the Explorer will give you better acceleration, especially if you equip it with a turbocharged V6. This model will go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in just 5.2 seconds, with a top speed of 146 miles per hour. The Chevy Traverse will take longer to get up to its top speed of 130 miles per hour, taking a full 6.5 seconds to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour. In addition, the Traverse has a 120.9-inch wheelbase, almost two inches longer than the 119.1-inch wheelbase on the Explorer. This will make it harder to corner in a Traverse and require more room to get into and out of parking spaces.

Fuel Economy

No matter which model of 2021 Ford Explorer you choose, you are going to get generally better overall fuel economy than on the 2021 Chevy Traverse. The Traverse gets 18 MPG in the city and 27 MPG on the highway with FWD, and 17 MPG in the city and 25 MPG on the highway with AWD. These are basically the same as the figures on the 2021 Ford Explorer with a more powerful V6 engine.

The 2021 Ford Explorer really excels in fuel economy when you choose either the Hybrid V6 or the Turbocharged I-4. The Hybrid V6 will give you 27 MPG in the city and 28 MPG on the highway with RWD and 23 MPG in the city and 26 MPG on the highway with AWD. The Turbocharged I-4 will also provide excellent fuel economy of 21 MPG in the city and 28 MPG on the highway with RWD and 20 MPG in the city and 27 MPG on the highway with AWD.Outcome: Advantage 2021 Ford Explorer.

A black 2021 Ford Explorer is parked on rooftop in the city.

Cargo and Passenger Space

Chevy and Ford have taken different approaches to their three-row midsize SUVs. Chevy has designed the 2021 Traverse with captain’s chairs in the front row, with bench seats in the second and third rows of most models. As a result, the Traverse can seat up to eight passengers. Ford went with captain’s chairs in all three rows of the 2021 Explorer. This improves the comfort for the passengers in the rear two rows while making it easier for those in the third row to enter and exit the vehicle. However, it reduces the capacity to six passengers in the Explorer. In addition, there is 157.3 cubic feet of passenger space in the Traverse, compared to 152.7 cubic feet in the Explorer.

Looking at cargo space also shows that there is slightly more room in the Traverse than the Explorer. The Traverse has 23 cubic feet of space in the trunk that can be expanded to 98.2 cubic feet with the rear two rows folded down. The Ford has slightly less space, 18.2 cubic feet in the trunk with the ability to free up a maximum of 87.8 cubic feet.

Infotainment systems

Both the 2021 Ford Explorer and the 2021 Chevy Traverse come equipped with their automakers’ respective infotainment systems. Each one offers such features as AM/FM stereo, Bluetooth connectivity, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. The Explorer has the Ford SYNC system on either an 8-inch or 10.1-inch touchscreen. The Traverse features the Chevrolet Infotainment 3 system on a standard 7-inch touchscreen with an available 8-inch touchscreen. The larger screen on the Ford Explorer will make it easier to operate your infotainment system while driving and also provide a larger display, improving the view of the various apps and features.

The Explorer Crosses the Traverse

When deciding between these two midsize SUVs, you need to see which one checks more of the boxes for you and your family. The Explorer provides more engine options, better overall fuel economy and performance, and a more advanced infotainment system. The Traverse wins points for providing more overall passenger and cargo space, as well as a slightly lower price point. But unless space is the place for you, the Explorer will give you a more exciting drive and your family a more enjoyable ride.

*MSRP may change without notice. See your dealer for complete details.


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