2021 Chevrolet Traverse vs. 2021 Ford Explorer Comparison

Erin Riches-Wong | Feb 09, 2021

If you're shopping for a 3-row midsize SUV, you'll certainly want to take a look at the 2021 Chevrolet Traverse and 2021 Ford Explorer. These two are obvious candidates if you prefer to buy an American-brand SUV. In addition, the Explorer is consistently one of the best-selling vehicles in the United States.

The Chevrolet Traverse and Ford Explorer also offer key advantages that will appeal to certain buyers. The Chevy is longer than most other SUVs in this class, and it has significantly more third-row passenger room and cargo capacity as a result. Meanwhile, the Ford gives you compelling powertrain options to consider, including both a hybrid and a high-performance V6. And both SUVs have solid tow ratings that can accommodate a modest travel trailer or boat.

Here's a 2021 Chevrolet Traverse vs. 2021 Ford Explorer comparison to help you decide whether either of these 3-row midsize SUVs makes sense for your family.

Price and Value

2021 Chevrolet Traverse High Country Front Quarter View

2021 Chevrolet Traverse High Country

Chevrolet offers the 2021 Traverse in six trim levels: L, LS, LT, RS, Premier, and High Country. Pricing ranges from $29,800 to $50,900, not including a $1,195 destination charge. Chevy has announced that the refreshed 2022 Traverse will arrive in the third quarter of 2021. A modest price increase is likely on the 2022 model, which will have an upgraded interior and additional standard safety content.

A V6 engine and front-wheel drive are standard on the 2021 Chevrolet Traverse. You can get all-wheel drive on all trims, except the base L. Pricing for the Traverse's AWD option varies by trim level and will cost you anywhere from $2,000-$2,600.

The 2021 Traverse comes with a three-month trial subscription to Chevrolet Connected Access. It's a bundle of OnStar connected services that includes automatic crash notification, rapid access to emergency and roadside services, live crisis assistance during severe weather events and other natural disasters, and remote engine start and door locking via your phone. The trial also provides five years of vehicle diagnostics monitoring and notifications.

Additionally, you can use up to 3 GB of data during your one-month free trial for the Traverse's in-vehicle 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, provided you haven't activated a free Wi-Fi trial on a previous General Motors vehicle.

Chevrolet offers one free scheduled maintenance visit during the first 12 months that you own a 2021 Traverse.

Ford offers the 2021 Explorer in five trim levels: base, XLT, Limited, ST, and Platinum. Pricing on the Ford ranges from $32,225 and to $54,480, excluding a $1,245 destination charge. 

Most 2021 Ford Explorers will have a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. But if that doesn't suit your taste, Ford also offers both a high-performance twin-turbocharged V6 as well as the Ford Explorer Hybrid ($49,855). The hybrid Explorer combines a non-turbo V6 engine with an electric motor and a small, lithium-ion battery pack mounted under the rear seats.

Most models have rear-wheel drive as standard, including the Explorer Hybrid. All-wheel drive costs an extra $2,000. The ST and Platinum both use versions of the turbocharged V6 and have standard AWD.

A limited menu of free connected services is standard on every 2021 Ford Explorer. FordPass Connect allows owners to use their phones to lock the doors, start the engine, or schedule a time to start the engine. There's also a three-month free trial for the Wi-Fi hotspot and a 3 GB data limit as in the Traverse.

Ford doesn't offer free scheduled maintenance. But a rewards program in the FordPass app allows you to rack up points for completing various tasks (purchasing an Explorer, for example) and then redeem them at participating dealerships for discounts on maintenance and other services.

Advantage: Chevrolet Traverse

Reliability and Quality

2021 Ford Explorer Platinum Front Quarter View

2021 Ford Explorer Platinum

The Chevrolet Traverse did not rank in either the J.D. Power 2020 Vehicle Dependability Study or the 2020 Initial Quality Study. The Chevy comes with the following warranty and roadside assistance coverage:

  • Standard warranty: 3 years or 36,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 5 years or 60,000 miles
  • Roadside assistance: 5 years or 60,000 miles

The Ford Explorer did not rank in the 2020 Vehicle Dependability Study or the 2020 Initial Quality Study. Ford's 3-row midsize SUV comes with the following warranty and roadside assistance coverage:

  • Standard warranty: 3 years or 36,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 5 years or 60,000 miles
  • Hybrid system warranty: 8 years or 100,000 miles
  • Hybrid battery warranty: 8 years or 100,000 miles
  • Roadside assistance: 5 years or 60,000 miles

Advantage: Neither. With the exception of the Ford's added coverage for hybrid Explorers, their warranties are identical. Neither ranks among the best in the segment for dependability.

Performance and Efficiency

2021 Chevrolet Traverse Dashboard

2021 Chevrolet Traverse

In past years, almost all 3-row midsize SUVs came with a standard 6-cylinder engine. In 2021, the Chevrolet Traverse is one of the few that offer only V6 power.

Acceleration is strong with the Chevy's 3.6-liter V6 engine, which is rated at a healthy 310 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. A 9-speed automatic transmission drives the front wheels or all four if your Traverse has optional AWD. In previous years, the Traverse High Country had a more advanced version of the AWD system that could precisely control the torque going to each rear wheel for better grip and performance, but for 2021, the more deluxe setup (and its locking rear differential) is on hiatus.

When equipped with the optional trailering package, the 2021 Traverse has a 5,000-pound tow rating.

Fuel economy is average for a V6-equipped SUV. A front-drive 2021 Chevrolet Traverse is EPA-rated at 21 mpg in combined city and highway driving. With AWD, the Traverse has a 20 mpg combined rating.

The 2021 Ford Explorer has a standard turbocharged, 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine. That might not look like nearly enough engine for an SUV with three rows of seating, but this turbo-4 makes a heady 300 hp and 310 lb.-ft. of torque. A 10-speed automatic transmission is standard.

Available only in Limited trim, the Ford Explorer Hybrid has a 3.3-liter V6 engine and hybrid-specific version of the 10-speed automatic transmission that integrates a 33-kilowatt electric motor. The hybrid Explorer makes 318 hp and 322 lb.-ft. of torque.

Both the four-cylinder and hybrid can be equipped with either rear-wheel drive or an AWD system with a Terrain Management traction system and selectable driving modes. A properly equipped 4-cylinder Explorer has a 5,300-pound tow rating, while the hybrid tops out at 5,000 pounds. Both versions of the 10-speed automatic have a tow-haul mode, and the stability control system incorporates trailer sway control.

For buyers who want more in the way of performance and fun, Ford offers its twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter V6 engine. It's rated at 400 hp and 415 lb.-ft. of torque in the sporty Ford Explorer ST and 365 hp and 380 lb.-ft. of torque in the luxurious Explorer Platinum model.

The 10-speed automatic and AWD are standard. A properly equipped 2021 Ford Explorer with the twin-turbo V6 has a 5,600-lb. tow rating. 

Fuel economy is a strength for the Explorer. Although the 2021 Ford Explorer Hybrid doesn't post the big mpg numbers you see with other hybrid SUVs, it offers a useful balance of efficiency and capability. The hybrid Explorer rates 27 mpg in combined driving with rear-wheel drive and 25 mpg with AWD.

Rear-wheel-drive 4-cylinder Ford Explorers earn a 24 mpg rating in combined driving, while AWD versions rate 23 mpg. The twin-turbo V6 Explorers have a 20 mpg combined rating.

Advantage: Ford Explorer

Safety and Driving Assistance

2021 Ford Explorer Platinum Dashboard

2021 Ford Explorer Platinum

Safety aids are skimpy on the 2021 Chevrolet Traverse. You'll need to step up to the LT trim level to get an option package with Chevy Safety Assist, which bundles advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS), including a forward-collision warning system, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assistance, a following distance indicator, and automatic high-beam control for the headlights.

When you select this package for the Traverse LT, you must buy it in combination with another option group that provides a blind-spot warning system and rear cross-traffic alert.

All of the above items are standard on the RS, Premier and High Country trims. The High Country alone offers adaptive cruise control. Note that the Chevy Safety Assist aids will be standard on every 2022 Chevrolet Traverse.

On the RS trim and above, you get a standard surround-view camera system and a rear camera mirror feature. The latter uses the SUV's rear camera to project a wider-angle view of what's behind you on the rearview mirror. You can toggle between this display and the conventional rearview mirror.

On vehicles with the tow package, a hitch guidance feature uses the Traverse's rearview camera to give you a close-up view of the hitch to help you line it up with your trailer or check your trailer connection when needed.

Finally, every 2021 Chevrolet Traverse comes with a rear seat reminder system that activates in certain situations to help you avoid leaving a child in your vehicle.

In government crash testing, the Traverse earned a 5-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but only 4 stars for frontal-impact crash safety.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rated a 2020 Traverse "Good" in most categories, but the big Chevy was not an IIHS Top Safety Pick. The Institute cited Poor performance from the HID projector headlights found on most versions of the 2021 Traverse. The standard LED headlights on the Premier and High Country earned an Acceptable rating.

It's easier to equip a 2021 Ford Explorer with desirable ADAS features. All trims have Ford's Co-Pilot 360 as standard equipment. Co-Pilot 360 includes all the same features as Chevy Safety Assist, plus blind-spot warnings and rear cross-traffic warning. On vehicles with the tow package, the blind-spot and rear cross-traffic systems include trailer coverage.

If you're looking for Level 2 semi-autonomous driving assistance, you can consider upgrading your Ford Explorer with Co-Pilot 360+, which bundles adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, lane-centering assistance, speed-limit sign recognition, and evasive-steering assistance. It's optional starting on the XLT trim level.

The Explorer ST and Platinum come standard with Reverse Brake Assist, a rear emergency braking system, and Active Park Assist 2.0, a fully autonomous self-parking system. The Limited, ST, and Platinum have a standard surround-view camera. The Platinum alone has adaptive headlights.

The Ford outscores the Chevy in crash testing. It earned a 5-star overall NHTSA rating, including 5 stars for front-impact safety. In addition, the IIHS named the 2020 Explorer a Top Safety Pick+.

Advantage: Ford Explorer

Infotainment and Technology

2021 Chevrolet Traverse Rear Quarter View

2021 Chevrolet Traverse

Inside the 2021 Chevrolet Traverse L and LS, you'll find a standard, 7-inch touchscreen infotainment interface. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration are included, as is Bluetooth audio streaming for two active devices. Six USB ports are standard, and they are equally distributed among all three rows of seats. For now, you'll need to plug in to use Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, but wireless integration is coming on the 2022 Traverse.

An 8-inch touchscreen interface is optional on the LT and standard on the higher trim levels, which also get a factory navigation system. The Premier and High Country have a wireless phone charging pad in the center console.

A 3-month trial subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio is standard starting on the Traverse LT. Optional on the LT and standard on the higher trims is a 3-month trial of SiriusXM 360L, which includes more content than the basic version of SiriusXM.

Six audio speakers are standard in the 2021 Chevrolet Traverse. Optional on the LT and standard on higher trims is a premium Bose audio system with 10 speakers. 

Every 2021 Ford Explorer has Ford's Sync 3 infotainment interface and a standard 8-inch, horizontal touchscreen display. You can equip the ST and Platinum with an optional, 10.1-inch vertical display, but it isn't as aesthetically pleasing because it looks like a tablet propped against the dash.

The basic setup includes smartphone integration, two USB ports, and a 3-month trial subscription for SiriusXM. Stepping up to the XLT provides two more USB ports in the second row, along with full keyless access to the vehicle. Two of the four USB ports are the newer Type-C variety.

Optional on the XLT and standard on higher trims is a factory navigation system and a 5-year subscription to SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link. The Limited, ST, and Platinum also have a wireless phone charging pad.

Like the Chevy, the Ford starts out with a six-speaker audio system. The Explorer Limited upgrades to a 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system. An enhanced, 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen system is optional on the ST and Platinum.

Advantage: Ford Explorer. The Explorer has a larger available touchscreen and more premium audio offerings, but otherwise, feature content is similar. You should try both to determine which interface you'll be happier using on a daily basis.

Comfort and Utility

2021 Ford Explorer Platinum Rear Quarter View

2021 Ford Explorer Platinum

If you need 8-passenger capacity in a midsize SUV, the 2021 Chevrolet Traverse is one of your best bets. With its standard, 60/40-split second- and third-row bench seats, it can fit eight people. Legroom is impressive even in the third row, so asking teenagers or even grandparents to sit back there isn't as outrageous as it would be in other 3-row crossover SUVs. 

Higher trims have captain's chairs in the second row, reducing total capacity to seven. With either setup, a SmartSlide feature on the outboard seat in the second row allows easier third-row access when a front-facing car seat is installed in the second-row. It doesn't work with rear-facing car seats, though, and families with younger children will likely prefer the captain's chairs for walk-through access to the rear.

Cloth upholstery, basic manual front-seat adjustments, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, and triple-zone climate control are standard on the Chevrolet Traverse's lower trim levels. Stepping up to at least the LT trim is worthwhile, as you'll get an 8-way power driver’s seat.

Leather upholstery, a 6-way power passenger’s seat, heated front seats, and a heated steering wheel are optional on the LT and standard on higher trims. Ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats and a power-adjustable steering wheel are standard in the Traverse Premier and High Country.

The Chevy leads the class in cargo capacity. Maximum capacity is 98.2 cubic feet with all the rear seats folded. When you have passengers on board, you'll have 23 cu. ft. behind the third-row seat and 57.8 cu. ft. behind the second-row seat. A power liftgate is optional starting on the LT, while a hands-free liftgate is standard starting on the Premier.

The 2021 Ford Explorer can seat six or seven people, depending on how it's equipped. The base model has a 35/30/35-split second-row bench seat. Other trims have second-row captain's chairs as standard (reducing capacity to six), but the bench seat is optional.

Like the Chevy, the Ford comes with cloth upholstery and triple-zone climate control. But the base Explorer offers the luxury of a standard 8-way power driver’s seat (4-way manual for the front passenger). The XLT has a 10-way power driver’s seat and a 4-way power passenger’s seat.

The Limited heaps on the amenities with its standard leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, heated second-row chairs, second-row sunshades, and ambient LED interior lighting. The ST adds driver memory settings and power steering wheel adjustment. The Platinum has premium leather upholstery and real wood accents.

Maximum cargo capacity in the 2021 Ford Explorer is 87.8 cu. ft. Capacity behind the third row measures 18.2 cubic feet. Folding the rearmost seats down provides 47.9 cu. ft. 

A power liftgate is standard on all 2021 Ford Explorers. A hands-free liftgate is optional on the Limited and standard on higher trims. The ST and Platinum have power folding capability for the 50/50-split third-row seat; this convenience is optional on the Limited.

Advantage: Chevrolet Traverse. If you don't need all that space, though, the Ford Explorer has desirable amenities not offered in the Chevy.

Learn More About the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander

If you’d like to learn more about these 3-row midsize SUVs, be sure to read our expert reviews of the Chevrolet Traverse and the Ford Explorer. To find out how people like you rate vehicles in this segment, be sure to check out our ratings from verified vehicle owners.

Also, please keep in mind that while the information in this article was accurate and valid on February 9, 2021, it may have changed since that date. Always confirm product details and availability with the automaker’s website or your local dealership.

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