Comparison Test: 2009 Chevy Traverse LT2 vs. 2009 Ford Flex Limited

2009 Ford Flex Wagon

(3.5L V6 6-speed Automatic)
  • 2009 Ford Flex Picture

    2009 Ford Flex Picture

    As configured, Chevy's Traverse will hold one more passenger than the Flex. | September 15, 2009

24 Photos

  • Comparison Test
  • Top 7 Features
  • Data and Charts
  • Editors' Evaluations
  • Final Rankings and Scoring Explanation

Back in the good old days when Ford and Chevy faced off for profits and bragging rights, it was Mustang vs. Camaro. And did the world ever tire of that endless battle of axles and pushrods? Well, here we are again. Ford vs. Chevy. This time, however, it isn't about meatheads with muscle; it's about moms with soccer balls.

Both the 2009 Chevrolet Traverse and 2009 Ford Flex are targeted at the same audience. But their individual plans of attack and their execution are very different. It's these subtleties, these details, these words between the numbers that often make the difference when the numbers are close enough to be called a wash, as is the case here.

The Numbers
Only $1,005 separates the base prices of the all-wheel-drive versions of the 2009 Chevy Traverse LT2 and 2009 Ford Flex Limited ($36,250 and $37,255, respectively). However, thanks to a pile of options on our Flex Limited tester and none on our Traverse LT2, there's a $7,000 cost gap between the cars in this test.

At $36,250, the cost of our Summit White Traverse included only the base price and destination fees, as it came without options. The Ford, which cost $43,250 — including $5,995 in options and destination fees — includes a navigation system, Vista Roof, power-folding (and heated) second-row seats, rear console refrigerator, white two-tone roof and a second-row floor console. A similarly optioned Traverse LT2 goes for $41,315.

What then, does one get when buying a crossover with a price tag rivaling the down payment on a nice Southern California home? Well, lots, actually. Specifically, the 2009 Chevrolet Traverse gives you a massive amount of cargo volume — 116.4 cubic feet with the second and third rows folded flat. Measuring 205 inches overall with a 118.9-inch wheelbase, the Traverse is the longest crossover SUV. In other words, this is a lot of vehicle for the money.

By comparison, the 2009 Ford Flex doesn't measure up dimensionally. It's 3.2 inches shorter in overall length and rides on a 117.9-inch wheelbase. More important, start folding down seats and you'll be disappointed, as the Ford offers only 83.2 cubic feet of cargo capacity with both rows folded.

Performance: It's a Wash
With remarkably similar powertrains, there's no mystery about why the Traverse and Flex are so close in performance. The 3.5-liter Ford V6 offers 262 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque in the Flex. It puts the power on the ground through a six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. Chevy's direct-injection 3.6-liter V6 is more powerful with 288 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque, and it's matched with a six-speed automatic and all-wheel drive.

Most soccer moms won't let on that they give a rip about acceleration. More than one encounter with them at metered entrance ramps, however, has taught us otherwise. No one, it seems, can resist a drag race from a stoplight onto the freeway — even a soccer mom. In this case, most moms will want the Chevy, which is marginally quicker to freeway speeds.

In fact, 0-60-mph testing is one of the few areas where there's a difference worth mentioning between the performance numbers of these two SUVs. The Chevy enjoys a half-second advantage here — 8.6 seconds (8.2 with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) vs. 9.1 seconds (8.8 with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip). The Ford closes the gap by the end of the quarter-mile, as it reaches the finish in 16.5 seconds at 83.9 mph. The Chevy is only fractionally quicker, finishing the distance in 16.4 seconds at 84.3 mph.

Braking performance, a metric that is probably more important than acceleration in crossover vehicles, goes to the Ford. Its 125-foot stop from 60 mph bests the Chevy by 10 feet — a performance that can't be entirely justified by its 83-pound-lighter as-tested weight (4,836 pounds versus the Traverse's 4,919).

Lateral acceleration around the skid pad is a tie at 0.76g each, which is reasonable considering the size of these vehicles. The 2009 Chevy Traverse scored an insignificant win in the slalom by shimmying between the cones at 59.9 mph vs. the Flex's run at 59.2 mph.

During our relatively brief test, we observed fuel economy well below EPA estimates. In mixed driving, the Ford returned 15 mpg to the Chevy's 14.6 mpg. As far as EPA estimates go, the Flex is rated at 16 mpg city/22 mph highway, while the Traverse records 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway. By comparison, our long-term 2008 Buick Enclave averaged 17.5 mpg over its time with us and our long-term 2009 Ford Flex is currently yielding 17.2 mpg.

Behind the Wheel
With the track numbers a dead heat, we spent several days in each SUV focusing simply on the way each one drives. It's here that niggling details begin to distinguish each SUV's unique personality. Both demonstrate reasonable suspension compliance over bumps and good ride quality, the kind of performance that's crucial in a family vehicle. The Flex feels better tied to the road, though, thanks to a slightly lower overall height, less body roll and better overall body control.

Small details give away the character of each of these crossovers before you even climb behind the wheel. As an example, the Traverse's 255/65R18 tires are taller, more compliant and feature a more aggressive, trucklike tread than the Flex's P235/55R19 rubber. More telling about Chevy's planned target for this vehicle is the fact that it lists its ground clearance of 7.2 inches in its specifications, an indication of truck-style performance aspirations that the Flex doesn't duplicate.

The all-wheel-drive systems of both these SUVs are utterly transparent not only in everyday use but also at the test track (where wheelspin was nearly nonexistent). A manual gear-selection mode (plus/minus) for the Traverse's six-speed automatic gives you more precise control over the transmission than the Ford's rudimentary choice between Low and Drive.

Further enhancing the Chevy's truckiness is a towing capacity of 5,200 pounds, while the Flex is rated at 4,500 pounds.

The bottom line here is that Chevy has designed and tuned this version of the Lambda platform (which it shares with the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook) to appeal to an audience that occasionally might drive it in circumstances where trucklike mobility (and ground clearance) in dirt, mud or snow might be useful. By comparison, the Flex is more like a pavement-bound family wagon — a car with SUV-size interior space. And each of these vehicles drives accordingly.

Whether this is a good thing depends largely on how you plan to use them.

Using Them
Much thought has been put into jamming maximum amounts of family- and cargo-friendliness into the interior of these SUVs. Both are successful, but there's no escaping the fact that the 2009 Chevy Traverse is simply larger. If space is your primary concern, the Traverse wins this contest by every measure. It offers more total interior volume backed up by more space behind every row of seats.

But if there's more to your search than a ratio of cubic-feet-per-dollar, then the 2009 Ford Flex is worth a close look. Its $870 power-folding second-row seats offer unmatched access to the third-row seats. You trigger the process via a button on the C-pillar, and then the seat automatically folds and tumbles out of the way. The Traverse's second-row seats offer similar-size access to the third row, but the effort to move the seat forward and operate the complex, folding seat bottom will be difficult for a child.

That third row, by the way, is where the Traverse finds its extra passenger capacity over the Flex. (Both have optional three-passenger second rows, but our test cars were not configured this way.) Both utilize a split-folding third row, but the Chevy is fitted with three seatbelts while the Ford has two. Our tape measure proved that the Chevy offers an additional 6.25 inches of interior width over the Flex, but whether this is enough to justify three-person seating capacity seems questionable.

We found third-row legroom adequate for medium-size passengers in both SUVs. Both also offer significant fore/aft adjustment of the second-row seats, so there's room to spare for large adults. Passenger space, it seems, is a priority in both.

Seats, Hatch and More
Both the Flex and Traverse feature fold-flat second- and third-row seats. When fitted with the optional center console/refrigerator, the Flex's otherwise flat cargo floor is interrupted with a bump between the second-row seats. It makes up for this somewhat with a fold-flat front passenger seat, which the Traverse lacks.

It's behind the third-row seat, however, where the Flex's design team got truly creative. With the seats in the upright position, there's a deep bin that stretches the full width of the vehicle. When folded flat, the seats disappear into this hole. Despite more overall space, the Traverse also has a small bin behind the seats that isn't as deep.

The Flex has a marginally lower liftover height at the rear (28.5 inches vs. 29.75). Otherwise, however, the rear-hatch apertures are virtually identical. Both SUVs have power-operated liftgates.

Details That Matter
Inside the cabin, the Ford has an edge in quality and design. Partly, this is thanks to the leather-trimmed interior that is standard on the Ford Flex Limited — it's a $1,775 option on the Chevy Traverse LT2 — more than enough to cover the difference in base price between these two trim levels.

Functionally, we find the Flex's ventilation and audio system controls too busy relative to the Traverse, but this is partly due to the added functionality of the navigation system. Both SUVs use buttons to adjust temperature on their multizone climate controls, which is both frustrating and unnecessary — knobs are quicker and easier to use.

The Flex excels in interior quality. An improvement for the automaker, the Flex's interior offers an abundance of soft panels and pleasing textures. The Traverse's uneven interior panel seams were further hampered by a mismatched gray and tan color scheme.

The Final Blow
Styling is difficult to quantify in most comparison tests. Here, however, it's easy. The Traverse's ho-hum styling attracts as much attention as a Maytag refrigerator — and this vehicle's appliance-style hue doesn't do its shape any favors, either. The Ford Flex box-style look, however, is polarizing, though we found that about 90 percent of the people we came across loved it. We even got a thumbs-up from a Harley rider — something that doesn't happen often to us when we're driving an SUV. (Just as important, all four of the editors who scored this test gave the Flex a distinct advantage over the Traverse in exterior design.)

In the end, this is a close race. And really, depending on your priorities, either of these vehicles is a good choice. The 2009 Ford Flex Limited gets the win in this comparison after prevailing in our 29-point evaluation, editors' picks, feature content and performance categories. The 2009 Chevrolet Traverse LT2 took several crucial categories by offering better EPA fuel economy (despite scoring slightly lower in our real-world driving) and being substantially less expensive. But those just weren't enough.

We prefer the Ford's styling and function and find that its fractionally smaller size creates few compromises in the way we use a crossover SUV. Really, the Flex gets this win in the details — the little areas between the numbers that matter most.

The manufacturers provided Edmunds these vehicles for the purposes of evaluation.

Second Opinion

Senior Editor Erin Riches Says:
If minivan camouflage is really what you want, the 2009 Ford Flex is the definitive choice of these two. It pulls off the funky wagon aesthetic with the sincerity of a Nissan Cube or a Mini Clubman. On the inside, company designers have overcome the parts-bin constraints that are so obvious in other Fords and created a slick-looking package that still accommodates six people with ease.

Yet I feel more comfortable in the less shapely 2009 Chevrolet Traverse. Just getting seated in the Traverse is so much more straightforward. I can put the seat and steering wheel exactly where I want them, and once I do, the driving position is excellent. Driving the big Chevy is less stressful, too. Its 3.6-liter V6 has a more useful spread of torque than the Flex's V6, and its ride quality is more compliant without being too isolating. It's true that the Traverse doesn't handle as well as the Flex (which is surprisingly sporty), but it's agile enough to suit me. And although it's the bigger of the two crossovers, the Traverse is hard-pressed to make adults feel at home in its second-row captain's chairs.

However, grown-ups really aren't the priority when you're looking at crossovers: Those middle-row seats will have car seats installed on them 90 percent of the time. Accordingly, I'm much more concerned about how a prospective family mobile rides and accelerates than I am about how it looks.

In comparison tests like this one where there's a significant difference in as-tested pricing, feature content goes a long way in explaining what buyers should expect for their additional money. And when it comes to family-hauling crossover SUVs like these, feature content can make or break the purchase decision. We picked features we think are relevant to the average crossover buyer.

Features

Features
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 2009 Ford Flex
Heated front seats N/A S
Leather seats O* S
Manual-shift transmission S N/A
Navigation system O* O
Rearview camera S O
Satellite radio S S
Voice-activated phone and MP3 player N/A S

    *option available but not present on test car


Key:
S: Standard
O: Optional
N/A: Not Available

Heated front seats: An excellent amenity in cold climates, heated seats are standard on the Flex Limited (and the midlevel SEL trim) but not available for the LT2 Traverse (getting them requires stepping up to the top-line LTZ).

Leather seats: Although leather seating surfaces might not seem like it at first, they're a better choice in family haulers like these. When it comes to stain resistance, durability and easy clean-up, they're superior to fabric. They're standard on the Flex and optional on the Traverse, which didn't have them.

Manual-shift transmission: Manual control over gear selection (and engine braking) is a useful tool in many driving situations. The Traverse offers this control via a "plus/minus" switch on the gearshift. The Flex, by comparison, offers only a Low position in addition to Drive.

Navigation system: For a family vehicle, a navigation system is a necessity in today's market. Navigation is an option for both these SUVs, although only this Flex actually had it.

Rearview camera: In large vehicles like these, the additional safety offered by a back-up camera is valuable. A rearview camera is standard in the Traverse (the screen is built handily into the rearview mirror), but can only be had with the $2,375 navigation system on the Flex (because it uses the main display screen).

Satellite radio: Satellite radio, an amenity we've come to truly appreciate on long road trips, should be optional on every car sold today. Here it's standard on both.

Voice-activated phone and MP3: These are the primary features of Ford's Sync system. This combination of an elegant Bluetooth interface and relatively accurate voice activation is truly useful. The Traverse doesn't offer these features.

Dimensions
Engine & Transmission Specifications
Warranty Information
Performance Information
Safety Information

Dimensions

Exterior Dimensions & Capacities
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 2009 Ford Flex
Length, in. 205.0 201.8
Width, in. 78.4 88.8
Height, in. 69.7 68.0
Wheelbase, in. 118.9 117.9
Manufacturer Curb Weight, lb. 4,925 4,640
Turning Circle, ft. 40.4 40.7
Tire size P255/65R18 P235/55R19
Wheel type Alloy Alloy
Interior Dimensions
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 2009 Ford Flex
Front headroom, in. 40.4 41.8
Second-row headroom, in. 36.8 40.5
Third-row headroom, in. 37.8 38.7
Front shoulder room, in. 62.0 58.4
Second-row shoulder room, in. 61.3 58.1
Third-row shoulder room, in. 57.6 50.8
Front legroom, in. 41.3 40.8
Second-row legroom, in. 36.8 44.3
Third-row legroom, in. 33.2 33.3
EPA Cargo Volume behind 1st row, 2nd and 3rd row folded, cu-ft 116.4 83.2
EPA Cargo Volume behind 2nd row, 3rd row folded, cu-ft 68.8 43.2
EPA cargo volume behind 3rd row, cu-ft 24.4 20.0

Engine & Transmission Specifications

Engine & Transmission
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 2009 Ford Flex
Displacement
(cc / cu-in):
3600 (220) 3500 (214)
Engine Type V6 V6
Horsepower (SAE) @ rpm 281 @ 6,300 262 @ 6,250
Max. Torque, lb-ft @ rpm 266 @ 3,400 248 @ 4,500
Transmission 6-speed automatic 6-speed automatic
EPA Fuel Economy City, mpg 16.0 16.0
EPA Fuel Economy Hwy, mpg 23.0 22.0
Observed Fuel Economy Edmunds combined, mpg 14.6 15.0
Fuel tank capacity, gal. 22.0 18.6

Warranty

Warranty Information
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 2009 Ford Flex
Basic Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles 3 years/36,000 miles
Powertrain 5 years/100,000 miles 5 years/60,000 miles
Roadside Assistance 6 years/100,000 miles 5 years/60,000 miles
Corrosion Protection 6 years/100,000 miles 5 years/Unlimited mileage

Performance

Performance Information
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 2009 Ford Flex
0-60 mph acceleration, sec. 8.6 9.1
Quarter-mile acceleration, sec. 16.4 16.5
Quarter-mile speed, mph 84.3 83.9
60-0-mph braking, feet 135 125
Lateral Acceleration, g 0.76 0.76
600-ft slalom, mph 59.9 59.2

Safety

Safety Information
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 2009 Ford Flex
Front airbags Standard Standard
Side airbags Standard dual front Standard dual front
Head airbags Standard front, rear and third row Standard front, rear and third row
Antilock brakes 4-wheel ABS 4-wheel ABS
Traction control Standard Standard
Stability control Standard Standard
Tire pressure monitoring Standard Standard
NHTSA frontal crash, driver Not Tested 5 stars
NHTSA frontal crash, passenger Not Tested 5 stars
NHTSA side crash, driver Not Tested 5 stars
NHTSA side crash, passenger Not Tested 5 stars
NHTSA rollover resistance Not Tested 4 stars
IIHS offset crash Not Tested Not Tested
Evaluation - Drive
Evaluation - Ride
Evaluation - Design
Evaluation - Function

Evaluation - Drive

Overall Dynamics
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 7.3 1
2009 Ford Flex 7.2 2
Engine Performance
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 7.6 1
2009 Ford Flex 6.8 2
Transmission Performance
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 7.5 1
2009 Ford Flex 6.8 2
Brake Performance
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 6.9 2
2009 Ford Flex 7.3 1
Steering Performance
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 7.3 2
2009 Ford Flex 7.8 1
Handling
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 7.3 2
2009 Ford Flex 7.5 1
Towing Performance
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 8.0 1
2009 Ford Flex 7.5 2
Fun to Drive
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 6.9 2
2009 Ford Flex 7.0 1

Evaluation - Ride

Overall Comfort
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 7.6 2
2009 Ford Flex 7.7 1
Ride Comfort
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 7.6 2
2009 Ford Flex 8.1 1
Wind Noise
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 8.0 1
2009 Ford Flex 7.5 2
Road Noise
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 7.5 2
2009 Ford Flex 7.6 1
Front Seat Comfort/Space/Access
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 7.5 1
2009 Ford Flex 7.1 2
Rear Seat Comfort/Space/Access
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 7.6 2
2009 Ford Flex 8.1 1
3rd Seat Comfort/Space/Access
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 7.8 2
2009 Ford Flex 8.4 1
Driving Position
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 7.5 1
2009 Ford Flex 6.9 2

Evaluation - Design

Overall Design & Build Quality
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 7.1 2
2009 Ford Flex 8.0 1
Exterior Design
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 7.0 2
2009 Ford Flex 8.5 1
Interior Design
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 6.8 2
2009 Ford Flex 7.9 1
Interior Materials
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 6.8 2
2009 Ford Flex 8.0 1
Interior Control Tactile Feel
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 7.1 2
2009 Ford Flex 7.8 1
Squeaks & Rattles
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 8.0 1
2009 Ford Flex 8.0 1
Panel Fitment & Gaps
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 7.3 2
2009 Ford Flex 7.8 1

Evaluation - Function

Overall Function
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 7.8 2
2009 Ford Flex 7.9 1
Headlamp Illumination
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 7.3 2
2009 Ford Flex 7.8 1
Visibility
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 7.3 2
2009 Ford Flex 7.5 1
Instrument Panel (IP) Layout
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 7.8 1
2009 Ford Flex 7.8 1
Climate Control Layout
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 7.8 1
2009 Ford Flex 7.6 2
Audio System Layout
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 8.0 2
2009 Ford Flex 8.5 1
Secondary Control Layout
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 7.6 1
2009 Ford Flex 7.1 2
Interior Storage
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 7.8 2
2009 Ford Flex 8.6 1
Cupholders
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 7.9 2
2009 Ford Flex 8.4 1
Standard Cargo / Trunk Space
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 8.5 1
2009 Ford Flex 7.8 2
Maximum Cargo Space
Vehicle Score Rank
2009 Chevrolet Traverse 8.5 1
2009 Ford Flex 7.8 2

Final Rankings

Final Rankings
Item Weight 2009 Ford Flex 2009 Chevrolet Traverse
Personal Rating 2.5% 87.5 62.5
Recommended Rating 2.5% 87.5 62.5
Evaluation Score 15% 76.9 74.9
Feature Content 15% 76.2 52.4
Performance 25% 97.1 96.7
Fuel Consumption 20% 94.4 100.0
Price 20% 80.7 100.0
Total Score 100.0% 86.6 86.4
Final Ranking 1 2
$43,250 $36,250

Personal Rating (2.5%): Purely subjective. After the test, each participating editor was asked to rank the vehicles in order of preference based on which he or she would buy if money were no object.

Recommended Rating (2.5%): After the test, each participating editor was asked to rank the vehicles in order of preference based on which he or she thought would be best for the average consumer shopping in this segment.

29-Point Evaluation (15%): Each participating editor ranked every vehicle based on a comprehensive 29-point evaluation. The evaluation covered everything from exterior design to cupholders. Scoring was calculated on a point system, and the scores listed are averages based on all test participants' evaluations.

Feature Content (15%): For this category, the editors picked the top 7 features they thought would be most beneficial to the consumer shopping in this segment. For each vehicle, the score was based on the number of actual features the vehicle had versus the total possible (seven). Standard and optional equipment were taken into consideration.

Performance Testing (25%): We ran both of these SUVs through our standard set of instrumented tests. These include acceleration (0-60 and quarter-mile), braking (60-0 and 30-0), skid pad (200-foot diameter) and slalom (600-foot) tests.

Fuel Consumption (20%): Fuel consumption is an important purchase motivation, so this category was weighted heavily. Using EPA combined fuel economy ratings as the basis for comparison, we awarded a score of 100 percent to the more fuel-efficient vehicle. The less-efficient vehicle was scored proportionally based on how close it came to the better-performing vehicle's fuel consumption.

Price (20%): The numbers listed were the result of a simple percentage calculation based on the less expensive vehicle in the comparison test. Using the "as tested" prices of the actual evaluation vehicles, the less expensive vehicle received a score of 100, with the remaining vehicles receiving lesser scores based on how much each one costs.

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Edmunds Insurance Estimator

The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2009 Ford Flex in VA is:

$130 per month*
* Explanation
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