NEWS ANALYSIS

Chevy Traverse, Ford Flex face off this year

Can crossovers grab share from Honda, Toyota?

Chevrolet Traverse: Will safe approach to styling lead to higher sales? Photo credit: RICK KRANZ
DETROIT — Their minivans bombed, so Ford and Chevrolet are pinning hopes on their newest people movers, two strikingly different crossovers.

The 2009 Ford Flex and 2009 Chevrolet Traverse will join one of the few remaining strong segments, mid-sized crossovers. Last year that segment generated 852,121 sales, up 30.7 percent from 2006.

The Flex and the Traverse will debut within about three months of one another and are aimed at the same buyers: people who relish value and price. Ford and Chevrolet cite the redesigned 2009 Honda Pilot and redesigned 2008 Toyota Highlander as primary competitors.

Based on interviews, walk-arounds and rides in the crossovers, here's how the Flex and Traverse stack up against each other:

Styling: Ford uses the term “polarizing” to describe the Flex's exterior styling. “Boxy” and #x201C;breadbox” are better words, say critics.

The Flex does have a perception problem. In photos, the vehicle seems too long. Blame it on the two-tone paint option; the long, white roof exaggerates the Flex's length. In reality, the Flex is 2.7 inches shorter than the Traverse.

Inside, though, even critics praise the Flex's upscale look and feel.

The Traverse styling, meanwhile, is familiar, a safe approach likely to translate into bigger sales. The Traverse shares sheet metal with two architecture-mates, the Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia.

Ford Flex: "Polarizing" on the outside, upscale look and feel on the inside. Photo credit: RICK KRANZ
Family tree: The Traverse is the fourth crossover based on General Motors' front-drive Lambda architecture. That may give Chevrolet an edge over the Flex; the Enclave, Acadia and Saturn Outlook siblings have been widely praised.

The Flex is the first vehicle on Ford Motor Co.'s D4 vehicle platform, created by re-engineering the automaker's D3 platform used for the Ford Taurus, Taurus X and Mercury Sable. The Flex's wheelbase is 5.0 inches longer than the Taurus X, resulting in loads of second-seat legroom.

Gee-whiz features: Flex buyers can order a compressor-operated refrigerator that holds seven 12-ounce cans or two 20-ounce bottles. It cools beverages to 41 degrees, making coolers with melting ice cubes and wet soda cans a thing of the past.

Looking for the lowest-priced gasoline? The Flex's optional navigation system incorporates Sirius' Travel Link, which is free for the first six months. Even local gasoline prices (and station addresses) are available.

The Traverse's optional navigation system relies on the XM team to hold your hand. The driver pushes the OnStar button and gives an address to the call center. The center then downloads directions into the Traverse's navigation system. This service is included in the one-year free subscription to OnStar.

Fuel economy: There is no clear high-mileage champ because the fuel-economy ratings for the two models are nearly identical.

Head to head
The Chevrolet Traverse will reach dealerships in September. The Ford Flex goes on sale in June. Both are aimed at buyers who relish value and price.
 2009 Chevrolet Traverse2009 Ford Flex
Wheelbase118.9 inches117.9 inches
Length205.0 inches202.3 inches
Width78.4 inches79.9 inches
Height72.8 inches67.6 inches
Weight (fwd)4,720 lbs.N.A.
Weight (awd)4,925 lbs.4,640 lbs.
Base engine3.6-liter V-63.5-liter V-6
Horsepower281 @ 6,400 rpm262 @ 6,250 rpm
Torque, in lbs.-ft.253 @ 5,500 rpm248 @ 4,500 rpm
Transmission6-speed automatic6-speed automatic
Base price*Not announced$28,995
*Includes shipping

Under the hood: Both crossovers offer six-speed automatics; the Traverse packs a bit more horsepower and torque.

Safety zone: Both vehicles have standard features such as head curtain airbags and stability control with rollover mitigation. The Traverse adds OnStar Generation 7: Even if airbags are not deployed, sensors determine whether a front crash, rear crash or rollover occurs and measure the force of the impact. Information is relayed to the call center.

Seats: The Traverse scores for maximum passenger space with a choice of seven- or eight-passenger seating. Flex buyers can pick seating for six or seven.

The Flex's third row accommodates two people, while the Traverse can handle three. But the Traverse's third-row hip room is just 7.2 inches wider than Flex's, meaning it's a tight fit for three.

Hauling stuff: Both vehicles offer a large, deep, wide storage space behind the raised third seat. Second and third-row seats fold flat. The Flex scores extra points for the front passenger seat, which folds flat. When lowered, Ford says there is 10 feet of cargo space from instrument panel to tailgate.

Prices, sales: The Flex reaches dealerships in June. The base Flex SE carries a $28,995 sticker including shipping.

The Traverse will be shipped to dealers in September. Pricing has not been announced, but the Traverse will be priced under the Saturn Outlook, currently the lowest-priced Lambda-based vehicle at $28,995, including shipping. 

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