If you’re a family on a budget (and mine certainly is), you might think a turbocharged, all-wheel-drive Ford Flex is too much three-row crossover for you. As you might have read, I drove a fully loaded Flex Limited from Los Angeles to Chicago earlier this summer, but I recently got the chance to take the Traverse for a long drive to Lansing, Mich., and back (passing the plant where the Traverse was built as well). Turns out the EcoBoost Flex may not cost much of a premium at all.
It’s always tricky to compare apples to apples with cars we test, as the trim levels often vary, as is the case here. But if you were out on dealer lots cross-shopping the two models, the Ford turbo is only a few hundred dollars more than a comparably equipped Traverse. And in my road-trip testing, an all-wheel-drive Flex returned better mileage than a front-wheel-drive Traverse. Below is what I thought of the two trims I took on the road. To see how the comparably equipped models stack up, you can check out their specs head-to-head here.
MSRP as tested (without destination):
The long-haul ride: Both crossovers are comfortable and roomy. Right off the bat, though, you’ll notice the Flex is a lot quieter, with less road and engine noise. Neither suffers badly from body roll, though, which is great in a car as heavy and long as these two are. Seat comfort was fine for both, and both had really great headroom in the front row. There’s a little more in the Flex, but it’s overkill. One interesting note: The A-pillar in the Traverse was a little harder to see around because of the sloping windshield than the A-pillar in the Flex.
Handling: While the Flex has the clear advantage in acceleration, the Traverse was no laggard with its V-6 engine. Still, there was never a time when I felt pushed back into my seat like the Flex made me feel. Both crossovers held well to the road, and the steering was very responsive. The Traverse seemed to have a smaller turning radius than the Flex (20.2 feet for the Traverse compared with 20.4 feet for the Flex, but the difference seemed greater).
Mileage: The 2010 Flex Limited is rated at 16/22, while the 2011 Chevy Traverse is rated at 17/24. We drove the Flex for just about 2,000 miles, and the Traverse for 520-odd miles. The winner? The lighter (4,790 pounds vs. 4,643 pounds curb weight), shorter, but more powerful (281 horsepower at 6,300 rpm versus 355 hp at 5,700 rpm) Flex.
Rear seating, access and cargo: Both crossovers offer a lot of space to second-row passengers. The Flex came with captain’s chairs, which made third-row access easy, and the Traverse offered a split second-row bench with an accordion-style sliding seat. With the third row down, both offer great cargo space. It’s when the third row is up (like on a family vacation) that these crossovers are really put to the test. The Flex has passed every time I’ve needed it to, but not with much space left over. The Traverse’s cargo space seems pretty close, though the Flex clearly has more vertical space inside.
Gadgets: The Limited Flex was definitely more decked out as you’d expect from a top trim level, with its Sync system, Sirius satellite weather and in-dash navigation system. The Traverse still had a few tricks up its sleeves, though, like the backup camera in the rearview mirror, which I find a much more natural location for it than an in-dash LCD screen. The screen quality was very high, and the picture very clear. On the downside, while the Sync system gives you full control over your iPod, the Traverse only offered a lame auxiliary jack for an MP3 player. Of course, on the plus side, the Traverse is $8,500 cheaper. That’s not nothing.
Back in front of the computer, staring at Cars.com’s handy compare tool, though, the meager difference between similarly equipped models makes the decision a no-brainer. I’d pick up the Flex. Its polarizing style is one I’m actually quite fond of. While others may not like the Flex’s looks, I’d find it hard for them to argue on the performance or the mileage fronts.