Battle of the midsized American SUV
True antique car collectors have more than one ride in their stable. You don't want your daily driver to be your antique Chevy or your ultra-rare DeLorean, so it's wise to keep a car at your disposal that can handle the rigors of your everyday commute.
When winter settles in and road conditions are a nightmare, you especially want to avoid taking your precious hot rod out on the streets. This is why drivers in parts of the country where the climate tends to be less than friendly usually have an SUV or truck in their driveway to weather the elements.
The midsize SUV has been the go-to option for many families over the past two decades as it offers the functionality of a wagon or minivan with the looks and four wheel drive (4WD) of a much tougher kind of vehicle. Many different models have controlled the market, from the Ford Explorer, which saw its heyday come and go in the late '90s, to the current batch of "crossovers" that have flooded every segment of market.
Although every company, with the exception of Mini and Fiat for the most part, seems to have an SUV for sale, the Big Three – Ford, GM and Chrysler – have all had entries in the midsize market. In fact, two names – the Dodge Durango and Ford Explorer – have been on the market for the better part of the past three decades, while Chevy has had a bestselling entry in the segment under one name or another for just as long. Here is a look at what each brand currently brings to the table in their mainstream SUV offering.
The Dodge Durango
Much like Dodge's flagship sports car, the Viper, the Durango has been absent from dealer lots for extended periods over the course of its lifespan while designers work on the next generation. Having been introduced in 1998 as Chrysler's answer to the popular Explorer, the Durango quickly became one of the brand's bestselling models. It was a solid entry that bridged the gap between mid- and full-sized SUVs in that it could fit eight passengers yet didn't take up the entire road. The only real problem with the first generation was that the compromise between big and small made actually fitting eight adults into the truck a miracle of science.
The model was redesigned in 2003 before exiting the market in 2009 as the Chrysler Group reorganized its product offerings following the company's bankruptcy filing. After three years resting, the name was reintroduced to the market in 2012, and it did a lot of growing up in the meantime. This new SUV benefits from a strong powertrain and is actually competitive with full-size and mid-level crossovers in either segment.
The Ford Explorer
This SUV has also seen a rollercoaster ride in terms of sales in quality over its more than 30 years on American roads. When it was introduced in 1990, Ford sold almost half a million Explorer SUVs, and the car would remain the dominant model in the category going into the new millennium. However, a combination of dated styling and superior competition hit the Explorer hard part way through the previous decade, and sales sank from 445,000 units in 2000 to 52,000 by 2010.
Ford redesigned the explorer for the 2012 model year embracing an opposite philosophy than the one Chrysler went with when reintroducing the Durango. Instead, the Explorer became a smaller crossover that was car-based instead of riding on the truck chassis like the previous model. The result is a car that is alright as a "tall-wagon" but insufficient when it comes to doing any kind of off-roading.
The Chevy Traverse
Chevrolet had relied on the Blazer for way too long as the company's entry into the midsize segment. Despite healthy sales for much of its existence, the car was a bare-bones model that people bought out of necessity, not because it actually offered drivers any benefits. When Chevy introduced the larger, more attractive Trailblazer, this truck was still inferior to the popular Explorer, but offered enough amenities at a reasonable price to actually increase Chevy's portion of the market share.
The Traverse is by far more car than truck, as it too isn't based on a traditional 4X4 chassis like the revamped Explorer. But this model somehow pulls the look off better, as it sits taller than the Explorer and better embraces its truck heritage in its beefier design than the Ford. This model is perhaps the perfect compromise between the Durango and Explorer, as it admittedly offers the capability of the minivan but still markets itself toward an SUV audience.
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