2010 Car Comparison: Chevrolet Traverse v Honda Pilot v Toyota Highlander

Last Updated: Mar 21, 2010

The Competitors
It’s a tight popularity contest between the three best-selling crossover SUVs that offer three rows of seats. Perennial import favorites, the 2010 Honda Pilot and 2010 Toyota Highlander, are battling a tough new domestic rival in the 2010 Chevrolet Traverse.

Even in a depressed new-vehicle market, Pilot and Highlander sell well enough to eschew cash rebates even late in the year as manufacturers traditionally offer money-back incentives to help boost end-of-the-season sales figures. Chevy offered a consumer rebate on the Traverse in December, but a relatively nominal one at $1,500. All three manufacturers did seek to offset a tight credit market by offering some form of low-cost financing, however.

While fire-sale transaction prices may not apply to this grouping of popular family vehicles, each delivers good value, comfort, and overall utility.

The Chevrolet Traverse was introduced as an all-new 2009 model. It shares components and virtually all features with the upscale Buick Enclave and the more square-cut GMC Acadia -- as well as the Outlook from GM’s recently shuttered Saturn brand.

The Honda Pilot replaced the Isuzu-supplied truck-based Honda Passport for the 2003 model year and was most recently redesigned for 2009. The Pilot is mechanically related to both the Honda Odyssey minivan and the more upscale Acura MDX crossover.

The 2010 Toyota Highlander dates back to 2001 and was one of the first midsize crossover models. Its luxury equivalent is the Lexus RX 350, and both models have engineering DNA that can be traced to the Toyota Camry sedan. A gas/electric Highlander Hybrid was added in 2005, and the line was last redesigned for model-year 2008.

The Similarities

  • The 2010 Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Pilot, and Toyota Highlander are all crossover SUVs. As crossovers, they’re built on a unibody car structure rather than the separate-body-and-frame construction of old-school, truck-based SUVs like the Chevy Tahoe or Ford Explorer. Compared to a similar truck-based SUV, unibody design enables a lower ride height, easier handling, added comfort, and superior fuel economy, with no less utility in terms of passengers and cargo.
  • Each of these crossovers comes with front-wheel-drive and offers all-wheel drive (AWD) for improved traction on wet or snowy roads. Basically, their AWD systems kick in only when sensors detect wheel slip. They automatically shuffle power between the front and rear wheels until traction is restored. None is designed for serious off-roading and their AWD systems lack a traditional SUV’s low-range 4x4 gearing.
  • Each combines two front bucket seats with second- and third-row seating. The second rows come as bench seats; Traverse and Highlander also offer a pair of second-row buckets. Highlander seats a maximum of seven passengers, Traverse and Pilot a maximum of eight. None of them has a rearmost row particularly well suited for tall adults on a long trip – get a minivan if that’s a priority.
  • In all, the second- and third rows can fold down to create larger cargo holds when needed. The third rows fold neatly into wells at the rear of the vehicle. The wells serve to increase cargo volume with all seats in place. All three of these crossovers is available with a power liftgate that opens remotely via the keyfob for cargo-loading convenience.
  • All come standard with automatic transmission.
  • All deliver a reasonably smooth ride with predictable handling. From behind the wheel, they feel more like a tall sedan or wagon than a traditional SUV.
  • Standard safety features across all three model lines include antilock brakes, antiskid stability control, and front-side airbags. They also come with head-protecting curtain side-curtain airbags that cover all three seating rows and are designed to deploy both in a side collision and when sensors detect an impending rollover.
  • Each model can be fitted with several road-trip-ready features such as rear-seat DVD/video game packages, audio systems with iPod connectivity, and GPS navigation systems.
  • All start under $30,000 but can climb well above $40,000 in their top-line models or when loaded up with options.

The Differences

  • The 2010 Chevrolet Traverse and 2010 Honda Pilot offer only V-6 engines. The 3.6-liter in the Traverse generates 288 horsepower. The Pilot’s 3.5-liter is rated at 250 horses and includes a variable-displacement mode that enables it to conserve fuel by shutting down two or three cylinders when all six are not needed, like at cruising speeds.
  • The 2010 Toyota Highlander comes standard with a 187-horsepower 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine in its base version. A 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 is optional on the base model and standard on other versions.
  • The Chevrolet Traverse has a six-speed automatic transmission. Highlander and Pilot come with a five-speed automatic. All three include a manual gear-selection mode.
  • The Highlander is the only one offered as a gas-electric hybrid model. The Highlander Hybrid pairs a 3.3-liter V-6 with two electric motor/generators – one to assist the front wheels, the other to kick in at the rear and provide AWD. The Highlander Hybrid can run on gas, electricity, or any combination of the two. It uses a continuously variable (automatic) transmission.
  • The Highlander lineup affords the best fuel economy. EPA estimates are 20/27 mpg (city/highway) for the four-cylinder Highlander. V-6 models are rated at 18/24 with front-wheel drive and 17/23 with AWD. The Highlander Hybrid rates 27/25 mpg, the higher city figure representing its ability to conserve gas by running on electricity at low speeds.
  • EPA fuel economy estimates for the 2010 Chevy Traverse are 17/24 mpg with front drive and 16/23 with AWD. The Honda Pilot is rated at 17/23 with front-drive, 16/22 with AWD.
  • Pilot has boxy exterior styling designed to mimic that of a traditional. Traverse adopts a more swept-back appearance popularized by the Lexus RX, the original crossover. The Highlander’s styling is somewhere in between.
  • The Pilot does not offer standalone factory options — the only way to add features is to move up to a higher trim level.
  • Traverse comes standard with 17-inch wheels and tires; 19- and 20-inch alternatives are available. Pilot and Highlander have standard 17-inch wheels and tires, with 19s on higher trim levels.
  • The Traverse comes with GM’s OnStar communications/safety system and includes a complimentary one-year subscription to the service. OnStar provides automatic crash response, stolen vehicle assistance, turn-by-turn voice-command navigation, and hands-free cell-phone linking.
  • Kelley Blue Book lists the 2010 Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander as having the best resale values among crossover SUVs.
  • Chevrolet Traverse base prices range from about $30,000-$40,000. Honda Pilot prices span $28,000-$39,000. Base prices for Toyota Highlander gas models range from around $26,000-$35,000, while the Highlander Hybrid’s span $36,000-$42,000.
  • All three have bumper-to-bumper warranty coverage of 3 years/36,000 miles, but the Traverse has longer powertrain coverage, at 5 years/100,000 miles compared with 5 years/60,000 miles for Pilot and Highlander.

The Winner
The Toyota Highlander. It’s difficult to go wrong with any of these exceptional family crossovers. But Highlander covers more bases. Its four-cylinder model is a fine entry-level choice while at the top of the line, the fuel-sipping Hybrid appeals to families who are both well-heeled and environmentally conscious. In between is a capable, refined, and roomy V-6 model. We like the Traverse’s styling, strong V-6, and six-speed automatic transmission, but the Chevy starts out the costliest of these three and can’t match the Pilot or Highlander for resale value. We’re also fond of the Pilot’s refined and roomy interior, but it offers little in the way of option-package flexibility.