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Toyota smashed sales records in 2022, with its Highlander SUV proving to be the most popular midsize SUV. This year, the Ford Explorer is outselling the Toyota Highlander. Is there a reason why the Highlander is struggling?

Is the 2023 Toyota Highlander a good SUV?

As some Toyota Highlander fans might have noticed, the 2023 model has a new four-cylinder engine option. It generates 265 hp and pairs with an eight-speed automatic transmission. All models have standard front-wheel drive and the option to upgrade to all-wheel drive. Depending on the drivetrain, the Highlander gets an EPA-estimated gas mileage of 24 to 25 mpg combined.

The 2023 Highlander can seat up to eight passengers in most trims, including the two most affordable. Every model also comes with a vast assortment of advanced driver’s aids, including lane-keeping assist and forward-collision warning. 

Both the Highlander and 2023 Explorer retail for over $36,000. The Highlander’s higher trims are less expensive than the Explorer’s. However, more consumers still choose the Ford SUV.

Why is the 2023 Explorer outselling the Highlander?

A 2023 Explorer, a more popular SUV than the Toyota Highlander
2023 Ford Explorer | Ford

U.S. sales figures reveal that the Highlander outsold the Explorer in April 2023. Ford sold 18,327 units that month, while Toyota moved a little over 1,000 more Highlanders. However, the Explorer has sold more units this year, GoodCarBadCar reports.

With 76,388 sold so far, the Ford Explorer’s sales have jumped by over 20% last year. In contrast, the Toyota Highlander’s popularity has dipped by nearly 13%. Besides a few new paint color options, there’s nothing to differentiate the 2023 Explorer from the previous model.

So, why is the 2023 Explorer outselling the Highlander?

There’s a chance that powertrain variety might have something to do with the Explorer’s popularity. For the 2022 model year, the Highlander had a standard 295-hp V6 engine that Toyota has discontinued. With 300 hp on tap, the Ford Explorer’s standard four-cylinder is more powerful than both of the 2023 Highlander’s power plants. 

Even more appealing, the three highest Explorer trims feature a 400-hp twin-turbo V6. You can get it for as low as $50,005 if you purchase the ST trim. That’s still slightly pricey for a model that isn’t fully loaded, but shoppers still might appreciate the optional upgrade.

The 2023 Explorer is also the only one of the two SUVs with a dedicated off-roading trim. The Timberline has AWD, a limited-slip differential, and off-road struts and shocks. Again, although off-roading prowess isn’t an essential quality for an SUV, it feels more like the Explorer has something for everyone. 

It’s also more capable in the towing department, with a maximum capacity of 5,600 pounds. The Highlander can tow up to 5,000 pounds, and it has a smaller cargo capacity. It Toyota seat an extra passenger, but the Explorer’s third row has much more legroom. 

The Highlander could be suffering from supply chain issues

Related

3 Popular Ford Models That Started Off 2023 Strong

Toyota is facing a new vehicle shortage that’s predicted to last throughout most of 2023. That means consumers might have trouble finding a new Toyota this year. If shoppers can’t get their hands on a new Highlander, that might explain the SUV’s plummeting sales. 

However, it’s also apparent that the 2023 Explorer offers more potent powertrain options and greater trim variety. Given the Highlander’s current problems, we might see other midsize SUVs begin to outsell Toyota’s.