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Three-row midsize SUVs are popular family haulers, providing a blend of space, versatility, and kid-friendly features. Historically, the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander have been the market leaders in this segment. However, recent trends show a shift in consumer preferences, with rivals like the Kia Telluride and Honda Pilot gaining ground. Let’s examine recent sales figures to shed light on the changing landscape in this competitive segment.

Red seats in 2023 Toyota Highlander, most reliable midsize SUV, says J.D. Power, not Honda Pilot or Ford Explorer
2023 Toyota Highlander | Toyota

The three-row midsize SUV killed the minivan as America’s family hauler of choice. Midsize SUVs strike a balance between the spaciousness of a full-size SUV and the maneuverability of a compact crossover. Families, adventure seekers, and anyone else needing extra seating or cargo space find these vehicles especially appealing. With ample room for passengers and luggage, along with advanced safety and tech features, these SUVs have become ubiquitous on U.S. roads.

The Ford Explorer and the Toyota Highlander have long been the frontrunners in this segment. However, they’ve been losing market share to the competition recently.

The Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander reign supreme

A red 2023 Ford Explorer – one of the leaders in Ford sales – driving on a bridge.
2023 Ford Explorer | Ford Motor Company

For years, the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander have been the undisputed leaders in the three-row midsize SUV segment. However, a look at year-to-date sales numbers reveals an intriguing trend. While the Explorer and Highlander are still among the most popular choices in their class, their sales have been slipping year over year. 

The Explorer, known for its rugged design and versatility, has seen a decline in sales compared to previous years. According to GoodCarBadCar, the Ford Explorer sold 121,629 units from January through August 2023 and 139,756 in the same period last year. That’s a nearly 13% decline in sales.

Similarly, the Toyota Highlander, renowned for its reliability and resale value, has also experienced a dip. The Highlander sold 130,517 units through August 2023 and 144,708 in the same timeframe last year. That represents a nearly 10% drop year-over-year.

Though these Ford and Toyota SUVs remain strong contenders, rivals are catching up.

Competition continues to rise

In contrast to the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander, several other three-row midsize SUVs have experienced year-to-date (YTD) sales growth. Among them is the Kia Telluride, a newcomer that has quickly gained popularity thanks to its upscale interior, stylish design, and affordable price. The South Korean automaker sold 74,834 units through August 2023, compared with 63,529 last year. That’s a nearly 18% gain.

Another model on the rise is the redesigned Honda Pilot, which has a reputation for dependability, advanced safety features, and high resale value. It sold 75,834 YTD and 65,740 last year, for a 15% gain year over year.

Their raw sales numbers aren’t as impressive as the Highlander’s and Explorer’s, but they’re trending upward and could soon catch up with the competition. The Pilot and Telluride entice consumers through modern design, innovative technology, and competitive pricing, posing a challenge to Ford and Toyota’s established dominance in the three-row midsize SUV class.

This segment is witnessing a shift in consumer preferences, as evidenced by the declining year-to-date sales of the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander. Though these two models remain the market leaders, they face increasing competition from relative newcomers like the Kia Telluride and the resurgent Honda Pilot. The battle for dominance is more intense than ever as consumers seek upgraded features, improved designs, and better value.

Whether Ford and Toyota can maintain their duopoly in this ever-changing market or if newcomers will continue challenging their supremacy remains to be seen. In any case, the three-row midsize SUV segment will likely remain among the more competitive in the U.S. automotive market.