A green 2023 Toyota Highlander for sale is shown driving on a narrow road.

What Makes the Toyota Highlander a Best-Selling Three-Row SUV

As someone who grew up in a household of four, there was never the need for a three-row SUV as our family’s main conveyor. That didn’t stop Dad, however. When I was growing up, my first foray into what three-row SUVs could offer was with a white Dodge Durango. At the time, I didn’t know much about cars, but I did know a few things; for example, when I had my friends around, the three-row SUV could facilitate seats for every one of them if my Dad took us to the arcade for some games, and I knew that my Dad’s car was the only one we took to the lake when we needed to tow our boat.

For all the nostalgia I have wrapped around vehicles like the Dodge Durango, in actuality, it’s nowhere near the best three-row SUV you can buy, nor is it the best-selling. Instead, finding a Toyota Highlander for sale is the only way to get yourself the best-selling three-row SUV.

Why is the Toyota Highlander so popular? Should you consider one if a three-row SUV may be in your future? It’ll soon become clear why so many drivers have chosen the Highlander as their three-row SUV when there are well over a dozen other options to choose from. So, without any further adieu, let’s explore what makes the Toyota Highlander one of the country’s best-selling SUVs…

The back and tan dash of a 2023 Toyota Highlander is shown.

Great Pricing for a Great Ride

Pricing is the most useful tool that anyone can use in marketing. Many times people are drawn to look into the priciest models out of sheer intrigue, but the majority of people are drawn to a price that’s both believable and reasonable—and the Toyota Highlander fits here.

The Highlander doesn’t have the distinction of being the cheapest three-row SUV, but it’s a mix of pricing and provisions—getting the most for your dollar—that makes the Highlander one of the most intriguing SUVs based on this principle. How does the Toyota Highlander stack up against other SUVs in its class?

The 2023 Highlander has a starting price of $36,620, which places it only a few hundred dollars pricier than the Honda Pilot, but the Highlander starts at a less costly MSRP than a handful of three-row SUVs that serve as rivals to Toyota’s best-seller. The Highlander starts at a lower price than SUVs like the Mazda CX-9, Dodge Durango, Jeep Grand Cherokee L, Buick Enclave, and the expensive Cadillac XT6 with its MSRP of $48,795. As I said, the Highlander is priced well enough that it catches the eye, especially against the three-row SUVs that start at over $40,000, like the Durango, XT-6, and Enclave.

A silver 2023 Toyota Highlander XSE is shown driving in a tunnel.

The Highlander’s Efficiency

One of the reasons attributed to the Highlander’s success is fuel efficiency. Three-row SUVs have become fuel-efficient thanks to most manufacturers opting to use turbocharged engines, but the Highlander is more fuel-efficient than a dozen of its other three-row peers. The 2023 Toyota Highlander earns EPA-estimated ratings of 22 MPG in the city, 29 MPG on the highway, and 25 MPG combined with a front-wheel drivetrain, only being slightly reduced to 21 MPG in the city, 28 MPG on the highway, and 24 MPG combined with an all-wheel drivetrain.

These ratings are achieved via a turbocharged 2.4L I-4 engine paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission, and these ratings outpace other SUVs like the Nissan Pathfinder, Mazda CX-9, Kia Sorento, Kia Telluride, Honda Pilot, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Hyundai Palisade, Ford Explorer, Dodge Durango, Chevy Traverse, and the Cadillac XT6. The Cadillac XT6 starts at an MSRP of $48,795, which is not only vastly pricier than the Highlander’s MSRP, but its fuel economy ratings never manage to exceed the Highlander, with the XT6’s best ratings coming in at 21 MPG in the city and 27 MPG on the highway in front-wheel drive.

The Buick Enclave is also far pricier than the Highlander, with an MSRP of $44,800, and it fares far worse in fuel efficiency, with EPA-estimated ratings of 18 MPG in the city and 26 on the highway with FWD and 17 MPG in the city and 25 on the highway with AWD. Again, these other models come from big-name automakers, like Ford, Dodge, and Jeep, and yet the Toyota Highlander is not only cheaper than SUVs like the CX-9, Durango, and Enclave, but are more fuel-efficient, too. That’s what I call a win-win.

How Much It Can Tow

Three-row SUVs are well-suited for towing—perhaps not as well as full-size SUVs, but three-row SUVs like the Highlander provide great towing potential. The Highlander and its turbocharged 2.4L I-4 engine can tow a maximum of 5,000 lbs, which means buying one automatically means you’re towing more than those who buy base model Volkswagen Atlas, Mitsubishi Outlander, Mazda CX-9, Kia Sorento, GMC Acadia, and the Cadillac XT6. The Volkswagen Atlas especially doesn’t do well in its base configuration, with a low towing capacity of 2,000 lbs, comparable to the poor production of the Mitsubishi Outlander.

The Mazda CX-9, which is only available in AWD, doesn’t muscle up enough power either, with its maximum towing cap of 3,500 lbs. Most similarly priced SUVs like the GMC Acadia tow 3,500 lbs in its base configuration, and this is only improved upon by 500 lbs with its V6 engine, but the Kia Sorento tows 3,500 lbs at the most, and 2,000 lbs at the worst. Speaking of, the worst offender of the bunch is the Cadillac XT6, which is a familiar name in our discussion so far; the cheapest Highlander tows 400% more than the XT6, while the latter, in its base configuration, costs 33% more than Toyota’s SUV.

The black and tan interior of a 2023 Toyota Highlander is shown.

The Key Is the Third Row

When you first started reading this, I mentioned there wasn’t a necessity for a three-row SUV as someone who grew up in a family of four. However, depending on how you utilize your space, a three-row SUV can be critical at various moments; for example, when I was younger, my brother and I would accompany our parents on vacation. Since there wasn’t a need for the third-row seating in regards to passengers, we’d fold it down, which allowed us to not only store all of our cargo but other vacation gear like beach umbrellas and chairs, footballs, volleyballs, etc. Three-row SUVs are the best vacationing vehicles—no contest.

If you’re buying a three-row SUV, you should buy one that has great cargo space, and the Highlander is such an SUV. The Highlander has more cargo space than the Nissan Pathfinder, Mitsubishi Outlander, Mazda CX-9, Kia Sorento, GMC Acadia, and once again… the Cadillac XT6.

If you fold down the third row of seating with the Highlander, you’ll have 48.4 cu.ft. of space for yourself and four other people in your cabin. If you require the expansiveness of your interior, you can fold down both rows when you aren’t with your family or friends, and the Highlander gives you a maximum of 84.3 cu.ft. of space. This is better than the Pathfinder’s 45 to 80.5 cu.ft. of space in these seating configurations, the Outlander’s 33.5 to 79.7 cu.ft., the CX-9’s 38.2 to 71.2 cu.ft., etcetera.

The Highlander: There Can Only Be One

Now that you and I have reached the end of our discussion, let’s do a quick recap and answer the question once and for all: is it all justified, and is there any reason why the Toyota Highlander shouldn’t be the best-selling three-row SUV?

You and I have spoken about pricing, efficiency, towing, and cargo—and for the average three-row SUV driver, these are the things that people want. Three-row SUVs need to be versatile, and these subjects are all related to versatility. Also, when you bring vehicles like the overly-priced Cadillac XT6 into the picture, the Toyota Highlander’s best qualities shine all the more brightly, indictating with unshakeable confidence as to why it’s the best-selling three-row SUV.