The story in the SUV market for the better part of 2012 has been the sales race between the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape, with the Escape taking the lead for a few months out of the year. But despite an all-new model available in many more trim levels and configurations than the Honda, the Ford still could not topple the Honda for the end-of-year sales prize. Although third place behind the Ford and Honda, the Chevrolet Equinox was the only other SUV to break the 200,000 units mark for the year.
Among the midsizers, the Jeep Grand Cherokee topped the segment in December, but the Ford Explorer took the win for 2012 sales overall. Despite a valiant effort, and showing up in the top 10 list for several months in 2012, the Kia Sorento failed to crack the top 10 for December or the year.
1. Honda CR-V - 25,733, Up 19.2 Percent; 2012 Total -281,652, Up 29 Percent
Many tried, but none succeeded. The Honda CR-V maintained its top spot as the best-selling SUV of 2012. Sales were up 19.2 percent for December, surpassing the Ford Escape's monthly total by more than 5000 units, and ending the year a decisive 20,644 units ahead of the Ford. Honda's fortunes were probably helped by a series of recalls on the Escape with the 1.6-liter EcoBoost, an engine that Ford was expecting would be the volume powerplant in the 2013 Escape.
2. Ford Escape - 20,131, Down 21.3 Percent; 2012 Total - 261,008, Up 2.6 Percent
For a while, it looked like the new 2013 Ford Escape could have what it takes to overtake Honda. But the CR-V held on to its top spot by delivering consistent, predictable value and features that buyers want. Subjectively, the Escape was better-looking and better-equipped, offering three engine options to Honda's one. But one of those engines, the 1.6-liter EcoBoost, caused plenty of headaches for the Blue Oval crew, being the subject of four recalls, three of them specifically involving the Escape. The bad publicity might have had an effect on Escape sales toward the end of the year.
3. Chevrolet Equinox - 19,551, Up 7.5 Percent; 2012 Total - 218,621, Up 13.1 Percent
Third place may not seem like a high honor, but aside from the CR-V and Escape, the only other SUV to break the 200,000 mark for 2012 was the Chevrolet Equinox. Not quite compact, and not quite midsize, the Equinox's tweener size put it in the driveways of 218,621 customers, putting it well ahead of both the Toyota AV4 and the Ford Edge for the year. The addition of a 3.6-liter V-6 late in calendar 2012 gave buyers that wanted a more performance-oriented option a compelling choice.
4. Jeep Grand Cherokee - 17,121, Down 1.0 Percent; 2012 Total - 154,734, Up 21 Percent
The Jeep Grand Cherokee has been a consistent performer for Jeep, and has anchored the middle of our Top 10 SUV lists month after month. An all-new unibody Ford Explorer raised the level of competition for the Grand Cherokee, but the Jeep finished December with a slim lead over the Explorer. Ford's three-row midsizer did take the midsize crown for the year by a margin of less than 4000 units. Overall 2012 sales were up 21 percent for the year.
5. Ford Explorer - 16,695, Up 20.4 Percent; 2012 Total - 158,344, up 16.7 Percent
The Grand Cherokee may have edged out the Explorer for December, but the Explorer ended the year ahead of the Grand by a slim 3610 units. Overall sales for the Explorer were up a healthy 16.7 percent for the year, 2012 being the first full year of the new body style. The 2013 model year brought the addition of two new EcoBoost options, a 2.0-liter four cylinder, and the high-power 365-hp 3.5-liter V-6 Sport model. Although nowhere close to the 400,000+ annual sales that it enjoyed in its earlier days, the Explorer finished 2012 on a high note.
6. Toyota RAV4 - 14,351, Up 1.7 Percent; 2012 Total - 171,877, up 30 Percent
The Toyota RAV4 was a strong performer for much of 2012, but newer, fresher competition from both the new Honda CR-V and Ford Escape proved to be formidable foils for the original compact crossover. Toyota hit the reset button with the 2013 model, with a more conventional formula and package that closely follows that of the class leaders. Gone is the V-6 engine for the 2013 model year, leaving a single powertrain option. But that didn't seem to hurt the Honda, and Toyota is hoping the new RAV4 might have a chance of being a consistent top-three player.
7. Ford Edge - 12,434, Up 3.0 Percent; 2012 Total - 127,969, Up 5.1 Percent
When it debuted for the 2007 model year, many questioned the need for a midsize two-row crossover in Ford's lineup. Shortly afterward, Toyota countered with the swoopy Venza, and Honda debuted the awkward-looking Accord Crosstour. But neither have had the same level of success as the Edge. Ford having three out of the 10 best-selling SUVs speaks for itself. December 2012 sales are up a modest three percent, and 2012 year-end sales are up 5.1 percent.
8. Toyota Highlander - 12,191, Up 3.5 Percent; 2012 Total - 121,055, Up 19.6 Percent
The Toyota Highlander often battled it out near the bottom of the top 10 SUV list with the Kia Sorento, but prevailed both in December 2012 totals as well as making the top 10 for the year (barely). With the discontinuation of the RAV4 V-6, Toyota is expecting some customers that insist on a six-pot to move up to the Highlander, so sales prospects could continue to go up in 2013. But a extensively-refreshed 2014 Kia Sorento is right around the corner, so Toyota ignores the Korean upstart at its own peril.
9. Jeep Wrangler - 11,545, Up 1.0 Percent; 2012 Total - 141,669, up 16 Percent
The Wrangler proves there's still a market for an unapologetic, authentic sport utility. Its iconic style and unmatched off-road capability makes it a favorite from coast-to-coast. December sales were rather anemic, up just one percent, but 2012 sales overall were up a respectable 16 percent, no doubt boosted by the addition of the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, a massive improvement over the wheezy 3.8-liter pushrod V-6 it replaced. Jeep continues to add new variants, such as the Moab, keeping things interesting for this standard-bearer of the Jeep brand.
10. Nissan Rogue - 11,488, Down 6.5 Percent; 2012 Total - 142,349, up 14.3 Percent
The big surprise for 2012 was the strong performance of the Nissan Rogue. The inoffensively handsome compact SUV, looking like a smaller version of its big-brother Murano, doesn't stand out in any particular area, but its competitive pricing, decent fuel economy and practicality struck a chord with many buyers. December sales were down, but overall 2012 sales were up double digits at 14.3 percent. Will the Rogue continue to be a familiar fixture on our SUV Top 10 for 2013 in the face of an all-new RAV4 and other competitors on the horizon? Time will tell.