Just showing that success can't always be taken for granted, the first month of 2013 was a stunning role reversal for the Honda CR-V, with sales falling nearly 8000 units from December, as well as being surpassed by the archrival Ford Escape by more than 2000 units. The steady-as-she-goes Chevrolet Equinox maintained its third-place spot, with sales up a strong 26.1 percent compared with last year.
The Ford Explorer surged decisively ahead of the Jeep Grand Cherokee with a more than 3000 unit margin, leading the pack for the midsize models. The Toyota RAV4 took fifth place overall, up 18.2 percent from a year earlier, with sales a mix of leftover 2012 inventory and the all-new 2013 model starting to roll into showrooms. Two other fixtures on the 2012 SUV sales list, the Nissan Rogue and Jeep Wrangler, stayed in the top 10, but not as dominant as they have been in the past, with the Rogue taking eighth place for January, and the Wrangler coming in ninth.
1. Ford Escape - 19,939, Up 15.5 Percent
The race for the crown between the Escape and Honda CR-V has been the sales battle to watch for 2012, with the two trading places between first and second for most of the year, but the Honda prevailing most of the time. But not for January. Ford pulled off a more than 2000-unit lead over the CR-V for January, prevailing despite a rash of embarrassing recalls late in 2012. Ford's proactive treatment of the issues, as well as the Escape's compelling breadth of trim levels and powertrain options, seems to be paying off.
2. Honda CR-V - 17,809, Down 6.1 Percent
Although bumped off the top spot by the Escape for January, you can count on the CR-V retaking the sales lead sometime during 2013. No major official updates have been announced for the 2014 model-year CR-V, but a good bet would be the addition of the Earth Dreams direct-injected four-cylinder and CVT from the Accord, along with some styling tweaks. We also don't yet know a timeline for the 2014 model's on-sale date. Model years have lately become very arbitrary, case-in-point with Toyota's 2013 RAV4 going on-sale close to New Year's and the 2014 Mazda CX-5 rolling into dealers in late January. Our guess would be late-spring, mid-summer for the availability of a refreshed 2014 CR-V.
3. Chevrolet Equinox - 17,223, Up 26.1 Percent
The Equinox has tenaciously held on to its third-place sales spot among SUVs for quite a while now. January was up a solid 26.1 percent over 2012. But with the new Toyota RAV4 now in showrooms, it will be interesting to see how well the Equinox fares against the all-new RAV. The Equinox now has the advantage of a V-6 option over the RAV4's now exclusively four-cylinder model range, although historically, the V-6 has not been a huge seller, and its days may be numbered in the Equinox as well.
4. Ford Explorer - 14,554, Up 46 Percent
The Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee have duked it out for the better part of 2012 for top spot among the midsize SUVs. January gave the Explorer a dominant 3000+ unit lead over the Grand Cherokee, but that shouldn't be cause for complacency in Dearborn. Jeep just unveiled a comprehensively-refreshed 2014 Grand Cherokee with a styling refresh, improved fuel economy, eight-speed transmissions across-the-board, and a decisive edge in towing capacity over the Explorer.
5. Toyota RAV4 - 11,610, Up 18.2 Percent
January is an interesting month for the RAV4, and not necessarily indicative of its fortunes going forward in 2013. With an uncharacteristically late introduction for a 2013 model, the new RAV4 has just recently started to supplant the leftover inventory of 2012 models. It was clear Toyota had the Honda CR-V squarely in its sights with the 2013 redesign, hoping its more tightly focused formula might challenge the 800-pound gorilla of the segment. We've driven the new RAV, and feel it is a supremely competent, if safe-to-a-fault entry. We shall see if it has the goods to be a top-three player.
6. Jeep Grand Cherokee - 11,065, Up 4 Percent
Although knocked down a few notches by a surprisingly strong Explorer for January, don't count the Grand Cherokee out. It has proven its enduring popularity, and with the 2014 redesign just months away from the showroom, including the highly anticipated diesel model, the refreshed Grand could prove to be a formidable competitor to the Explorer, and retake midsize lead.
7. Ford Edge - 9614, Up 15.6 Percent
Filling the "just right" niche for many customers looking for something larger and more comfortable than the Escape, but smaller and more fun to drive than the three-row Explorer, the Edge has never been a consistent top-five player, but with monthly sales figures usually in the five-figure range, and six-figure annual sales totals, the Edge is a valuable player in Ford's SUV lineup. Like its little brother Escape, the Edge offers a variety of trim levels and powertrain options for all buyers.
8. Nissan Rogue - 8951, Down 9.6 Percent
On its face, the Rogue seems like an unlikely candidate for being a top-selling SUV, having debuted in 2008, and styled like a shrunken last-generation Murano. Power and fuel economy, while acceptable for the class, aren't class-leading. But for pure practicality and value, the Rogue is a reasonably compelling purchase, and its no-nonsense functionality has kept it among the top 10 for the better part of 2012. Due for a full redesign soon, it will be interesting to see how the Rogue fares against fresher, more efficient rivals.
9. Jeep Wrangler - 8854, Up 12 Percent
The originator of the SUV genre continues to find fans from coast to coast, and while nowhere near the SUV leaders in fuel economy or practicality, mid-cycle updates have given the Wrangler a surprising level of refinement, making it a reasonable proposition for a daily driver, rather than just a weekend toy. Changes ahead for the standard-bearer could include an optional diesel, and as usual, more trim and special-edition variations.
10. Toyota Highlander - 8831, Up 28.8 Percent
If consistency is a winning formula, the Highlander delivers for Toyota. Selling considerably fewer units than the RAV4, the Highlander is nonetheless a solid top 10 model, ceding the spot occasionally to the Kia Sorento, but often breaking the five-figure monthly sales mark. With prices ranging from the high $20s to mid $40s, there's a Highlander for every taste and budget. But Toyota had better keep an eye out for the redesigned 2014 Sorento, bringing better economy, more power, richer materials and improved cabin tech to the party.