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When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

One of the contending Ford SUVs for sale, a green 2024 Ford Explorer Timberline, is shown off-roading in a forest.

What is Ford’s Most Successful SUV?

It’s no secret that the era of the traditional passenger car has passed. Sales of sedans, coupes, and hatchbacks don’t even quite total one-quarter of new vehicle sales. This is a seismic shift in the preferences of car buyers over the past few decades and has led to driveways where it’s not at all uncommon to see an SUV alongside a minivan, pickup truck, or another SUV. What was once a niche market limited to a segment of buyers in the Snow Belt is now the most popular everywhere. And Ford has ridden this wave better than almost any other manufacturer.

Ford has almost completely departed from the traditional car market, with the Mustang being the only survivor. Venerable nameplates like the Taurus have been discontinued largely in favor of a wide range of Ford SUVs for sale. Of course, Ford’s best-selling vehicle for decades has been the F-150 pickup truck, and they also have the popular Ranger and Maverick trucks, but pickups still don’t serve the needs of most families. SUVs—especially the modern class of crossover SUVs—which are built on car-like unibody platforms, are much better suited to most members of the white picket fence class.

A note on unibody SUVs versus body-on-frame SUVs: some folks insist that only traditional body-on-frame passenger trucks, which have a separate body mounted on a ladder frame, can be called SUVs, while crossovers with their unibody construction are an entirely different class. Car manufacturers don’t make this distinction. For instance, Ford considers its unibody Escape to be just as much an SUV as its leviathan-sized stablemate, the body-on-frame Expedition. Clearly, their capabilities are different; for instance, the body-on-frame Bronco is much more off-road-oriented than its unibody little brother, the Bronco Sport. But they’re all SUVs.

So, with that cleared up, Ford is clearly a leader in SUV manufacturing and sales. Its SUV lineup runs from compact unibodies to huge traditional trucks and everything in between. Some are for rock-crawling and splashing through streams, while others are geared toward showing off your style on the street or transporting your whole family in comfort. But which ones are Ford’s most successful? Is it the attention-grabbing Bronco? Or a different model, like the ever-popular Explorer?

The answer to that depends partly on how you define “success.” Is it raw sales numbers? Is it critical praise? If demand for a new model far exceeds a manufacturer’s capacity to make it, such that it would be a best-seller if the factory were running at full blast, does that count? Ford has had vehicles that fall into all of these categories in recent years.


For example, in the first quarter of 2023, the Ford Explorer was a best-seller, specifically in the three-row midsize SUV class. And as of mid-autumn, it’s also one of the twenty best-selling vehicles in America, period. And that shouldn’t be a surprise; while the Explorer wears a venerable name that dates back more than thirty years to the dawn of the era of SUV popularity, it has maintained a modern edge in technology and style.

For instance, on the technology side, let’s start with what’s under the hood. The current Explorer offers two engine choices, both turbocharged. The first is the 2.3-liter EcoBoost inline four-cylinder. Now, there was a time when a base model four-banger in a midsized SUV would almost have been a punishment, but this potent little powerplant pumps out 300 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. In the early days of SUVs, V8 engines couldn’t match that. But for more power, you can opt for the 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6, which generates an eye-opening combo of 400 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque. Let’s hear it for technology!

The Explorer is a unibody SUV with rear-wheel-drive or optional all-wheel drive. Despite its unibody construction, it’s still a pretty capable off-roader, especially in trims like the Explorer Timberline, which offers 8.66 in of ground clearance, an off-road suspension, and all-terrain tires. Other tech includes Intelligent four-wheel drive with available terrain management, trailer sway control for towing, cross-wind stabilization, and adaptive LED headlights.

The Explorer seats up to seven in its three-row configuration. And unlike in some midsized SUVs, passengers in the third row won’t feel punished. Optional PowerFold rear seats make it easy to put that rear seat up for passengers or down for cargo. Multicolor ambient lighting, optional twin moonroofs, wireless charging, and an available B&O sound system make the passenger cabin an even more comfortable place to spend time.

A blue 2024 Ford Bronco Sport is shown off-roading through a desert.


With the Bronco, we find an example of an SUV that Ford hasn’t been able to make enough of since it launched in 2021, although the Bronco factory has been scaling up production to meet demand ever since. (Just to be clear, we are talking about the body-on-frame Bronco here, and not the compact, unibody Bronco Sport.) Ford aimed the Bronco squarely at the Jeep Wrangler, which previously had the rugged, rock-crawling, midsized SUV market almost entirely to itself.

How successful was Ford with the Bronco? Well, demand far exceeded the factory’s ability to make the new model at first, and there were numerous reports of how hard it was to get a new Bronco. As of early 2023, in fact, Car and Driver reported that Ford was offering buyers who had ordered a Bronco up to $2,500 to switch their order to a different model. Ford was determined to keep these customers but just couldn’t make enough Broncos to meet the demand. Now, that is probably a problem that most carmakers would love to have, although no doubt dealers hate to tell customers that it’s going to take them a long, long time to get the vehicle they really want. The situation should improve as production increases.

Despite this, the Bronco has been catching up to its target, the Wrangler. Motor Trend reports that in January of 2023, the Wrangler sold 10,173 units, while the Bronco sold 10,170. Oh, so close! Production of both models has been affected by supply chain issues, according to Motor Trend, but despite that, a Ford press release notes that Bronco sales grew by 37.6 percent in the first quarter of 2023. So, we can confidently declare the Bronco a success even if you won’t see it on any top 25 lists for overall car sales yet. By comparison, its Explorer stablemate was number 19 on a list of overall new vehicle sales as of October 2023.

The Bronco, as we mentioned, is a pure off-roader at heart. It would be hard even to begin to list all of the features that make the Bronco a great off-roader in the space we have available. We’d begin with its rugged, body-on-frame construction that can handle the stresses of rock-crawling and bouncing through rutted trails. Then there’s the four-wheel drive system with its seven selectable G.O.A.T. modes, which stands for Goes Over Any Type of Terrain. You can even remove the doors and top for an authentic outdoor experience. Plus, to enjoy the scenery with or without the doors and roof in place, TrailControl serves as a type of cruise control for off-road driving.

A dark blue 2024 Ford Edge is shown driving.

The Verdict

Well, we hate to ignore Ford’s other SUVs in its vast lineup, so let’s quickly run through those first:

  • Escape—Ford’s long-time compact SUV was a top-25 seller among all vehicles as recently as 2022, so it’s no slouch in the sales ranks.
  • Bronco Sport—The Bronco’s smaller, unibody sibling; this model is more street-oriented than the Bronco but still offers notable off-road features.
  • Edge—Ford positions the Edge as a refined and stylish SUV, more for the city than trails, although with some off-road features.
  • Mustang Mach-E—This electric vehicle has probably convinced more people to consider EVs than any other model not produced by Tesla.
  • Expedition—Ford’s biggest SUV, the Expedition, can seat eight comfortably and carry all their gear.

With all of that being said, if we’re looking for Ford’s most successful SUV for 2023, it comes down to the sales leader (the Explorer) or the new kid on the block who’s making a splash (the Bronco). And there’s really no way to rank them against each other since they each tackle a different segment and a different mission. So we’re going to declare this one a draw for now–although most people would probably find themselves very happy with either one, so a draw is probably appropriate.

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