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IMO the Highlander is not a Pilot competitor, it competes with the CX-9, Sorrento and other "3 row" crossovers that have very small third rows that can't accommodate adults in all three rows.

Haven't driven a Highlander in probably ten years, but I will say the transmission tuning on our Pilot (ours is a '15 5 speed) is one of the better vehicles I've driven, especially compared to our Traverse 6 speed which is very unrefined and quite frankly idiotic in its behavior.
 
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In your mind. General market, industry analysts and auto enthusiasts say otherwise. Just because you keep repeating it doesn't make you right.
In fairness, I did preface with "IMO" - In My Opinion. And quite frankly, the only person I care about in those three "groups" you suggest are the auto enthusiasts. And I can tell you any of them that look at these vehicles also agrees with my opinion. Lastly, Toyota clearly agrees with my opinion because they are coming out with a Grand Highlander that has more third row space to make it more competitive with the larger three rows.

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Every vehicle comparison has variations in features and/or size. The Pilot, Highlander, Ascent, CX-9, Pathfinder, Santa Fe, Enclave, etc. all fall within the same vehicle segment or class - midsize SUV. Following your logic, I can selectively pick a feature Highlander has or is better than the Pilot and say it's not a Highlander competitor. In the industry, they are competitors to each other.
I'm not opposed to the "industry" having more generalized categories that allow for fewer overall categories, that's where us as enthusiasts and savvy customers can narrow down their competitive set within each category based on their requirements. If looking at third row space, I maintain they aren't particularly competitive with each other. If looking at acceleration, features, cargo area, mileage, etc. you may find they are much more competitive in those categories. Each buyer needs prioritize those categories and decide which vehicle better suits those needs based on its performance in those categories.

Many who come on this forum currently or have used their Pilots for third row space. I regularly put multiple children and/or adults in the third row of our Pilot and Traverse. 3rd row space is very high on my priority list, as it tends to be for a lot of people looking at Pilots. The fact is that the Highlander is not competitive with the Pilot in third row space. I like the Highlander a lot and have always found them to be excellent vehicles, but it ranks low in my highest priority feature.
 
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