Speaking of that rear row, it’s pretty cramped, even when compared to rivals whose third rows aren’t exactly spacious. Adults won’t make the cut here. Small children can squeeze back there, and to ease their comfort the in-car entertainment system is offered so they can enjoy a movie while they’re in the back.
Storage space is plentiful in the Highlander. There is a massive center console in the front row for storage, along with a long shelf setup on the dashboard to store your phone, wallet, etc.
If you need to move cargo, folding down the back row gets you 40.5 cubic feet of space.
HOW'S THE DRIVE?
My test vehicle had a 3.5-liter, V6 engine; and an 8-speed automatic transmission. The engine has been improved for the 2017 model. Numbers are 295 horsepower, and 263 lb.-ft. of torque. FWD is standard, and AWD is optional.
There is also a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine offered with 185 hp; and a 3.5 liter V6 hybrid engine offered on the hybrid version of the Highlander (305 horsepower).
The V6 I tested proved a bit sluggish and unresponsive at times. Highway performance is fine, but getting up to speed is not a quick process, as this thing weighs 4,500 pounds (it’s heavier than some of the competition). I would rank it behind some other SUVs in the category (Ford Explorer, Mazda CX-9) in terms of engine power and overall driving performance.
There is also a trim level offered (SE) that features suspension upgrades for a better handling experience.
Families can travel in relative quiet, with little road noise getting into the Highlander and a very smooth ride overall.
One hallmark of Toyota vehicles is strong safety options.
The Toyota Safety Sense package is included on all Highlanders. It includes: Pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, and full speed dynamic radar cruise control. These are all features which accomplish one of the Highlander’s key goals -- keeping your family as safe as possible.
Among the optional features in the safety realm are blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.
Overall the infotainment system in the Highlander was easy to use and did not frustrate, with well-labeled and well-designed controls.
But one minor complaint I have is that the touchscreen is a bit far to reach due to distance from the driver. Luckily you can also rely on voice commands for some functions to limit the need to do calisthenics in the car to use the touchscreen.
Official numbers on my AWD Highlander test vehicle were 20 city/26 highway/22 combined. This tops most competitors in the segment, and are strong numbers. The alternatives that do beat it are just a tick ahead. Fuel mileage is also helped by a stop-start system.
My test vehicle was an XLE, one of the higher trim levels, and came in just over $43,000; base price starts just under $31K.
These numbers are pretty average for the segment of three-row SUVs. The Ford Explorer starts about $1,000 higher than the Highlander, which is about the same as the Honda Pilot, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mazda CX-9 and Nissan Pathfinder. GMC’s Acadia and Chevy’s Traverse are slightly less, and are the most affordable in the segment, but Toyota fans tend to be loyal and pay a little more, knowing the vehicle will likely last a long time and make up the difference in reliability.
For those with growing families, there are many three-row SUV options available to them, and for families used to Toyota vehicles the Highlander is the logical next step. But with many strong competitors, it’s not the guaranteed move. Folks who want a bit more power may end up leaning toward some other models, but outside of that issue the Toyota family mover has little to dislike so it should continue to be among the top sellers in this category.
Matt Myftiu can be found on Twitter @MattMyftiu.