The exterior of the Highlander doesn’t win any design awards for me, but is not unattractive. I’d put it mid-pack in the category. My test vehicle featured 19-inch wheels, smoked-chrome auto on/off headlights, power folding heated side mirrors with pud lamps, power liftgate with flip-up rear window, and a power tilt/slide moonroof with sunshade
Inside, there is seating for 7 or 8 (depending on 2nd-row setup), but the back row is a bit tight and best reserved for smaller kids. The first two rows are roomy, and overall the vehicle does well on storage, comfort and being versatile enough for the comings and goings of a family -- which is sort of the point of an SUV.
Perforated leather seating is offered, along with heated/ventilated seating. The materials used on the interior are high-quality, but not luxurious.
A Platinum package is available and features: Panoramic Moonroof, heated steering wheel, perforated leather heated 2nd row seats, rain-sensing windshield wipers, Bird’s Eye View monitor, and dark Chrometec 19-inch wheels.
HOW'S THE RIDE?
The Highlander I tested offered a 3.5-liter, V6 engine, paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission. Numbers were 295 horsepower and 263 lb.-ft. of torque.
You can also opt for a more basic 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine, which offers 185 hp and 184 lb.-ft.
The Highlander offers a maximum of 5,000 pounds of towing capacity Front-wheel drive is standard, but you can upgrade to an AWD setup. It offers a generally quiet and overall smooth ride inside the vehicle, with little of the outside world disrupting the ride.
It’s not that powerful though, even with the V6. The ride is quite slow in the Highlander’s Eco mode, which is the default setting and must be changed to Power mode if you want a bit more oomph. I highly recommend you do so, as the Eco mode is not fun to drive in at all.
Those seeking to transport their clan in a more sporty ride would be wise to consider other three-row options, such as the Mazda CX-9.
Toyota is among the top automakers when it comes to safety, so it’s no surprise that the Highlander ranks nearly perfect in government safety ratings (5 stars in most categories).
It comes standard with Toyota’s Safety Sense P, which includes the following features: Pre-collision system with pedestrian detection; lane departure alert with steering assist, auto high-beams and dynamic radar cruise control.
There are eight airbags, and an option for blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.
An 8-inch backup camera is included, and you can opt for the Entune infotainment system, which features: Navigation, AM/FM/CD/MP3/USB/AUX, HD radio, and Satellite radio (3-month trial). A Bluetooth connection is included, as well as 5 total USB ports (3 in front, 2 in second row). A Bird’s Eye View Camera is also offered.
The Entune system, to be honest, is a bit outdated compared to its rivals; It’s also a bit too far of a reach for the driver to get to the physical controls of the system (though voice commands do work well and are the safer option). One other downside to the tech setup in the HIghlander is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility, a feature many rivals offer.
On the plus-side, in-car entertainment system is offered if you want options to keep the kids entertained on longer trips.
Official fuel mileage numbers on the V6 AWD Highlander I tested are 20 city/26 highway/22 combined. This beats some rivals (such as the Ford Explorer) and is on the same level as others (Honda Pilot, Mazda CX-9).
My test vehicle was a high-end Limited model and came in at $47,634; base price starts about $31K, so there’s lots of room in there depending how upscale you want to go. These prices are generally in line with the three-row SUV segment.
It’s worth noting that Toyota’s overall reputation for reliability will come into play when people are deciding which 3-row ride to pick up.
The Toyota HIghlander remains one of the most popular three-row SUVs for a good reason, several in fact. Beyond Toyota’s good name on reliability and its excellent safety features, the utility of the vehicle (that U in SUV) is impressive and the ride, while not thrilling, is smooth enough to make most people happy.
Matt Myftiu can be found on Twitter @MattMyftiu.