Toyota’s Highlander midsize SUV is rarely advertised and publicized, yet it’s the company’s most well-rounded ute that now sports a new and more powerful V6, a new 8-speed automatic transmission and a slew of standard safety features for 2017.
Offered in FWD, AWD and in trim levels LE, LE Plus, XLE, Limited, Limited Platinum and new SE that was tested. There’s also a hybrid version.
The AWD SE offers sporty looks, special trim features, unique 19-inch wheels, roof rails, athletic stance and specially tuned suspension for handling agility.
Powered by a new 3.5-liter V6 that produces 25 more horsepower, now puts out 295-hp and 263 lb/ft of torque. When coupled to the new 8-speed automatic trans, the combination gets EPA ratings of 20 city, 26-highway mpg with Auto Stop/Start. With a hefty 4,690-pound curb weight, the powertrain can tow up to 5,000 pounds. Incidentally, this is the same powertrain found in the Lexus RX350 that costs about $5K more.
The hybrid version uses the same V6 and when combined with an electric motor produces a total of 306-hp and EPA mileage estimates of 30 city, 28-highway mpg.
If opting for the LE, it comes standard with a 2.7L, 4-cylinder with 185-hp and 184 lb/ft of torque and couples to a 6-speed automatic for EPA mileage estimates of 20/24 mpg. That powertrain would seem to be a bit underpowered considering its weight.
After a low 19.5-inch step-in you’re treated to an attractive interior sporting leather seats with contrasting stitching, easy to operate HVAC controls, an 8-inch touchscreen serving the rearview camera, navigation, audio and Entune infotainment system and a nifty dash-long shelf to stow small items.
Among the various operating switches on the dash is an AWD Lock switch. It’s part of Toyota’s Dynamic Torque Control AWD system that when engaged, holds a 50-50 torque split under low-speed driving conditions such as snow and ice covered roads. It disengages upon reaching 25 mph.
There’s also a Snow mode switch that uses the systems’ computer to control vehicle stability and electric power steering and a Power mode switch that provides additional acceleration in mountainous regions where the air is thin.
With a bench seat in the second row, Highlander can seat a total of eight. Substitute the bench for second row captain’s chairs as was in our tester, and there’s seating for six. To access the third row, which is only suitable for kids, the second row slides fore/aft for easy ingress/egress.
Back in the cargo area and behind the third row there’s 13.8 cubic feet of space. Flip them and space increases to 42 cubic feet and upon flipping them, 82.6 cubic feet. More meaningful, there’s 78 inches of cargo depth with all seats folded.
We must mention that Highlander is available with Driver Easy Speak system that is an intercom of sorts allowing the third seat riders to hear the driver say in normal tones “Johnny stop pinching your sister.” It eliminates having to yell.
One nice feature here is that the hatch window can be opened separately from the hatch door. This is convenient if needing to extract a small item from the cargo area like a soccer ball or work gloves, without having to open the entire hatch.
With the higher output engine, acceleration is adequate both from a standing stop and during highway passing maneuvers. It would be interesting if Toyota could put a turbo on the V6 to compensate somewhat for its hefty curb weight.
The test car was shod with 19-inch Toyo tires making the ride smooth and almost as slick as its sibling the Lexus RX350. And it’s a quiet ride with the suspension soaking up major and minor road imperfections.
Handling wise, it’s a big, heavy vehicle so it can’t be expected to offer sports car characteristics like a Porsche Cayenne or other high-end sporty SUV. But it is wintry weather capable with its 8.0-inch undercarriage clearance that is higher than many crossovers and beneficial when traversing deep snow.
Highlander’s base price of $41,150 included a long list of standard safety features such as lane departure with steering assist (if going over the white/yellow lines, the system steers you back into your lane), pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, driver’s knee airbag and more. In fact, the tester only had three extra cost options of paint protection film ($395); rear bumper protector ($139); and all weather floor/cargo mats ($249) that added to bottom line of $42,893 with delivery.
Best of all, Highlander received a top 5-star overall safety rating; four for driver, five for passenger frontal crash; five each for side crash and four for rollover. All excellent scores for a proven vehicle that has been around for some time.
The Highlander also comes standard with Toyota Care, a complimentary plan covering normal factory-scheduled maintenance and 24-hour roadside assistance for two years or 25,000 miles, whichever comes first.