Here's why the 2017 Toyota Highlander is better than ever before, why it will still be shunned by the enthusiast crowd, and why it will continue selling in droves.
- Toyota's latest take on the midsize crossover is attractive enough, but it's not going to stand out from the crowd. A new pyramid-shaped grille is the biggest change from previous Highlanders, and it joins new taillights to keep the 2017 model looking fresh.
- Big changes can be found in the Highlander's engine bay. A new 3.5-liter V6 puts out 295 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque. That's 25 more ponies and 15 more lb-ft than before, and, while it's not as quick as a V6 EcoBoost Ford Explorer, you can feel the extra power from behind the wheel. Base LE models are still saddled with the old 2.7-liter four-cylinder, which is probably best avoided.
- There's also a new eight-speed automatic transmission in the V6-equipped Highlander for 2017, replacing the old six-speed unit. That helps eke out a bit more fuel economy from the big V6, which is rated at 21 miles per gallon in the city, 27 on the highway, and 23 combined for front-drive versions. Drop one mpg across the board if you choose all-wheel drive.
- We would suggest that buyers skip the $31,570 Highlander LE; the V6-powered LE Plus, at $37,460, is a more reasonable starting point. XLE models add about $3,000 to that price and benefit from leather seats and an 8.0-inch Entune infotainment system with navigation. The gas-only range tops out at the $44,080 Limited model.
- For $42,090, the SE trim is aimed at enthusiasts with a (very slightly) sportier suspension tune, 19-inch alloy wheels, and blacked-out projector-beam headlamps. This is the model pictured in our image gallery above.
- As before, a Highlander Hybrid is offered beside the standard gas-powered models. A total of 306 hp means the Highlander Hybrid is both the most powerful and the most efficient version offered. The EPA rates the Hybrid at 29 mpg combined. Base price for an LE Hybrid is $37,210. The most expensive Highlander you can buy is the $48,820 Hybrid Limited Platinum, which gets a big, panoramic moonroof and a sweet 360-degree Bird's Eye View Camera with multiple viewing modes so you can park this people-mover more easily.
- All 2017 Highlander models get Toyota Safety Sense standard. That package includes forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, and adaptive cruise control. A blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert comes on everything but the LE and LE Plus models.
- There's an Eco driving mode that might allow you to match the EPA's estimated fuel economy figures, but it makes the throttle feel so lethargic that we quickly turned it off. The Hybrid model feels powerful, and though we didn't get enough time behind the wheel to truly test its mpg figures, we can definitely say the system is refined, operating with very little indication of which parts of the high-tech drivetrain are actually sending power to the wheels.
- Don't expect much steering feel from the Highlander, regardless of what trim you choose. Sure, the SE may be a little bit tighter, but this isn't a driver's car. It is quiet and comfortable, however, which is probably more important to the buyers Toyota is aiming for.
- In addition to the smooth ride, ample space is another selling point for the Highlander. Depending on the package and trim level, Highlanders can seat seven or eight passengers, or, with the third row stowed, hold 42.3 cubic feet of stuff in the cargo area. Fold both rear rows and there are 82.3 cubes at your disposal.
- You can't get Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in any Highlander, which is a shame. Toyota's in-house Entune infotainment generally works fine, though it's oddly missing a dedicated button to access the navigation system.
Toyota has given a whole bunch of crossover buyers exactly what they want. The 2017 Highlander is innocuously styled, comfortable to drive or ride in, and roomy. There really aren't any glaring faults to complain about, as long as you're willing to concede that some buyers just want a reliable vehicle to haul their families and their stuff. For that, the Highlander is a perfectly reasonable choice. But if that's all you want to do, you really should take a look at the equally unexciting but even more practical Toyota Sienna minivan, too.