2018 Highlander New Car Test Drive
The Toyota Highlander is a comfortable and smooth-riding midsize crossover with three rows of seating, standard front-wheel drive but available with all-wheel drive. It's considerably larger than the RAV4 but not rugged like the 4Runner.
It was last redesigned for 2014, but for 2017 Highlander receives a facelift, more power, a new eight-speed transmission, and more high-tech safety features. It also gets four more USB ports, for a total of five. The third row remains very small.
There's a new sporty Highlander SE, with a stiffer suspension and 19-inch wheels, so the ride is more firm and less smooth. The Highlander Hybrid is now available in lower LE and XLE trims.
Highlander can be compared with other large crossovers such as the Hyundai Santa Fe, Honda Pilot, and Chevrolet Traverse.
The 3.5-liter V6 that powers most models of the Highlander gets upgraded with direct injection, which increases its horsepower to 295 from 270. The new eight-speed automatic transmission has a broader range for the torque-converter lockup, which gives it a more direct feel, according to Toyota. The new powertrain raises fuel mileage a bit, to 21 city, 27 highway, and 23 miles per gallon combined. It uses a start-stop system that shuts the engine off at stop signs and redlights, and restarts it when the drive takes his or her foot off the brake pedal.
The base Highlander LE uses a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine making 185 horsepower, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Despite having much less power, it gets one less combined mile per gallon than the new V6, and three less highway mpg.
Hybrid models use an Atkinson-cycle version of the V6, also with direct injection. The hybrid system uses two electric motors, one for the front wheels and another for the rear wheels. It makes a combined 306 horsepower (up from 26), and brings 30 City, 28 Highway and 29 Combined miles per gallon. We got seat time in a Hybrid XLE, all of it relaxed city driving, and it returned considerably less than that. Not unlike our experience with the 2016 Highlander Hybrid.
With the forward-collision warning system, the IIHS gives the Highlander its Top Safety Pick+ rating, with top Good ratings in every test. The NHTSA gives it five stars overall, with four stars for frontal crash and rollover.
The 2017 Highlander lineup includes the new SE, LE, LE Plus, XLE, Limited, and Limited Platinum models. The Hybrid comes as LE, XLE, Limited and Limited Platinum.
Highlander LE includes cloth upholstery, 4.2-inch multi-information display, six-way manually adjustable driver's seat and four-way passenger seat, 60/40 split-folding and reclining second-row seat, 60/40 split-folding third-row seat, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, five USB ports, LED taillamps, and 18-inch alloy wheels. It also comes with the Toyota's Entune AM/FM/CD audio system with a 6.1-inch touchscreen, six speakers, an auxiliary input jack, Bluetooth phone connectivity and music streaming, and Siri Eyes Free. Also standard are a rearview camera, hill start assist, and eight airbags, including a driver knee airbag and a front passenger seat cushion airbag.
The sporty SE gets a dark grille, headlamp housings, and roof rails. Inside it gets black leather with silver stitching and patterned inserts.
The fully loaded Limited Platinum gets heated and ventilated front seats, driver's seat memory, a 12-speaker JBL audio system, a surround-view camera system, heated steering wheel, heated second-row seats, panoramic sunroof, and front park assist. It also gets Toyota's Safety Connect system, which includes emergency assistance, a stolen vehicle locator, roadside assistance, and automatic collision notification.
Toyota's upgraded Safety Sense P system is standard, with forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, lane departure alert, a pedestrian pre-collision system, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams.