2020 Highlander New Car Test Drive
The 2019 Toyota Highlander is a three-row crossover known for its passenger comfort, cargo space that's beyond impressive, family safety, a strong V-6 and an impressive hybrid edition.
The styling was tweaked with more sharp angles last year, and the interior was improved, so the changes for 2019 are all cosmetic. The SE gets dark-tinted headlights, taillights, foglights and wheels, while other models get black plastic rocker panels and some new contrasting chrome.
The base engine is a 2.7-liter 4-cylinder that makes 185 horsepower, with front-wheel drive only. The engine that's far more common is a 3.5-liter V-6 making 295 horsepower, mated to a smooth 8-speed automatic transmission, with all-wheel drive. The V-6 Hybrid makes 306 horsepower with the help of its electric motors, and is one of the most fuel-efficient larger crossovers.
The ride is soft and luxurious, and the handling is good especially considering it can seat up to eight people in comfort. The blocky styling might suggest more rugged use, and with all-wheel drive it's certainly capable of snow and mud, but for off-road use the Toyota 4Runner makes more sense.
An all-wheel-drive Highlander with the V-6 engine is EPA-rated at 20 mpg city, 26 highway, 22 combined, which is about average for a family crossover. The base 4-cylinder engine gets no better, in fact a bit lower on the highway. A V-6 with all-wheel drive costs about $3,500 more.
The Hybrid gets a solid 30/28/29 mpg in LE trim with 18-inch wheels, and 29/27/28 mpg for the XLE, Limited, and Platinum with bigger wheels and a roof rack that increases drag. It's only available with all-wheel drive.
The Highlander earned five stars overall from the NHTSA for crash safety in 2018, with four stars in frontal crash and rollover. The IIHS named it a Top Safety Pick+. The Highlander leads its rivals in standard active safety equipment, including forward-collision warnings, full-speed automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, active lane control, and automatic high-beam headlights. .
The 2019 Highlander is available in LE, LE Plus, SE, XLE, Limited, and Platinum models, many of which also come as a Hybrid. Prices span from about $32,000 for a 4-cylinder front-wheel-drive LE to more than $50,000 for a Lexus-like Highlander Platinum Hybrid. Even the LE is well equipped, but surprisingly Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality are not available on any model.
The LE comes with either engine. It doesn't look like a base model with standard 18-inch alloy wheels, tinted windows, and turn-signal mirrors. The interior gets cloth upholstery, a 4.2-inch LCD screen in the gauge cluster, a rearview camera, power driver's seat, and a 6.1-inch touchscreen for infotainment with Bluetooth.
The LE Plus adds about $2,400 to the price and includes an 8.0-inch touchscreen, smartphone-driven navigation, three-zone automatic climate control, a power passenger's seat, synthetic leather and cloth upholstery, a flip-up rear window, and more.
The XLE adds a moonroof, GPS navigation, real leather, heated front seats, and the capability for the driver's voice to come through the third-row speakers.
Highlander SEs have a firmer suspension and sportier appearance, all that black trim, plus black leather upholstery.
The Limited trim adds cooled front seats, a heated second-row seat, and a JBL audio system, while the Platinum adds a surround-view camera system, a heated steering wheel, and a panoramic moonroof.
The all-wheel-drive-only Hybrid is similarly equipped and comes in every model but the LE and SE. .