The 2017 Toyota Highlander is a three-row crossover that seats seven or eight passengers and is available with front- or all-wheel drive. Highlander shares some components with the similar Lexus RX. Competitors include the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, Nissan Pathfinder and new Volkswagen Atlas. Freshened for 2017, Highlander gets revised exterior styling, an updated V6 engine and the addition of Toyota's Safety Sense system.
Highlander is available in six trim levels: LE, LE Plus, XLE, SE, Limited and Limited Platinum. Standard on the LE is a 185-horsepower four-cylinder that mates to a six-speed automatic. Optional on the LE and standard on all other trims is a 3.5-liter V6 that's massaged for 2017 to produce 295 horsepower. It comes only with an eight-speed automatic and features fuel-saving start-stop technology.
Toyota's Safety Sense system includes automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure intervention, and forward-collision mitigation with automatic emergency braking. Also standard are a rear-view camera, five USB ports and Bluetooth connectivity. Prices start $34,140 and climb to $46,360. A hybrid model is also available but is not reviewed here.
The LE's underpowered four-cylinder engine is likely destined for fleet sales, so most Highlanders will come equipped with the powerful V6. That's a great thing because the engine is not only powerful, but it's fairly thrifty as well. Step on the gas and the Highlander simply moves out with authority. Throttle response is excellent and passing power is above average. The engine is smooth and the new eight-speed automatic shifts like butter.
Highlander's all-wheel-drive system does not have a low range and is not intended for severe off-road use. It does a good job of sending power to the wheels with the most grip on slippery roads but in most circumstances, front-drive is all urban drivers will need. When properly equipped, Highlander towing capacity is 5000 pounds.
EPA estimates for the front-drive V6 are 21 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. Opt for the all-wheel drive and those numbers drop to 20/26 mpg. Interestingly the numbers for the four-cylinder are worse at 20/24 mpg. All engines run fine on regular-grade gasoline. In suburban commuting expect Highlander to average about 24 mpg overall. That number might inch up a bit if you add in some highway miles and drop to as low as 20 if you spend all of your time in the city.
Dynamically, Toyota's Highlander is a typical midsize crossover. It has car-like manners and is easy to maneuver and park. Certainly, there is more body lean in turns than your average sedan, but the communicative steering helps make Highlander drive smaller than it feels. The suspension is tuned for ride comfort rather than handling prowess and, in this case, that's a good thing. The worst part of the driving experience is a numb and vague-feeling brake pedal. At the same time, stopping power is excellent.
Another Highlander strong point is interior noise suppression. It's extremely quiet, regardless of speed or road surface.
Inside, Highlander features an upscale cabin with fittings appropriate for the price point. Base and mid-level models suffer a few hard-plastic surfaces, but top trims border on luxurious. The control layout is very conventional with twin gauges flanking a center information screen and traditional center stack anchored by a large touch screen. Ancillary controls are placed for easy use but more than a few are tucked behind the steering wheel to the left and the start button is buried deep to the right of the wheel.
First- and second-row captain's chairs are quite comfortable, boasting ample head and leg room for large adults. Visibility is excellent to all directions and getting in and out is easy, despite the slightly raised ride height. The third-row seat is best used by children.
Toyota entune infotainment system has seen some upgrades over the past few years but lags behind most competitors in terms of ease of use and overall functionality. In addition, it forces the use of a dedicated app rather than offering integrated Apple Car Play or Android Auto support.
Cargo space is good once you fold the third-row seats, just adequate with them in use. Competitors generally have a bit more usable space out back. Interior storage is great with lots of open and covered bins throughout and a large center console and glove box.
Overall, the Highlander in an interesting proposition for midsize crossover shoppers. Dynamically it doesn't disappoint, it has a quiet and comfortable ride, reasonable road manners, good acceleration and is moderately fuel efficient. It's a bit of a Jack-of-all-trades rather than a master of one -- and in this class that is a very good thing. Resale values are very strong and that makes leasing an attractive option, even though prices tend to be on the high side.