Scheduled for a full makeover for 2019, Toyota’s three-row family SUV, the Highlander, nears the end of its third generation, which debuted in 2014. I
Scheduled for a full makeover for 2019, Toyota’s three-row family SUV, the Highlander, nears the end of its third generation, which debuted in 2014. In January 2001, Highlander became the first car-based midsize SUV or midsize crossover available in North America, and it has been a solid seller for Toyota ever since.
Fast-forward to 2017, Highlander has earned a solid rep for being the right size for family use, with good economy for the niche and easy maneuverability for in-town and soft-road utility.
This year’s edition is 1.35 inches longer for improved dynamics; the top engine gains 25 horsepower and 15 lbs.-ft. of torque; sportier styling has refreshed the SE trim; the hybrid line-up has been expanded to four grades and Highlander adds more safety features to gain it an IIHS TOP SAFETY PICK+ ranking – qualifying for the award with standard equipment.
The Highland exterior has been tweaked with revised front and rear styling and enhanced interior convenience and comfort. Up front, the grille is larger and bolder and the new LED taillights are crisp and lithe. And the interior has been enhanced in the areas of convenience and comfort.
Safetywise, Highlander is among numerous Toyotas employing the innovative Toyota Safety Sense™ P driver-assist technology as standard. Using millimeter-wave radar and a monocular camera sensor to detect a preceding pedestrian, a preceding vehicle, and visible lane markers in the surrounding area, TSS-P can help the driver identify obstacles and automatically apply braking if necessary to help mitigate or avoid collisions in certain conditions. TSS-P includes the Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection function; Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist function; Dynamic Radar Cruise Control and Automatic High Beams.
Sophisticated and dynamic, Highlander features a progressive silhouette, a low roofline for improved aerodynamics, and sculptured side-door panels. Dimensions for Highlander measure 192.5 inches long, 75.8 inches wide and 68.1 inches high on a 109.8-inch wheelbase, to offer 8.0 inches of ground clearance and a towing capacity of 5000 lbs., with a curbweight in Limited trim of 4495 lbs.
The 2017 Highlander is available in 4-cylinder and V-6 powertrain configurations. The 2.7-liter 4-cylinder is mated to a 6-speed Electronically Controlled automatic transmission with FWD, and with intelligence (ECT-i), sequential shift mode and snow mode. The system provides 185hp and 184 lbs.-ft. of torque for an EPA estimate of 20mpg/city, 24mpg/highway and 22/combined.
The 3.5-liter V-6 engine is rated at 295hp and 263 lbs.-ft- of torque, coupled with a Direct Shift – 8AT, 8-speed Electronically Controlled automatic transmission with intelligence in either FWD or AWD, for an EPA fuel rating of 20mpg/city, 26mpg/highway and 22mpg/combined for AWD.
My test Highlander Limited’s 3.5-liter finished a week of mixed-use driving in wintry conditions, with an average of 21.9mpg. Acceleration and performance were confident and responsive at speed and off the line, as tests polished off a zero-to-60mpg dash in 7.7 seconds while completing 16-second quarter-mile.
Independent MacPherson front struts with an L-shaped lower arm and a stabilizer bar, worked with a trailing arm double wishbone rear, Dynamic Torque Control All-Wheel Drive, optimized electric power steering and enhanced fine tuning of springs and shocks to demonstrate solid grip, handling and a road-smoothing experience.
Inside, the quiet cabin seats seven with 39.5 inches of front headroom (with moonroof), 39.6 in row two and 35.9 inches in row three; leg room is 44.2, 38.4 and a child-worthy 27.7 in row three, with shoulder room of 59.3, 59.6 and 55.0. And the Limited trim cabin is packed with infotainment and amenities upgraded with Entune™ Premium JBL®Audio with Integrated Navigation and App Suite. Blue LED ambient lighting around the dash and doors adds a touch of high-tech elegance, and comfortable second-row captain’s chairs, perforated leather-trimmed seats, heated and ventilated front seats, a 4-way power passenger seat and memory settings for the driver seat and side mirrors set the luxury tone for driver and passengers.
Available in LE, LE Plus, XLE, SE, Limited and Limited Platinum trims, as well as four Hybrid trims starting at $36,270, the gas-version Highlander starts at $30,630 for the base model and tops out with the Limited Platinum starting at $46,260, My test Limited based at a $43,140 starting price that included the Toyota Safety Sense™ P (TSS-P) package, Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Rear Parking Assist Sonar, Integrated Backup Camera, Smart Key System+ Liftgate with Push Button Start, Leather-Trimmed Steering Wheel, Tilt/Telescopic Steering Wheel, Heated/Ventilated Front Seats, Perforated Leather-Trimmed Front- and Second-Row Seats, Seating for Seven With Second-Row Captain's Chairs and 60/40 Split Third-Row Seats, Multi-Information Display, Roll-Top Center Console, Soft-Touch In-Dash Shelf, Three-Zone Automatic Climate Control, Entune™ Premium JBL®Audio with Integrated Navigation and App Suite, Height-Adjustable Power Liftgate and Flip-Up Rear Hatch, Chromtec® Roof Rails and a Moonroof.
Ooh La La Rouge Mica (Red) paint was matched to a Black Perforated Leather interior. Body Side moldings added $209, Door Edge Guards added $125, Roof Rack Cross Bars added $350, Running Boards added $599, Carpet Floor Mats added $129 (but I would opt for the all-weather floor liner package at $249 instead), Remote Engine Starter added $499. With Delivery, Processing and Handling fees of $960, my test 2017 Toyota Highlander Limited stickered at $46,011.
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Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.