3.5-Liter, DOHC V6 — Gas
Toyota Hybrid System — Hybrid
8-Speed Automatic — Gas
Continually Variable Transmission — Hybrid
295/Gas • 306/Hybrid
20/City • 26/Highway • 22/Combined — Gas
29/City • 27/Highway • 28/Combined — Hybrid
Overview: The Toyota Highlander is a three-row crossover best known for passenger comfort, impressive cargo space, family safety, a strong V-6 and an impressive hybrid version.
The Highlander comes in six model configurations. We drove both the SE gas version, and the Limited Platinum hybrid version at different times — and this review will focus on the two models we drove.
Walkaround: Overall, the Highlander is brawny and well-proportioned. While styling is evolutionary rather than groundbreaking, it was tweaked with sharper angles last year. The interior was upgraded as well.
The Highlander is a wagon-like vehicle that makes no bones about being a stylish substitute for a soccer-mom minivan — but thankfully eschews the sliding side doors.
Interior: The Highlander cabin is well-designed and comfortable, boasting convenience, functionality and attractiveness.
Instrumentation is laid out logically in a two-tiered dashboard and there’s an abundance of small storage spaces. Material quality is high, trim levels attractive — and Toyota’s usual excellent fit and finish.
The infotainment system is user-friendly but unfortunately, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren’t offered.
The Highlander excels at carrying people. The front seats are soft and supportive, with driver side power adjustments. The XLE and above get power for the passenger as well.
The second-row seats slide back and forth for ample legroom. Two available captain’s chairs can replace the three-person bench — improving third row access. Like all of them, the third row is best suited for kids — not adults.
The third row folds flat with the pull of a lever, creating a somewhat high cargo floor. However, cargo space is beyond impressive — 14 cubic feet behind the third row, 42 with the third row folded, and 83 with the second row down.
Behind The Wheel: The Highlander’s most common gas engine is a 3.5-liter V-6 delivering 295 horses and mated to a smooth 8-speed automatic transmission, with all-wheel drive. The V-6 Hybrid boasts 306 horses with the help of its electric motors, and is one of the most fuel-efficient large crossovers.
The ride in both is luxurious and soft. Handling is especially good for a crossover SUV — but not exactly nimble. Steering is precise and light, while the suspension is tuned for comfort.
A fairly high 8.0 inches of ground clearance makes light off-roading possible, but it’s not outfitted for anything other than the occasional rough dirt road. However, we found out firsthand this past winter that the all-wheel drive hybrid is quite capable in snow. We live on a steep hill, and the hybrid Highlander went up and down in over a foot of the white stuff with ease.
Bottom Line: The Toyota Highlander — in either gas or hybrid configuration — may be the perfect three-row family crossover SUV. It’s safe, capable, comfortable, rides and handles predictably. It’s not a minivan, but it could do double-duty if needed.