2017 Toyota Highlander – A Perfectly Comfortable Way to Blend In
Automotive journalism is tough enough without having to review cars like the Toyota Highlander. You have to really look at each car with an open mind, and really try to understand the intended buyer. In this case, maybe that buyer is just too different from me to bridge that gap. There’s essentially nothing wrong with the Highlander, it’s a perfectly good mid-sized three-row SUV. But there’s just nothing to get excited about.
However, maybe that’s the point? It’s not meant to win any design awards, or to set a fast time around a test track. It’s meant for moving your family around in relative comfort, safely, for a reasonable value. The starting price of $31k is certainly a low cost of entry, but not too many people would choose that 4-cylinder model with only 185hp to pull a nearly 4500lb vehicle around. The 3.5-liter V6 in our test vehicle, the ‘Limited Platinum’ version, boasts 295hp and an 8-speed automatic transmission. Again, the transmission seems to be deliberately tuned to be ‘less sharp’ in its actions, as it takes forever to kick down a gear when you want to accelerate. This again leads to a somewhat limp driving experience.
The sweet spot for these might be the XLE trim, which allows you to add most of the safety features and starts around $43k. The nearly $50k price of our test vehicle does feel like a lot, even though you are getting lots of space and convenience. There are tons of places to store your things and ports to charge your devices. It has a good infotainment system, even if it suffers from some disjointed control layouts.
For your third-row passengers, there really isn’t a ton of space. Fortunately, there will mostly be children in that row, but as they grow the legroom will become an issue. And, of course, adding that third row means that with a full complement of passengers, the rear cargo space is limited. Folding that third row is nice and easy, and yields a usable area.
Some of the other safety features in our test car are pre-collision warning, pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane assist and automatic high-beams. Most of the systems can be toggled on and off via various buttons, scattered all throughout the cockpit. I hope manufacturers work to centralize control some of these systems as they find their way into more and more cars. Looking around for buttons in different locations feels counter to the technology that goes into the systems.
For fuel mileage, there’s no getting around that this is a big V6 in a heavy SUV. Ratings are 20MPG City and 26MPG Highway, but we found it challenging to get to those numbers. Ultimately, however, the engine is one of the bright spots here. Coupled with a more willing transmission, this could actually be fun to drive.
When it comes to looks, not much can be said about this truck. The front grilles of Toyota/Lexus vehicles have been growing in recent years at an exponential rate. We feel that it’s getting to the point of absurdity when over 80% of the front of the car is the grill. Overall, again – it’s not ugly, but it’s not interesting to look at either.
Ultimately, driving one of these makes you prone to just blend in. And maybe that’s exactly the target buyer Toyota was thinking of when they designed this Highlander. Go test drive one and see for yourself!