Midsize SUV Comparison: 2017 Toyota Highlander
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Starting Price: $31,590 | Price yours
Above average: Easy to use, easy to drive, unbeaten track record
Below Average: Infotainment features, interior volume
Consensus: Hard to go wrong with Highlander
A mainstay of the 3-row midsize SUV segment, the Toyota Highlander is a regular on our annual list of Best Family Cars and a former Kelley Blue Book Midsize SUV Best Buy. Meaningful updates for 2017 have made it even better.
Available with 4-cylinder and hybrid powertrains, the Highlander’s bread-and-butter motivator is a newly enhanced 3.5-liter V6 that was among the most powerful and most fuel-efficient engines in the test, thanks in part to a new 8-speed automatic transmission. Combined with 8-passenger versatility, an easy-driving nature and a bulletproof reputation for long-term reliability, the Highlander is an almost unassailable choice for families of all kinds.
2017 Toyota Highlander
At higher speeds, the Toyota Highlander nails a satisfying sweet spot between the sportier Mazda CX-9 and more substantial-feeling Nissan Pathfinder. In addition to what most KBB editors believe to be the most comfortable ride among our test group, the Highlander’s view forward is excellent, wind noise is negligible, and not once did the high-riding Toyota feel susceptible to unpredictable mountain gusts. When it comes to overtaking maneuvers, a new 295-horsepower V6 works in concert with an equally new 8-speed automatic transmission to click off rapid, if not sports car-like passes around slower traffic. The standard Safety Sense suite of active safety aides worked flawlessly as well, with adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and even automatic high beam control all working together to enhance the experience instead of complicating it.
Despite a mediocre turning radius, the Toyota Highlander’s comparatively tidy exterior dimensions make it feel surprisingly at home in cramped urban environments. Thanks to a low beltline and smartly angled interior panels, side and rearward visibility in the Highlander is as good as it gets in a 3-row SUV. And while we wish the 360-degree camera system wasn’t reserved exclusively for range-topping Limited and Platinum models, our XLE model’s large backup camera display and dynamic guidelines helped simplify the parking process.
Toeing a fine line between artful and ostentatious, the Highlander’s interior earns high marks for its stylish-yet-functional aesthetic. The long, padded shelf positioned just below the dash is perfect for storing your wallet, smartphone, keys or whatever else, and the massive center console bin can easily swallow anything too bulky for the shelf. Nothing feels chintzy inside, and materials quality is better than expected across all three rows of seats.
Bringing up the rear in the multimedia portion of our comparison is Toyota’s outmoded Entune infotainment system. Operating core functions like navigation and media are simple and straightforward, but the interface is starting to show its age. The display is dull and nearly impossible to view in bright conditions, and the absence of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is sure to dissuade buyers who want leading-edge connectivity in a future-proof package.
Rear Seat Room
The third row in the 2017 Highlander appears to have been sacrificed in the name of style. The low, sloping roofline compromises headroom, while knee room is generally unsuitable for adults. Then again, filling the third row with three small children is not out of the question, and accessing the third-row is a cinch thanks to one-touch walk-in functions fitted on both sides of the car.
In terms of roominess, the Highlander’s rear cargo area ranked in the middle of the pack. But nice touches like a nearly flat load floor - that also happened to be lowest in our test – and easy-to-fold second and third-row seats helped make up for the relative lack in storage space. The Highlander is also the only midsize SUV to offer a pop-up glass hatch, a feature that comes in especially handy when hauling long, oversized items.
In a predominately highway-heavy drive, which included a 6,500-foot climb up to Big Bear Lake, our 2017 Toyota Highlander XLE returned some of the best fuel economy in our test. Officially, the EPA rates our AWD tester at 20 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway, which, in the real world, is just as efficient as the Highlander’s embarrassingly underpowered 4-cylinder engine. In other words, ignore the 4-cylinder at all costs.
The Toyota Highlander posts some of the strongest residual values among midsize SUVs. Not unlike the Honda Pilot, the Highlander holds its value tremendously well based on its stellar reputation for quality and reliability.
Inside and Out: 2017 Toyota Highlander
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