By Joe Tralongo, Contributing Editor
KBB Expert Rating: 9.1
Still leading the segment it helped create, the 2016 Toyota Highlander SUV may have grown larger, but it’s every bit as reliable and functional as the original. Toyota has taken refinement to new level in the 2016 Highlander, giving it a bold exterior as well as an optional hybrid model not offered by the new Honda Pilot or Nissan Pathfinder. With seating for up to eight passengers, the Highlander can accommodate like a full-size SUV, but its miserly 4-cylinder engine and hybrid powertrain option make it far more fuel-efficient. Opt for the V6 and you can tow up to 5,000 pounds. Encouraged by its IIHS "Top Safety Pick +" rating, Highlander owners know their families couldn’t ask for a safer mode of transport.
KBB Expert Ratings
For 2016, Toyota’s V6 Highlander crossover SUV adds a tow package to its standard equipment roster.
Although Toyota offers a frugal 4-cylinder and hybrid option, it is estimated that close to 90 percent of 2016 Highlanders will leave the showroom with a 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 under...
... the hood. With markedly better acceleration and passing ability than the 4-cylinder, the V6 is also surprisingly good on fuel. All trims display a calm poise over most road surfaces, a welcome change from some newer SUVs that return a harsh ride due to their stiff suspensions and oversized wheels/tire packages. When equipped with AWD (all-wheel drive), the Highlander can even handle light off-road adventures. At highway speeds, the Highlander is nearly as quiet as a Lexus SUV, and it remains stable and confident even in the face of strong crosswinds and rutted pavement. The Highlander’s modest proportions and short overhangs make it easy to maneuver in crowded parking lots and packed city streets.
DRIVER EASY SPEAK SYSTEM
Addressing misbehaving kids in the 3rd-row seat no longer requires a screaming parent or pulling over to administer discipline. With Easy Speak, a microphone carries the driver’s voice to the rear speakers, essentially converting them into mini-megaphones.
FLIP-UP REAR HATCH WINDOW
Being able to access the rear cargo area without having to open the entire hatch is a small touch that goes a long way. Popping open the glass window allows one to place or retrieve items without the fear of the dog getting loose or cargo spilling out when parked at an incline.
The 2016 Toyota Highlander follows the company's latest design trends for its interior, and we definitely approve. Not only are the front seats comfortable, but there are numerous features that make life inside the Highlander easier. A horizontal theme pervades, drawing your eyes from either end to the centralized multimedia screen. There, you'll find easy-to-use controls, including knobs for the main radio functions, and for the climate controls below them. A huge center console can hold 58 standard-size juice boxes, perfect for keeping anybody seated in the comfortable second row or kids-only third row adequately hydrated.
Toyota’s 8-passenger Highlander represents a departure from the somewhat anonymous styling of its predecessors. With a bold grille opening and more chiseled flanks, it's a sharp-looking take on the modern family wagon. If you think it's showing a little more machismo, that's no mistake, as Toyota is looking to attract more male drivers to its midsize crossover SUV. It also offers a fresh face among the more familiar Chevrolet Traverse and Ford Explorer, with a bit more character than the new Honda Pilot.
If you opt for the base Toyota Highlander LE, you'll get the 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine, 8-passenger seating, a standard rearview camera, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, day/night rearview mirror, and three 12-volt auxiliary power outlets (two up front and one in the second row), and a 6.1-inch touch-screen display with Toyota's Entune audio system, Bluetooth and voice recognition. Outside, there are projector-beam headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels and color-keyed mirrors. Standard safety features include eight airbags, Lower Anchor and Tethers for Children (LATCH) points, stability and traction control, and anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution.
As you move up the model ladder, the Toyota Highlander offers more and more features. Depending on what you're willing to spend, you can get high-end features like lane-departure warning, dynamic radar cruise control and automatic high beams. Heated 2nd-row captain's chairs are available – although you lose the 8-passenger capacity – plus a panoramic moonroof, heated steering wheel and a rear-seat Blu-ray and DVD entertainment system. There are also features like Driver Easy Speak, which helps amplify the driver's voice so rear-seat passengers can hear better, and 3-zone automatic climate control.
Buyers of 2016 Toyota Highlanders have multiple drivetrain options before them. Base models come with a 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine putting out 185 horsepower, but most Highlander buyers get the 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine. Not only is it more powerful, but highway fuel economy is the same as the 4-cylinder, and you lose only one mpg in the city. Both engines are connected to a 6-speed automatic transmission, but only the V6 is available with AWD. True to Toyota's nature, there is a Highlander Hybrid available, but only on the top-tier Limited trims. The hybrid pairs the same V6 engine with two electric motors to produce a total of 280 horsepower. It's more expensive, but the payoff is an EPA-estimated 28 mpg on the highway.
185 horsepower @ 5,800 rpm
184 lb-ft of torque @ 4,200 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 20/25 mpg
270 horsepower @ 6,200 rpm
248 lb-ft of torque @ 4,700 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/25 mpg (FWD), 18/24 mpg (AWD)
3.5-liter V6 + AC 650-volt permanent-magnet motors
280 horsepower @ 5,800 rpm
215 lb-ft of torque @ 4,800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 27/28 mpg
The 2016 Toyota Highlander SUV carries a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starting just under $31,000. That gets you an LE with a 4-cylinder engine and FWD; the LE V6 is about $32,500. At the other end of the spectrum is the top-trim Limited Platinum with AWD, which starts around $45,000. The Hybrid Limited Platinum tops out just under $51,500. While pricey, the 2016 Toyota Highlander is in the same range as other midsize-crossover SUV models, like the Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer and Nissan Pathfinder. For our money, we'd take the Highlander XLE, which offers plenty of features for its sub-$40,000 starting price. Be sure to check the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price to see what others in your area paid. The good news is that the Highlander offers a resale value that's practically investment-grade, better than the Ford Explorer, Chevy Traverse and Nissan Pathfinder.