“If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it,” goes the popular saying. It seems Toyota engineers took this to heart while working on the 2017 Highlander.
If you think about it, life’s best experiences happen courtesy of the things we least focus on. For example, do you really question water coming out when you turn on the shower? Do you ever wonder if your fridge will be cold when you open the door? Most likely the answer is, no. Much like those scenarios, the Toyota Highlander simply gets the job done, and done right.
For decades, Toyota vehicles have been compared to appliances in the sense that they can be somewhat soulless and basic. I’d argue that while they don’t usually rank high in excitement they offer unchartered reliability, practicality, and efficiency. The new Highlander three-row SUV isn’t the exception, as it recently managed to wow me just like it did back in 2015 when I drove it for the very first time.
What’s the best recipe for the perfect family vehicle? It’s not that hard, really. Make it appliance-like, effortless to operate, purposeful, and reliable. Since its debut in 2001, the Highlander has managed to check all those boxes and then some.
Toyota recently hooked us up with a weeklong test of the refreshed 2017 Highlander. Our test unit came in a sleek silver metallic exterior color, and was of the Limited trim, meaning it had nearly every bell and whistle available. The starting price for the entry-level Highlander is $31,030, with the range-topping Hybrid Limited clocking in at $46,100. Our Limited V6 AWD came in at $44,514.
A near-$50k price tag can be tough to swallow for most, but it’s worth noting that most SUVs nowadays are almost equally priced, especially in higher trims. The Honda Pilot Elite we drove last year was priced at $47,300 and the Dodge Durango GT $48,765.
When it comes to pleasing the family, the Highlander does so via two captain chairs in the second row, and one bench seat in the third. The latter folds flat into the trunk floor, unlike in the Toyota Land Cruiser. Leave the third row up and you’ll reduce your cargo space to 13.8 cubic feet, but if you’re like most midsize-SUV owners, you’ll only use the third row from time to time so it’s not a big deal.
With the third row folded you’ll enjoy a practical 42.3 cubic feet of cargo space, which in our case, is more than enough to keep up with our traveling lifestyle plus two kiddos in sports and band. During our test, we utilized the Highlander to provide Indianapolis’ homeless folks with hot chocolate/coffee during Christmas Eve. The spacious trunk and lower-than-average ride height allowed us to quickly hop in and out to serve drinks as we rummaged the city streets. Needless to say, the heated seats were a welcomed luxury during our adventure at nine degrees Fahrenheit.
After seven days and roughly 400 miles, we averaged 19 mpg combined. EPA-estimated fuel economy is rated at 20 mpg city, 26 highway and 22 combined.
The Toyota Highlander is one of the few SUVs that I think is as enjoyable to drive as it is to ride in. The experience at the wheel is somewhat uneventful, but it all goes back to my opening sentence — it’s effortless, and one doesn’t ever have to wonder about what’s happening. The steering feedback is adequate, the ride quality is superb, the V6’s acceleration is smooth, and visibility is excellent.
When it comes to the rear accommodations, the captain chairs in the Limited trim are leather-wrapped and heated. The second and third rows feature their own climate zone, as well as two USB charging ports (five total), four cupholders (eight total), and two built-in window shades. Parents needing multiple LATCH anchors will be happy to know the Highlander boasts a total of four, but could be as high as five when a second-row bench seat is in place of the captain chairs.
In the technology and safety fronts, the Toyota Safety Sense includes Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Auto High Beams, and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. Our model also featured Blind Spot Monitoring System and a rearview camera with parking sensors. As it’s the case with all Toyota vehicles, the infotainment system looks and feels outdated, although it ultimately gets the job done.
After driving 30 or more crossovers and SUVs in the last three years, I still consider the Toyota Highlander one of the all-stars of the segment. Its ownership experience is effortless, and with such high levels of comfort, safety, and fuel-efficiency, the fact that it will hold its value better than most of its competitors is merely a bonus.
- Starts at: $31,030
- As-tested: $44,514