What it is: The Highlander is one of the original mid-sized crossovers, and it premiered nearly 20 years ago. It received a significant update earlier this year and it’s positioned to take even more of the market share due to its thoughtful design and affordable price. My test model was a top-of-the-line Platinum trim, which starts just under $47,000, however the entry level Highlander, the L, starts much lower at $34,810.
One of the big selling points for the Highlander is three rows of seats with seating up to eight people. Combined with Toyota’s legendary reliability, it’s easy to see why Toyota has been selling around 200,000 Highlanders per year in the United States.
One of the biggest benefits of the new Highlander is that they’ve greatly improved the look of the exterior. While previous versions were bland (by choice), the new Highlander features a large body line on the sides that appear to give it a beefy rear fender. It really threads the needle between appearing luxurious but also slightly rugged.
Also available on some trims is a hybrid drivetrain. The standard engine is a 3.5-liter V6 with 295 horsepower, but for $1,000 more on the Platinum trim you can upgrade to the hybrid 2.5-liter four cylinder with 243 horsepower. The gas mileage leap is incredible going from 21 city/29 highway to 36 city/35 highway in the hybrid. Unless you are planning on towing in your Highlander, the hybrid is a no-brainer. The hybrid engine is available on four of the six trims. Only the entry-level ‘L’ and sporty ‘XSE’ don’t have it as an option.
The big reason to spend the roughly $12,000 extra to go from the base L all of the way up to the Platinum is all of the luxury and tech that Toyota put in the new Highlander. Only the Platinum offers the largest 12.3-inch infotainment system with all other models receiving an 8-inch unit. I still don’t like Toyota’s infotainment software, but at least they’ve started adding Android Auto to their cars. The Platinum also provides 20-inch wheels, heated and ventilated front seats, LED headlights, hands-free power liftgate, a panoramic moonroof, Bird’s Eye 360-degree camera system, and some exterior enhancements. Several of these upper-tier tech features are available on the Limited trim, but at an additional price.
I didn’t miss the extra power from the V6 engine at all. With the hybrid providing a 71% increase in city fuel economy, that option is an absolute slam dunk. The Highlander is quiet and smooth on the highway, and its’ basically any parent’s dream with the safety and convenience features. It’s a luxurious car, but it’s still a tier beneath the Lexus offerings or from the other higher-end car manufacturers. I gave a ride to a friend who had recently purchased a smaller and more expensive Porsche Macan, and they were surprised how nicely appointed the Highlander was, even at the $50,000 price point.
MPG: 36 city/35 highway
Price: $37,010 base price. $50,035 as-tested with every option and delivery fee.
Upsides: Lots of option choices. Greatly improved aesthetics.
Wrap-up: You may not want to spend 12 hours on a road trip with a bunch of kids, but if I had to, the Highlander would be a top pick. The small thoughtful measures, like tons of cubbies, drink storage, five USB ports scattered around the car, etc., show how much thinking that Toyota put into the new Highlander. The Highlander is not the cheapest option in the segment, but the small price premium is likely worth it for the peace of mind because of the safety it provides you and your family while also getting Toyota reliability.