A pioneering vehicle in many ways, the Toyota Highlander was one of the first midsize crossover SUVs to be sold in America when it debuted in 2001. With its car-based unibody design, the original Highlander provided many benefits over Toyota's more traditional SUVs, including better handling, higher fuel mileage, a quieter cabin, improved crashworthiness and easier entry and exit for passengers.
Since then, the Toyota Highlander has gone on to become one of the most popular crossovers available, appealing to shoppers who want a vehicle with SUV styling, plenty of versatility for hauling cargo and a third-row seat. The third-generation Highlander has the most seating capacity, while the second generation has the most rear cargo space. That said, a Highlander of any vintage is one of the better values out there for those seeking a comfortable, easy-to-drive vehicle that can carry a fair amount of cargo and passengers and handle snow and ice during the winter months while still delivering decent fuel economy.
Current Toyota Highlander
Redesigned for 2014, the current Toyota Highlander is a few inches longer than the previous-generation model and sports notably more aggressive styling. The cabin has also been modernized: Many of the cabin's previously hard plastic surfaces are now covered with softer materials, and the electronics are more up to date.
The Highlander is available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Base front-drive models come with a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine making 185 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. All other Highlanders have an impressively efficient 3.5-liter V6 good for 270 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard with either engine. There is also a Toyota Highlander Hybrid that delivers considerably better fuel economy. It is covered in a separate review.
Toyota Highlander shoppers can choose among four trim levels: LE, LE Plus, XLE and Limited. Highlights of the base LE include 18-inch wheels, a touchscreen display, a rearview camera, Bluetooth and an iPod/USB interface. Moving up to the LE Plus gets you a flip-up rear window, a power liftgate, a power driver seat and tri-zone climate control. The XLE's perks include keyless ignition and entry, a sunroof, leather upholstery, a navigation system and Toyota's Entune suite of smartphone app-based services. The top-dog Limited sports 19-inch wheels, upgraded leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, second-row captain's chairs, ambient interior lighting and an upgraded audio system. Additional safety features like blind-spot monitoring, frontal collision warning/mitigation and lane-departure warning systems are also available on the Limited.
On the road, the Highlander's near-silent V6 engine is complemented by a liquid-smooth six-speed automatic transmission with the refinement you might expect in a Lexus. Acceleration is among the best in this class. Unless your budget will only allow the four-cylinder engine, the V6 is the way to go. Maximum passenger capacity is eight -- more than most other crossovers. The third-row seat is still really only suitable for children, but the second row slides and reclines, maximizing comfort. The interior looks and feels upscale and there are plenty of storage areas for your personal items. Overall, we highly recommend the Highlander if you're shopping for a large, three-row crossover SUV.
Read the most recent 2015 Toyota Highlander review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Toyota Highlander page.