2018 Toyota Highlander

2018 Toyota Highlander SUV Review

Lots of space and advanced safety features make the 2018 Highlander a top choice among three-row SUVs.
4 star edmunds overall rating
author
by Travis Langness
Edmunds Editor

The 2018 Toyota Highlander is one of the best picks available for a versatile three-row crossover SUV. Thanks to a comfortable and quiet ride, abundant standard features and a just-right size, it should serve you well as a do-all family hauler.

While the Highlander isn't as big as traditional truck-based SUVs such as Toyota's Sequoia, it's easier to maneuver around town, yet it still has three relatively usable rows of seating. It also delivers above-average fuel economy for a three-row SUV. The third row is a bit tighter than we'd like, but kids will fit just fine back there. We also like how Toyota outfits every Highlander with its Toyota Safety Sense bundle, which include adaptive cruise control, lane departure intervention, and forward collision mitigation with automatic emergency braking.

If you need a crossover with a roomier third row, you'll probably be happier with a Honda Pilot or Volkswagen Atlas. Toyota's also a bit behind the times in smartphone connectivity — you can't get Android Auto or Apple CarPlay on the Highlander. Overall, though, this popular and well-rounded crossover is certainly worth a test drive.

Notably, we picked the 2018 Highlander as one of Edmunds' Best Midsize SUVs for this year.



what's new

The 2018 Highlander is unchanged.

we recommend

For the typical Highlander shopper, we recommend the XLE trim level. Priced right in the middle of the Highlander range, the XLE comes standard with the V6 and adds several decent extras to the Highlander's already rich list of standard features, including blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems, leather upholstery, heated front seats, and keyless ignition and entry. There's also optional all-wheel drive if you need the extra control. You could certainly get by with the LE Plus or pay more to enjoy the more extravagant Limited, but the XLE is the sweet spot in our opinion.

trim levels & features

The 2018 Highlander is a large three-row crossover SUV with seating for eight, but optional second-row captain's chairs reduce capacity to seven. Toyota makes six Highlander models: the LE, LE Plus, XLE, SE, Limited and Limited Platinum. The LE isn't a stripped-down model, but its standard four-cylinder engine is a bummer. The LE Plus has key upgrades such as the V6 engine (optional on the LE), a power liftgate and tri-zone automatic climate control, while the XLE, Limited and Limited Platinum essentially slather on luxury features. The SE stands out with unique styling and sportier driving dynamics.

The standard powertrain on the base LE is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine (185 horsepower, 184 pound-feet of torque), a six-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. The 3.5-liter V6 (295 hp, 263 lb-ft) that's standard on all other trims is optional on the LE and comes paired with an eight-speed automatic. All-wheel drive can be added to the V6 as an option.

Other standard features include 18-inch alloy wheels, heated mirrors, a windshield wiper de-icer, rear privacy glass, the Toyota Safety Sense bundle (automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, lane departure intervention, and Toyota's Pre-Collision System, which bundles forward collision detection with automatic emergency braking, a rearview camera, rear air conditioning, a height-adjustable driver's seat, a 60/40-split second-row seat (slides, reclines, folds), a 60/40-split third-row seat (reclines, folds), five USB ports, a 6.1-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player.

The LE Plus adds a height-adjustable power liftgate, a flip-up rear window, foglights, tri-zone automatic climate control, upgraded upholstery and trim, a power-adjustable driver seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a higher-resolution 8-inch touchscreen, satellite and HD radio, and a variety of smartphone-connection apps.

On top of the LE Plus' equipment, the Highlander XLE adds a sunroof, roof rails, keyless entry and ignition, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems, an upgraded instrument panel, leather upholstery (first and second rows), simulated leather third-row upholstery, heated front seats, a power-adjustable passenger seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, second-row window sunshades, a 110-volt power outlet, Driver Easy Speak (carries the driver's voice through the rear speakers to distant passengers) and a navigation system.

The SE is equipped similarly to the XLE but has LED running lights, sport-themed styling elements and suspension tuning, 19-inch wheels and sporty interior trim.

The Limited starts with the XLE's content and adds LED running lights, different 19-inch wheels, rear parking sensors, a rear cargo cover, heated and ventilated front seats, driver-seat memory settings, heated second-row captain's chairs (optional on the XLE) and a 12-speaker JBL audio system.

The Limited Platinum gains a panoramic sunroof, automatic wipers, a 360-degree parking camera, front parking sensors, Safety Connect emergency communications, a heated steering wheel and heated second-row seats.

The Limited and Limited Platinum can be optionally equipped with the second-row bench. A rear-seat entertainment system is optional on all but the LE and LE Plus.

trim tested

Each vehicle typically comes in multiple versions, although trim levels share many aspects. The ratings in this review are based on our full test of the 2014 Toyota Highlander XLE (3.5L V6 | 6-speed automatic | AWD).

NOTE: Since this test was conducted, the current Highlander has received some revisions, including a new V6 engine with an eight-speed automatic transmission and additional feature content. Our findings remain broadly applicable to this year's Highlander.

Edmunds Scorecard

Overall4.0 / 5.0

Driving

5.0 / 5.0

Braking5.0 / 5.0
Steering5.0 / 5.0
Handling4.0 / 5.0
Drivability5.0 / 5.0

Comfort

5.0 / 5.0

Seat comfort5.0 / 5.0
Ride comfort5.0 / 5.0
Noise & vibration5.0 / 5.0

Interior

4.0 / 5.0

Ease of use3.5 / 5.0
Getting in/getting out4.0 / 5.0
Roominess3.5 / 5.0
Quality5.0 / 5.0

Utility

4.0 / 5.0

Small-item storage5.0 / 5.0
Cargo space4.0 / 5.0

driving

edmunds rating
An appealing combination of a powerful V6, proficient brakes and intuitive, precise steering, plus good handling and decent towing and off-road credentials, place the Highlander among the class best.

acceleration

The Highlander's V6 provided impressive acceleration in 2014, and the latest V6 (updated for 2017) only improves upon that capability. The new eight-speed automatic shifts smoothly and is reasonably responsive.

braking

edmunds rating
Despite a vague-feeling pedal, the Highlander provides substantial braking effectiveness — the panic-stop distance from 60 mph in Edmunds testing ranks among the class best — and very good fade resistance.

steering

edmunds rating
About as good as it gets for a large SUV. It has intuitive response and reassuring feedback when cornering and isolated straight-line stability on the highway. And the Highlander is a cinch to park.

handling

edmunds rating
A confident and competent handler, right up to the relatively low limit set by the stability control system, which really lets you know when you're asking too much. The new SE model's sport-tuned suspension provides a firmer ride but only minor handling improvements.

drivability

edmunds rating
The Highlander feels bigger than some competitors when you're behind the wheel, so tighter parking maneuvers might feel hairy. It has nice-and-easy steering for parking lots, though, and indeed it is a very easy SUV to drive in general.

comfort

edmunds rating
Lexus lite. The Highlander's seats, ride comfort and utterly silent atmosphere are nearly as good as you'll find in SUVs from corporate cousin Lexus.

seat comfort

edmunds rating
Heated leather front seats are as comfy as furniture and offer tons of adjustment, including extendable thigh support. The second-row seats are firmer, but they slide and recline in a wide range. The third row is merely acceptable; certain competitors do better.

ride comfort

edmunds rating
One of the Highlander's best qualities is its ride comfort. This crossover is highly isolated and confident without feeling like a floating barge. Few if any road irregularities intrude.

noise & vibration

edmunds rating
One of the quietest SUVs we've ever measured. Only an occasional wisp of wind noise is evident on a gusty highway pass.

interior

edmunds rating
With a couple of exceptions (e.g., some long reaches for controls), the Highlander's interior is highly competitive in terms of access, space and ergonomics.

ease of use

edmunds rating
Some controls, specifically those for the audio system, are located too far away. Otherwise, Toyota's typical array of controls is easy to use.

getting in/getting out

edmunds rating
It can be difficult to reach the third row since the second row (be it captain's chairs or the bench) doesn't provide a wide path to the way back. But the doors are large, and the seats are of a reasonable height.

driving position

Abundant seat adjustments, including power-adjustable thigh support (a rare feature) on most trim levels. Sufficient seat and telescoping-wheel travel for taller drivers.

roominess

edmunds rating
As is true of most competitors, the first and second rows provide copious room for adult occupants. The third row is squishier than that of the Honda Pilot, and despite having three seat belts, only small kids are likely to fit three abreast back there.

quality

edmunds rating
The quality of materials is high, and during our one-year long-term test of a Highlander, everything in the cabin remained nicely screwed together. Impressive.

utility

edmunds rating
Overall cargo capacity is average for this segment, which should translate to abundant room for most families. Small-item storage is very good.

small-item storage

edmunds rating
There's a unique built-in shelf on the dashboard that serves as a resting place for phones or other personal items. A vast amount of space is found under the sliding armrest cover — it's big enough to store a laptop or a sizable purse.

cargo space

edmunds rating
The Highlander offers an average amount of cargo capacity for the segment, regardless of how many rows are in place. Some others offer more space behind the third row, notably the Ford Explorer.

technology

The Highlander's standard suite of safety technology is a nice plus, especially if you don't have the money for a range-topping model. The infotainment interface is pleasantly easy to use.

audio & navigation

Toyota's touchscreen interfaces aren't the flashiest or most feature-packed, but they are easy to use. The 8-inch version (standard on most models) is notably quick to respond to inputs and features large, easily pressed icons.

driver aids

Every Highlander comes standard with forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, along with adaptive cruise control and lane departure intervention. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are included on the XLE on up.

edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.