The 2016 Highlander is powered by a choice of three different drivetrains. Base models make due with a 2.7L 4-cylinder engine making 180 horsepower. In this guise, the Highlander is rated at 20 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. The mid-level V6 displaces 3.5L and makes 270 horsepower, while the top of the line hybrid uses an electric motor in conjunction with a V6 to make 280 horsepower. The hybrid Highlander returns 27 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway, extremely impressive numbers for a vehicle equipped with third-row seating. The Highlander comes standard in front-wheel drive, though all-wheel drive is an option for those who need it.
There are four trim levels offered on the 2016 Toyota Highlander: LE, LE Plus, XLE and Limited, which offers buyers plenty of options.
LE is the most basic trim, and is the only trim to feature the smaller 4-cylinder engine. However, it still comes loaded with 18-inch wheels, an Entune stereo with a 6.1-inch touchscreen, a backup camera, Bluetooth streaming, heated mirrors, a couple of USB ports and third-row seating.
Stepping up to LE Plus adds a number of desirable items. Highlights include a height-adjustable power rear liftgate, an 8-way power adjustable driver's seat, satellite HD radio, 3-zone automatic climate control, fog lamps and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The XLE trim includes a smart key and push-button start, leather seating surfaces, heated front seats, roof rails to help secure extra luggage, rear window shades, an 8-inch touch screen, HomeLink, a navigation system and a moonroof.
The top-spec Limited trim offers 19-inch wheels, LED daytime running lights, various parking aids and a blind-spot monitor, perforated leather seating, heated and cooled front seats, and a powered passenger seat. The Limited Highlanders are also the only trim that can be equipped with the optional hybrid powertrain.
Options include a Technology package with radar-controlled cruise control, a Lane Departure system and automatically dimming high beams; as well as a Platinum package, which includes everything in the technology package along with a heated steering wheel, heated second-row seats and a panoramic moonroof. A Rear Seat Entertainment system is also optional.
Safety is aided by anti-lock brakes, stability control and traction control, as well as optional items like a blind-spot monitor. Of course, should an accident occur, the Highlander is equipped with eight airbags in order to minimize any possible damage to its occupants.
I've now put about 1,000 miles on Roadshow's, and I've become surprisingly fond of this three-row hauler. It doesn't really look or feel like a big, dull, family crossover. The exterior styling is surprisingly aggressive and works especially well in our tester's shade of Moon Dust. The interior is also remarkably upscale looking and feeling, especially given the car's $50,000-ish price tag.
Overall, there's a lot to like here, but the best thing about this Highlander is the frugality of the hybrid drivetrain. The EPA promises 35 miles per gallon combined for a Platinum Hybrid AWD tester like ours, and while it's still a little early to tell if that's going to be accurate over the long haul, my gut says yes. I've been getting around 34 mpg right now, with a lot of highway driving, but that's all during the initial break-in period, so there's likely more efficiency to be had.
A downside to the otherwise excellent drivetrain is the overall crudeness with which the gasoline engine comes alive, as well as its surprising volume level inside the cabin. "Why is this thing so loud?" Managing Editor Steven Ewing writes in our logbook. Social Media Editor Daniel Golson has similar gripes, and also points out that the 243-horsepower powertrain, while efficient, is kind of pokey when accelerating onto the highway.
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