Sitting above the RAV4 in Toyota's SUV lineup is the Highlander, a three-row model that was last overhauled for the 2017 model year. The family hauler is unchanged this year, and continues to offer a good amount of interior room, a fuel-efficient powertrain and many of the tech and convenience goodies we've come to expect from this class.
Powertrain and specs
Most Toyota Highlanders are equipped with a 3.5-liter V6 engine delivering a class-competitive 295 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque, coupled to an 8-speed automatic transmission. Its fuel economy ratings vary from one trim level to the next, but most front-wheel-drive Highlanders are rated for 21 miles per gallon city and 27 mpg highway, and most all-wheel-drive models return 20/26 mpg. The engine has a standard stop-start function to save fuel in urban driving.
There is a 2.7-liter inline-four engine on offer in the base Highlander LE, but it's probably worth avoiding if possible. Not only are its output ratings of 185 horsepower and 184 pound-feet underwhelming for a three-row model of this size, it somehow returns worse fuel economy than V6-powered Highlanders, with just 20/24 mpg. For greater fuel economy, turn to the Highlander Hybrid, which manages as much as 30 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.
When equipped with the appropriate towing accessory kit, the Highlander can tow up to 5,000 pounds in any trim level, except for the LE four-cylinder.
The Toyota Highlander is normally equipped to seat eight, with a second-row bench that slides and reclines. XLE trim levels and higher have second-row captain's chairs, however, cutting seating capacity to seven. Cargo room behind the third row is less impressive than in some direct competitors, at just 13.8 cubic feet. With the third row folded, cargo room improves to 42.3 cubic feet, and it maxes out at 83.2 cubic feet with the second row lowered too. Those numbers are right on par with competing three-row SUVs. For Highlanders equipped with a panoramic sunroof, the slightly lower ceiling does compromise those cargo figures a bit, dropping them to 13.8/42.0/82.6 cubic feet.
One of the Highlander's biggest advantages over competitors is its high level of standard active safety technology; some rivals offer these features only on more expensive trim levels. Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P) is the brand name for the grouping of pre-collision warning and braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, automatic high beams and adaptive cruise control. XLE trims and above also have blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.
The base infotainment system on the Highlander LE is a 6.1-inch touchscreen with AM/FM radio, a CD player, auxiliary and USB inputs, Bluetooth and Siri Eyes Free functionality. Moving up to the LE Plus trim nets an 8.0-inch screen that adds satellite radio and navigation using the Scout GPS app on a connected smartphone. The final option, on XLE models and above, adds built-in navigation and HD Radio traffic and weather doppler information. As is the case with most Toyota models, none of the Highlander's trim levels offers Android Auto or Apple CarPlay connectivity. A 4.2-inch reconfigurable trip computer is standard, and on higher trim levels it has a color screen, to provide more information ahead of the driver.
Options and pricing
The 2018 Toyota Highlander's pricing structure runs from $32,275 to $47,905, including a $1,045 destination charge, which is roughly in line with the range of prices you'll pay for competing three-row vehicles. The following prices are for front-wheel-drive models; adding all-wheel drive costs $1,460 extra.
The absolute cheapest model is the LE four-cylinder, at $32,275 and offered only with front-wheel drive. The highlights of its equipment list include 18-inch wheels, LED taillights, five USB ports, a 6.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system and the Toyota Safety Sense P active-safety technologies. The LE V6 offers the same feature set, albeit with the 3.5-liter engine instead, from $34,325.
The next step up is the $36,705 Highlander LE Plus, which adds 8-inch touchscreen infotainment, tri-zone climate control, power front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a power liftgate, fog lights and a pop-out rear window in the liftgate. Atop that, the $40,165 Highlander XLE adds blind-spot monitoring, roof rails, a sunroof, a color trip computer, leather first- and second-row seats, second-row captain's chairs, heated front seats, push-button start, and navigation.
The $41,335 Highlander SE is intended to have a slightly sportier look, with upgrades like black 19-inch wheels, dark-tinted headlights, dark-painted roof rails and grilles, unique interior door trim and silver-stitched leather.
Moving up to the Highlander Limited costs $43,325, adding chrome exterior trim, chrome 19-inch wheels, cooled front seats, wood and soft-touch leather interior trim, rear parking sensors and a 12-speaker JBL audio system. Finally, there's the $46,445 Limited Platinum, which goes one step further with add-ons like a panoramic sunroof, a 360-degree camera system, a heated steering wheel and heated second-row seats.
The 2018 Toyota Highlander is available nationwide now.