The third-generation Toyota Highlander midsize crossover was introduced for 2014 and had a thorough refresh for 2017. For 2019, the Highlander receives minor styling changes.
This three-row family hauler can seat seven (with optional captain chairs in the second row) or eight (with the standard 60/40 split second-row bench). Highlander has lots of standard safety features, near-luxury quiet and comfort, and an exceptional reputation for reliability.
Six trims are available for 2019: the LE, $31,530; LE Plus, $36,460; XLE, $39,229; SE, $40,640; Limited $42,630; and Limited Platinum $47,210. LE, XLE, Limited, and Limited Plus are also available as gasoline-electric hybrids, priced from $37,170 to $48,830.
LE and XLE have standard front-wheel drive, with all-wheel drive available for $1,460 extra. AWD is standard for all other trims.
For 2019, LE, LE Plus and XLE (the trim I tested) have new black bodyside rocker panels. SE receives black wheels, rocker panel covers, darkened headlights and taillights, black chrome LED fog lights , and an available Nightshade Edition, while Limited and Platinum get LED fog lights.
The base LE front-drive has a 2.7-liter four-cylinder 185-horsepower engine with a six-speed automatic transmission. All others have a 3.5-liter 295-horsepower V-6 engine with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Stop/start engine technology is standard to help conserve gasoline. The dynamic torque-control all-wheel-drive system includes hill-descent control and electronically lockable differential.
My Highlander XLE with AWD built on the previous models, adding a tilt/slide moon roof with sunshade and jam protection, Chromtec roof rails (looks like chrome, but is more durable), keyless entry/ignition, an upgraded instrument panel, leather upholstery (SofTex faux leather on the 60/40 split fold-flat third row with sliding headrests and recline feature), heated front seats, power-adjustable passenger seat, auto-dimming rearview mirror, second-row manual window sunshades, a 110-volt power outlet, navigation, and Driver Easy Speak (uses a microphone to carry the driver’s voice through the rear speakers to distant passengers). Driver Easy Speak can be controlled using the touch-screen, has four volume settings, turns off automatically when a door is opened, and must be turned on every time you enter the vehicle.
Seven exterior colors include Midnight Black Metallic, Predawn Gray Mica (dark), Ooh LaLa Rouge Mica (deep red), Toasted Walnut Pearl (medium brown), Alumina Jade Mica (medium gray green), Shoreline Blue Pearl (deep gray blue), and Blizzard Pearl ($395, my tester). Interior colors depend on trim and exterior color, and include Black, Ash, and Almond. My XLE interior was Almond.
Soft-touch upper door trim had metallic accents, and faux leather-trimmed door armrests featured satin chrome door handles. The leather-trimmed tilt-telescopic steering wheel also had metallic accents, along with audio, multi-information display/Bluetooth hands-free phone, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, lane-departure alert, and multimedia controls.
The analog instrument panel with blue-illuminated speedometer and tachometer and a 4.2-inch color LCD multi-information display was simple and uncluttered. The MID displayed speed, fuel economy and range, AWD torque distribution, cruise control, navigation turn-by-turn directions, audio status, incoming call notices, and telephone information.
The gated shift lever had a silver metallic/leather-trimmed knob, silver metallic bezel and LED indicator illumination. The soft-touch center console bin was roomy with nearly a cubic foot of space, a removable tray, a 12-volt outlet, and an easy-access roll-top.
A recessed shelf across the width of the dash had a soft-touch edged, silver-metallic trim strip, and an easy-cable-management feature just above the front power sources (three USB, one 12-volt), and was very handy for holding mobile devices. An overhead console had map lights, sunglasses storage, conversation (spy) mirror and a universal gate/garage opener.
Second-row passengers had reading lights, a 120-volt outlet, and two USB ports. Bottle holders on all doors, two cupholders each for first and second rows and four for the third row assure all passengers are covered.
Headroom was excellent – 39.5 inches, 39.6 inches and 35.9 inches, front to rear. Legroom in the first and second rows was also excellent – 44.2 and 38.4 inches, with the third row coming up short with only 27.7-inches. The third row is basically for children on an as-needed basis.
Cargo comes in at 83.2 cubic feet behind the front row, 42.3 cubic feet behind the second row, and 13.8 cubic feet with the third row upright. The cargo area has four tie-down hooks and cargo lights.
Also standard for my XLE were auto on/off projector-beam halogen chrome-accented headlights; daytime running lights with on/off feature; fog lights; LED taillights; body-color heated/power outside mirrors with blind-spot warning, turn signals, and manual fold feature; chrome window trim; 18-inch turbine-look painted alloy wheels with black hub caps; a temporary spare; black front and rear mudguards; windshield wiper de-icer; and height-adjustable power liftgate with jam protection and window defogger.
Three-zone climate control with air filter, second-row control panel, temperature settings for driver, front passenger and rear passengers, and vents for second and third rows kept all passengers comfortable on the coldest day.
The standard Entune Premium Audio with integrated navigation and Entune App Suite included an eight-inch high-resolution touch screen with split-screen display, AM/FM cache radio, HD radio, CD player, six speakers, auxiliary port, USB 2.0 port with iPod connectivity and control, advanced voice recognition, hands-free phone capability/phone book access and music streaming via Bluetooth wireless technology, Siri Eyes Free, HD radio predictive traffic and Doppler weather overlay, and SiriusXM satellite radio (three-month all-access trial).
Entune App Suite allows passengers to access smartphone applications, similar to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (which aren’t included in the Highlander). Siri Eyes Free is an extension of Apple’s Siri functionality to enable voice control of iOS mobile devices as well as the car’s audio or infotainment system using natural language.
My Highlander also had a rear-seat Blu-Ray DVD entertainment system ($1,810) with a nine-inch display, RCA jacks, remote and two pairs of wireless headphones.
Standard Toyota Safety Sense P included pre-collision with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, and the radar cruise control.
The included Toyota Star Safety System brought enhanced vehicle stability control, traction control, antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, and Smart Stop technology. Smart Stop is designed to assist with braking in case of unintended acceleration – if the brake and accelerator are pressed at the same time.
In addition to front air bags, the driver and front passenger have seat-mounted side air bags, the driver has a knee air bag, and the front passenger has a seat-cushion air bag. All rows have roll-sensing side-curtain air bags.
A collapsible steering column, front and rear energy-absorbing crumple zones, and side-impact door beams add another level of safety for the occupants.
The cabin was quiet, the seats were comfortable (the reclining back of the third row was helpful), the interior was high-quality, visibility was excellent, the engine was powerful enough for daily use, and brakes were responsive.
Controls were logical, although a little bit of a stretch to reach. The Highlander is made to last and easy to maneuver, and provides what it takes for family hauling.
With $2,469 in options (carpet floor and cargo mats, $264), and $1,095 destination charges, my Highlander XLE delivered for $44,194.
The automotive columns of Emma Jayne Williams have appeared regularly in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram since 2007. Contact her at email@example.com.