G. Chambers Williams

Toyota Highlander gets refreshed exterior, new V-6 engine, 8-speed automatic for 2017

New for 2017 is the Toyota Highlander SE model, which comes only with all-wheel drive and a new 295-horsepower V-6 engine, connected to a new eight-speed automatic transmission.
New for 2017 is the Toyota Highlander SE model, which comes only with all-wheel drive and a new 295-horsepower V-6 engine, connected to a new eight-speed automatic transmission.

Toyota’s popular Highlander midsize crossover, which was completely redesigned just three years ago, returned for 2017 with a “refreshed exterior”; a new, more-powerful V-6 engine option; and with the new V-6, a new eight-speed automatic transmission.

Available in either gasoline-only or hybrid versions, the 2017 Highlander starts at $30,630 (plus $995 freight) for the base front-wheel-drive gasoline model with a four-cylinder engine.

On the gasoline-only Highlander, front-wheel drive is standard, but all-wheel drive is available at all levels except the base four-cylinder model. Hybrid models come only with all-wheel drive. The base front-drive model is the only one offered with the four-cylinder engine, while the rest come with the V-6.

Gasoline-only versions top out at $46,260 for the Limited Platinum V-6 model with all-wheel drive. In between the base and top-end models are the two-wheel drive LE V-6 ($32,680); LE Plus ($35,060), XLE ($38,520), Limited ($41,680), and Limited Platinum ($44,800).

All-wheel drive gasoline models are the LE ($34,130); LE Plus ($36,520); SE (available only with all-wheel drive, $41,150); XLE ($39,980), and Limited ($43,140).

As for the hybrid, Toyota added two new entry-level models to the lineup for 2017, – LE and XLE. Prices start at $36,270 for the LE and $41,330 for the XLE. Also available are the Limited ($44,760) and Limited Platinum ($47,880).

All 2017 Highlander models, which can seat up to eight people, come with revised front and rear styling and enhanced interiors.

Also new is the stop and start engine system, offered only on V-6 models. And now standard is the pre-collision system with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection.

Both of these features were included on our tester, the SE model, which had seven-passenger seating. The SE is a new sporty trim level for 2017, and comes loaded with features including all-wheel drive, unique 19-inch wheels, sport-tuned front and rear suspensions, and dark paint for the grille, headlight housings and roof rails.

Inside, the SE has black leather seats with silver stitching and patterned seat inserts. There are matching dark dash and door accents.

The Sport comes with dual captain’s chairs in the middle row, lowering capacity to seven.

A special new color is available only on the SE – salsa red pearl. But it was not included on our tester, which came in the blizzard pearl (white), which cost $395 extra. That was the only option on our tester, whose sticker price topped out at $42,540, including freight.

Other new colors available this year on the Highlander are celestial silver metallic and toasted walnut pearl.

Limited and Limited Platinum models are now available with a three-person bench seat in the middle row, rather than just their standard middle-row captain’s chairs, which allows them to seat up to eight. There is a new brown leather interior on the Limited Platinum.

The Highlander is among many Toyota vehicles featuring the Toyota Safety Sense P driver-assist technology as standard equipment. It uses radar and a camera sensor to detect pedestrians or vehicles ahead, as well as lane markers, to help the driver identify obstacles and automatically apply braking if necessary to help mitigate or avoid collisions.

It includes the pre-collision system, with pedestrian detection; lane departure alert with steering assist; dynamic radar cruise control; and automatic high beams.

The new V-6, with direct fuel injection, has 295 horsepower and 263 foot-pounds of torque, up 25 horsepower and 15 foot-pounds from the previous V-6 in the 2016 Highlander. It’s also the standard engine in the hybrid model, paired with electric drive motors.

With the eight-speed automatic – up from last year’s six-speed – the Highlander V-6 is more fuel-efficient. EPA ratings for all-wheel drive models are 20 mpg city/27 highway, versus 18/24 for the 2016 model.

The new V-6 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission gave our tester plenty of power, along with smooth shifts and decent fuel economy for a vehicle weighing upwards of 4,500 pounds.

Our car also came with the automatic start-stop system, designed to conserve fuel at traffic signals and in stop-and-go traffic. This system in the Highlander wasn’t as noticeable or annoying as similar systems in some other vehicles we’ve tested recently. The engine quickly and quietly restarts when the driver’s foot is lifted off the brake pedal.

There is one annoyance with it, however – the air conditioning shuts off with the engine. To remedy that on these hot summer days, I merely lifted my foot off the brake and put the transmission in neutral during stops, adding braking back if the vehicle was on an incline (this does not shut the engine off again). The start-stop system is standard on all V-6 Highlander models except the LE.

The base model’s 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine produces 185 horsepower and 184 foot-pounds of torque, and is connected to a six-speed automatic.

The Highlander V-6 is rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds, with the standard towing package that includes a heavy-duty radiator with engine oil cooler, 200-watt fan, transmission oil cooler and 150-amp alternator. The four-cylinder model has a 1,500-pound trailer limit.

A backup camera is standard on all grades, and all models from XLE up include the blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert. This feature sounded an alarm when the transmission was in reverse and an object was detected approaching the rear or rear sides of the vehicle. This is a feature that should be standard on every vehicle.

Limited Platinum models have a standard bird’s eye view camera with perimeter scan, which offers even more safety.

The cabin is quiet at highway speeds because of better insulation, acoustic glass in the windshield, and improved body sealing and engine mounts. Although we had the SE’s special sport suspension, it still insulated us well from rough roads, including the annoying speed bumps in our gated neighborhood.

The front and middle seats were amazingly comfortable, and middle-row passengers had almost limousine-like leg and knee room – even with the driver’s seat pushed back to accommodate a larger person.

The third seat actually can accommodate adults, at least those who are dexterous enough to climb back there from the middle row. The third row is 3.7 inches wider than that of the pre-2014 model, and the seatback reclines, making it more comfortable for three people.

Also new for 2017 on all Highlanders are an additional four USB ports for charging and connecting smartphones and tablets. There are a total of five, in convenient locations including the center console tray in front of the shifter and inside the center console box behind the shifter.

There is a really cool gadget shelf that runs just under the dash from the center console area all the way to the passenger door. It’s divided so that small electronics can be kept in place while driving, and there is even a pass-through hole for cords to connect gadgets to the USB and power ports in the tray in front of the shifter.

There are two cupholders in the front console, bottle holders in the ample door pockets in all four doors, a pair of cupholders in a pop-up armrest attached to the passenger-side captain’s chair in the middle row, and four cupholders for the rear passengers – two on each side, in a molded armrest mounted to the wall.

Middle-row passengers have their own climate controls on the back of the front center console, along with a 12-volt and a 115-volt power outlet.

The navigation/audio system on my tester had a large eight-inch touch screen, and the system is easy to see, program and follow. It also shows the image from the backup camera.

Our tester’s standard power tailgate allowed easy access to the cargo compartment, which has 13.8 cubic feet of space behind the third row, 42.3 cubic feet with the third-row seat folded, and a whopping 83.7 cubic feet with rear and center seatbacks folded.

Safety features on all Highlanders include electronic stability control with traction control, four-wheel antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, Toyota’s Smart Stop system, and hill-start assist.

Our vehicle also had automatic high beams and radar cruise control.

The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at chambers@star-telegram.com.

2017 Toyota Highlander

The package: Midsize, front- or all-wheel-drive, five-door, seven- or eight-passenger, four-cylinder, V-6 or V-6/electric-hybrid crossover utility vehicle.

Highlights: Redesigned for 2014 and updated for 2017, this is Toyota’s family-size crossover, with choice of gasoline-only or hybrid drivetrains. It’s based on the architecture of the Camry/Avalon sedans. For 2017, there is a new, more-powerful V-6 engine, a new eight-speed automatic transmission and new safety technology.

Negatives: All-wheel drive not offered with the four-cylinder engine; price climbs significantly for the hybrid model with little improvement in highway fuel economy.

Overall length: 192.4 inches.

Curb weight range: 4,165-4,655 pounds.

Engine: Gas-only models: 2.7-liter I-4/3.5-liter V-6. Hybrid: 3.5-liter V-6, plus front and rear electric drive motors.

Transmission: Gas model: 6-speed automatic (I-4); 8-speed automatic (V-6); Hybrid: continuously variable automatic.

Power/torque: Gas: 185 HP./184 foot-pounds (I-4); 295 HP./263 foot-pounds (V-6); Hybrid: 306 HP. combined (gasoline engine plus electric motors).

Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.

Cargo volume: 13.8 cubic feet (behind third row); 42.3 cubic feet (behind second row, third seat folded or absent); 83.7 cubic feet (both rear seats folded).

Towing capacity: 1,500 pounds (I-4); 5,000 pounds (V-6).

Electronic stability control: Standard.

Side air bags: Front seat-mounted, three-row side-curtain.

EPA fuel economy: Four-cylinder: 20 mpg city/24 highway/22 combined; V-6: 21/27/23 (2WD); 20/26/22 (AWD); Hybrid: 30/28/29 (LE); 29/27/28 (XLE, Limited, Limited Platinum).

Fuel capacity/type: 19.2 gallons/unleaded regular.

Main competitors: Honda Pilot, GMC Acadia, Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave, Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer, Ford Flex, Nissan Pathfinder, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento.

Base price range: $30,630-$46,260 (gasoline models), plus $995 freight; $36,270-$47,880 (Hybrid).

Price as tested: $42,540, including special paint and freight (SE model).

On the Road rating: 9.3 (of a possible 10).

Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.