The Toyota Highlander was the eleventh best-selling SUV of 2015 and the second best-selling three-row SUV, lagging only the Ford Explorer.
A tasteful redesign for 2014 is certainly helping fuel those sales figures since the Highlander is now one of the best looking, most reliable and safest family SUVs. Let’s explore five reasons the Highlander deserves a spot on your shopping list if you’re considering a large crossover or SUV.
Reason #1: Updated inside and out
When it comes to design, the third-generation Toyota Highlander is the best version yet. Prior designs were either too boxy or too sedate for my tastes and it stood out among the crossover class for all the wrong reasons.
Today’s latest version looks and feels like many of today’s best sellers. That’s a smart move for Toyota because crossover drivers want to feel comfortable with their purchase. The Highlander fits in without standing too far out. Inside the Highlander, you’ll find leather-appointed seats, an available panoramic moonroof, lots of storage cubbies and ample space for gear and people. It’s an easy design to live with. Not too big so that parking is a chore, but not so small that you can’t make the most of its space when you need to fill it with stuff. You’ll find 13.8 cubic feet behind the third row, 42.3 cubes with the third row flat and 83.7 cubic feet with both rows flat, which is more than enough to store big, bulky items.
Reason #2: Toyota Highlander offers excellent tech features
Cars are getting smarter all the time and these electronic features are making driving safer and more convenient than ever before. One of the most elemental but also essential features is Bluetooth that lets you pair a phone in seconds and take advantage of streaming audio and hands-free phone calls. Toyota’s Entune App Suite is also available and integrates useful apps like Pandora, iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable and Yelp. That means you can get restaurant reviews, book a table and schedule your after-dinner movie directly from the Highlander.
A few other electronic features worth noting are the blind-spot monitor, rear-cross traffic alerts and lane departure alert that help you remain aware of your surroundings and minimize risk to yourself or other drivers.
Of course, Toyota is happy to outfit your Highlander with its navigation system and rear-seat entertainment system that can keep kids and adults entertained on even long road trips.
Reason #3: Seats up to 8 passengers
People don’t buy three-row crossovers because they look cool or they’re easy to park. They buy them because they regularly need to carry large groups of friends and family to events, school, games or the mountains or beach. Given that dynamic, it’s important to note that the 2016 Toyota Highlander can carry up to eight passengers. That’s a big deal since many crossovers have accommodated only six or seven passengers.
What’s more, the Highlander lets you customize your passenger load. If you choose the captain’s chairs, you can fit two in the front row, two in the second row and three in the third row. If you choose a second-row bench, you’ll gain space for that elusive eighth passenger. Be warned, however, that the Highlander’s third row seats are tight and best for children only. In fact, the young teenagers in my carpool complained about the third-row while the younger kids in elementary school thought the third row was perfect.
Reason #4: Up to 28 MPG on the highway
The base Toyota Highlander comes with a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 185 horsepower and is mated to a six-speed auto. It averages only 20 mpg in city driving and 25 on the highway. That’s only slightly better than what you’ll experience driving the more powerful and more satisfying 3.5-liter V6 that makes 270 hp and 248 pound-feet of torque. With available all-wheel drive, this machine offers more power and capability, yet manages to return 18 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.
If you prize high fuel-economy scores, then the Highlander Hybrid is where you should focus your attention. I tested this impressive model this week and averaged 27 mpg in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway. That’s a big improvement over the standard Highlander models and makes this model a compelling choice. You can also drive at low speeds on electric power. What may give you pause, however, is the price of the Highlander Hybrid compared to the standard Highlander models.
Choose the Highlander LE and the price starts at $29,990. Step up through three more trims and you’ll find that the Highlander Limited starts just over $40,000. You’ll take another big leap to $47,870 to sit down in the Highlander Hybrid model. Sure, it’s the top-of-the-line option and comes with all the features you could ever want in your crossover SUV, but saving money on fueling costs isn’t going to make up that price difference any time soon.
Reason #5: Recommended by Consumer Reports and a Top Safety Pick+
Two more clear strengths of the latest Highlander are the excellent reliability and safety ratings. Let’s start with reliability. Consumer Reports notes that between 2006 and 2013, the Highlander consistently achieved an “Excellent” reliability rating. While that rating dropped to “Very Good” for the 2014 redesign model year, it was back to excellent for 2015 models and the 2016 Highlander should perform “Much Better Than Average.” With a reliability history like that on your side, it’s hard to go wrong selecting the 2016 Highlander and it’s one of many reasons why Consumer Reports named the latest Highlander to its “Recommended” list of best vehicles for 2016.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the 2016 Toyota Highlander a “Top Safety Pick+.” The only other three-row crossover SUV to earn a “Top Safety Pick+” in 2016 is the redesigned and excellent Honda Pilot.
Eight airbags and a rearview camera are standard on the Highlander, as is Toyota’s Star Safety System that includes traction control, enhanced vehicle stability control, brake assist and smart stop technology and an anti-lock brake system.
A two-crossover race
When it comes to excellent build quality, top safety ratings and overall capability, two of today’s top choices for crossover SUVs are the Toyota Highlander and the newly redesigned Honda Pilot. However, no crossover SUV compares to Toyota’s excellent reliability ratings going back for at least a decade. If you wish to avoid inconvenient trips to the repair shop, the Highlander remains an excellent and obvious choice. The Highlander is quiet and comfortable and is a smart choice for families. It’s high on my list of crossovers I’ll recommend to friends and family.