The Toyota Highlander is one of the best crossover SUV options for busy families. It offers three rows of seats and room for as many as eight passengers depending on the interior configuration. The midsize Highlander comes in several different trims, but all of them include a long list of advanced safety and driver-assistance features. Base models feature a four-cylinder engine, which is adequate, but the V6 offers more power and efficiency. A hybrid model is also available for those who want to be greener with their driving habits.
The Highlander, which was introduced for the 2001 model year, is a midsize SUV that offers a choice of either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. When you drive the Highlander, you’ll enjoy sharp handling for an SUV, plus a comfortable and absorbent ride as well as easy-to-use and easy-to-reach controls. The Highlander also boasts a sleek, contemporary profile and design that is far more car than SUV.
If you’re considering shopping for a Highlander, there are a number of things to think about. Here’s everything you need to know about one of Toyota’s most popular and top-selling SUVs.
Price and Value
The Toyota Highlander is not the most expensive midsize SUV on the market, but it’s also not the cheapest. The base MSRP for the 2019 model starts at $32,375, which gets you the four-cylinder engine and some decent basic features. However, with more creature comforts, all-wheel drive and the V6 engine on the LE Plus, this trim starts at around $37,305. These prices are about average for the midsize SUV market, and the Highlander is well within the price range of the competing Honda Pilot and Nissan Pathfinder. Rivals with cheaper prices include the Volkswagen Atlas and Hyundai Santa Fe while rivals starting higher include the Subaru Ascent and Ford Explorer.
One of the bright points related to pricing for the Highlander is its traditionally high resale value. Compared to its rivals, the Highlander has consistently maintained the best resale in its three-row, midsize SUV class. The highest trim of Highlander, the Limited Platinum, can cost you around $50,000 brand new. If you consider used Highlanders, then you may be able to find a wide selection of model years and trims for under $20,000.
Size and Seating Capacity
The Toyota Highlander is a midsize SUV with three rows of seats. If you want the full amount of seating for eight passengers, then you will need to choose the second-row bench option. If you don’t need seating for eight, the second-row captain’s chairs are a bit more comfortable overall. The rear row of seats can fit up to three passengers, but it’s a bit cramped for adults in terms of legroom. Both rear rows of seats can fold down to provide maximum cargo space.
If you don’t regularly use or need the third row, folding it down greatly improves the Highlander’s cargo area. With all rows in their standard position, the Highlander only has about 13.8 cubic feet of room in the cargo area, which is quite a bit less than some of its competitors. With the third row folded, the cargo area increases to a much better 42.3 cubic feet of room. If you fold both rows, you’ll get 83.7 cubic feet of room. The Highlander features user-friendly child seat hardware with two sets of anchors in the second row and one in the third row.
Battery, Range and Engine Specs
The 2019 Toyota Highlander comes with three choices of powertrains. The base LE model offers the 2.7-liter four-cylinder that puts out 185 horsepower, and it’s paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. Higher trims offer a 3.5-liter V6 engine that puts out 295 horsepower and is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The V6 engine is not only more powerful than the four-cylinder, but it’s actually more efficient for highway and city driving. Finally, there’s the hybrid powertrain, which combines the V6 with electric motors and a CVT to get 306 horsepower.
Fuel economy for the Toyota Highlander’s four-cylinder engine is average for a midsize, three-row SUV at 20 city mpg and 24 highway mpg. The V6 engine does better with 27 highway mpg and 21 city mpg. Naturally, the hybrid powertrain does even better with 28 highway mpg and 30 city mpg for the LE trim. Higher trims of the hybrid get slightly less fuel economy with 27 highway mpg and 29 city mpg. In order to save fuel, the V6 Highlander uses a start-stop engine system, which means it will shut off when sitting at stoplights in most cases.
Trims and Features
The Toyota Highlander comes in five main trims, which starts with the base LE model. This model is fairly spartan but does include some standard features like keyless entry, 18-inch wheels and the Toyota Safety Sense package. Moving up to the LE Plus trim, you’ll get the V6 engine, a power tailgate, higher quality upholstery and a larger infotainment touch screen at 8 inches. The next trim up is the XLE model, and it offers leather interior, a moon roof, navigation system and a power-adjustable passenger seat among other options.
The SE trim has similar equipment to the XLE trim, but it includes a sporty theme with bigger 19-inch wheels, sport suspension and LED running lights. The Limited trim has some of the same features of the SE while also adding second-row captain’s chairs and heated and ventilated front seats among other options. The highest trim is the Limited Platinum, which offers a panoramic sunroof, surround-view parking camera, heated steering wheel and heated seats in the second row. All Highlander models include the Toyota Safety Sense package, and V6 engine trims can add all-wheel drive.
Crash test results for the Toyota Highlander are top-notch with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) giving it five out of five stars overall. Side crash ratings are also five stars, whereas front crash tests and rollover crash tests received four stars. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) also names the Highlander as a Top Safety Pick along with giving it Good ratings in five crash tests, which is the highest possible rating. Crash prevention technology on the Highlander received a Superior rating, and headlights received the second-highest rating of Acceptable.
Safety features on the Highlander are numerous with all models offering the Toyota Safety Sense package and a rearview camera as standard equipment. Some of the driver-assistance systems in the package include pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, pre-collision warnings, automatic high beams and lane-departure warnings. The Highlander also offers a number of optional safety features, which include a surround-view camera, blind-spot monitoring, front and rear parking sensors, and rear cross-traffic alert.
Reliability and predicted reliability ratings for the Toyota Highlander in every generation are generally above average according to Consumer Reports. J. D. Power and Associates also gives the 2019 Highlander a rating of four and a half out of five, which is considered better than most. The 2019 Highlander is covered by a Toyota warranty that includes a three-year or 36,000-mile basic warranty and a five-year or 60,000-mile powertrain warranty. There have been no safety recalls for the 2019 Highlander by the NHTSA.
In general, Toyota is one of the most reliable auto brands, and it continues to dominate in 2019. Compared to competitors, Toyota vehicles may not be the fastest or have the highest tech but they are known for running 200,000 miles or more with consistent maintenance. The Highlander continues to be backed by Toyota’s strong reputation for reliability.
The Toyota Highlander, whether new or used, has the features that most busy families want in a three-row, midsize SUV. It’s packed with safety features, user-friendly technology, competitive fuel economy and plenty of comfort in at least two of the rows. However, those looking for a big third row or a lot of cargo space may find the Highlander a bit lacking. The midsize SUV class is very competitive, and the Highlander stacks up well in most areas. It stands out strongly for its excellent reliability ratings and the brand reputation of Toyota as well.
If you’re looking to buy a newer Highlander, then the 2019 and 2020 models mark the newest generation. Used Highlanders that are only a generation older can cost almost as much as new ones due to the model’s high resale value. For those who want a well-rounded balance of reliability, responsive handling and high safety ratings, the Highlander is a recommended pick. If you would prefer more interior space, a beefier engine or a lower price, then you may want to consider a different pick in the midsize SUV class.