A forerunner when it arrived in 2000, the Camry-based Highlander offered more car-like handling, a greater ease of getting in and out, and laudable access for loading small riders and gear into the three rows of rear seats than contemporary SUVs. Now that almost all automakers have followed suit, Toyota fattened up the 2017 Highlander to keep it a standout in the highly-competitive meat market of crossovers. It’s been injected with updated styling and powertrain upgrades, as well as more trim levels and new features.
We sampled three different flavors of the revised third-generation Highlander: an XLE, an SE, and the Hybrid. Each had its own personality; all have great visibility, a quiet ride, and an interior that offers more room than the exterior suggests. Our favorite was the SE, which makes the crossover look and feel a bit less like a minivan. Shifts are more peppy and it carves turns with more crispness as a result of its larger wheels and performance tire package.
The Hybrid saves a few dollars at the pump without driving in a limp fashion and, like other Toyota hybrids, you’ll get good coaching through information screens on your driving habits to keep you in the green. The XLE AWD is an appealing mid-trim package that, like the others, is more car-like than some others in its class, with fine driving manners, ample power for quick passes, and brakes that slow in a mannered fashion.
Here are five updates that jive:
1. Under the hood is a new 3.5-liter V-6 with D-4S fuel injection. The updated engine’s output has been increased to 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque, boosts of 25 hp and 15 lb-ft, respectively; engineered with dual VVT-I, it’s also the base engine for the Hybrid. A new 8-speed automatic transmission brings two more gears. Also new is a stop/start system. These changes make the Highlander a better performer while aiding fuel efficiency. AWD Highlanders are now rated up to 20/27 mpg city/ highway versus 18/24 for the previous model.
2. Toyota’s Safety Sense P (TSS-P) is now standard. This suite uses inputs from millimeter-wave radar and a monocular camera sensor bring a suite of safety technologies that includes Pre-Collision with Automatic Emergency Braking, Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. All trims get a standard backup camera and Automatic High Beams, with the Highlander Limited Platinum receiving a Bird’s Eye View Camera with Perimeter Scan.
3. All Highlander models get a freshened exterior and updated cabin. Most notable outside is a larger, more Lexus-derived front grille. LE, LE Plus and XLE triims wear a silver-painted finish, while Limited and Platinum trims have painted chrome. The latter can now seat eight, with the option of a bench-style middle row seat. Limited Platinum trims get a new, luxury-level brown leather cabin. A quartet of additional USB ports makes a total of five onboard and there is a nifty, new standard Driver Easy Speak on XLE trims and above. The driver’s voice is amplified through a microphone embedded in the overhead console to broadcast communication through the rear speakers of the audio system to third-row riders – mama is watchin’ you!
4. The Hybrid model is now available in four trims (up from two), including LE and XLE. Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive pairs the new 3.5-liter V-6 gas engine with a high-torque electric drive motor-generator for 306 total system horsepower and an EPA-estimated 30/28/29 mpg city/highway/combined fuel economy rating. All Hybrid models come equipped with standard Electronic On-Demand AWD.
5. A new SE trim with a sporty trim and driving enhancements is available on V-6 gas models and in FWD or AWD. Its looks are distinguished by a darker grille, headlamp housings, and roof rails along with unique 19-inch wheels. The seven-passenger interior is fitted with black leather-trimmed seats accented by silver stitching and pattern inserts with matching dark dash and door accents. Both the front and rear suspension have been tuned to give it a more nimble response.
Of note, the 2017 Highlander has eight inches of ground clearance and all V-6 models come with a towing package rated at 5,000 pounds.
2017 Toyota Highlander Specifications Specifications
|On Sale:||Fall 2016|
|Price:||$32,000 (base) (est)|
2.7L DOHC 16-valve I-4/185 hp @ 5,800 rpm, 184 lb-ft @ 4,200 rpm;
3.5L DOHC 24-valve V-6/295 hp @ 6,600 rpm, 263 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm
|Transmission:||6-speed automatic, 8-speed automatic|
|Layout:||4-door, 7/8-passenger, front-engine, FWD/AWD SUV|
|EPA Mileage:||19-21/24-27 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H:||192.5 x 75.8 x 68.1-70.1 in|
|0-60 MPH:||N/A (I-4); 7.2 sec (V-6)|
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