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2017 Toyota Highlander: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader March 2017

If you're shopping for a three-row family SUV, the 2017 Toyota Highlander needs to be on your test drive list. It does just about everything you expect, while also standing out in a number of areas like safety, performance, interior quality and dependability. We also appreciate its seemingly just-right size: Yes, its three-rows are bettered by more spacious rivals, but it also doesn't feel like a truck or a small school bus when parking or negotiating a tighter road.

Better yet, the Highlander improves for 2017. Its already class-leading engine has been replaced by an even more powerful one that also saves fuel courtesy an equally new 8-speed automatic transmission and an automatic stop/start system. Inside, your power-hungry children will love the additional four USB ports that'll keep them charged and entertained on long drives. Meanwhile, the newly standard suite of accident avoidance tech will help keep them safe.

We still think you should look around at its competition listed below, but inevitably, the 2017 Highlander should make a lot of sense to a lot of families.

What's New for 2017?

The current generation Toyota Highlander gets its first significant update for 2017. As we highlighted in 2016 vs 2017 Toyota Highlander: What's the Difference?, Toyota's three-row crossover gets a subtle styling update, a more powerful and efficient engine, a new 8-speed automatic transmission, new feature content including standard accident avoidance tech and five USB ports, and the addition of a sportier SE trim level.

What We Like

Standard accident avoidance tech; strong and efficient engine; a just-right size in terms of interior space and exterior maneuverability; excellent reliability reputation

What We Don't

Base 4-cylinder engine is barely more fuel-efficient than the V6; third-row seat less roomy than those of rivals

How Much?

$30,600-$46,300

Fuel Economy

The Highlander's entry-level engine remains a 2.7-liter 4-cylinder with 185 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel drive and a 6-speed automatic are mandatory with this engine. Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy estimates are 20 miles per gallon city, 25 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined.

Most Highlander models are powered by a 3.5-liter V6 rated at 295 hp and 263 lb-ft of torque. It gets an 8-speed automatic and an automatic stop/start system to conserve fuel. Remarkably, this vastly more powerful engine gets better fuel economy than the 4-cylinder. Estimates can differ slightly based on trim, but effectively return 21 mpg city, 27 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined with front-wheel drive. Optional all-wheel drive effectively lowers those figures by 1 mpg.

There is also a Highlander Hybrid addressed in a different review.

Standard Features & Options

The 2017 Toyota Highlander is offered in six trim levels: LE, LE Plus, XLE, SE, Limited and Limited Platinum.

The Highlander LE ($30,600) starts with the 4-cylinder engine, 18-in alloy wheels, heated side mirrors, a backup camera, rear tinted glass, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and automatic braking, lane-departure warning and keeping, automatic headlights and high beams, a height-adjustable driver seat, 8-passenger seating (with a 60/40-split folding, reclining and sliding second-row seat), rear air conditioning, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, a 6.1-in touchscreen infotainment display, five USB ports and a 6-speaker sound system.

The LE Plus ($35,000) steps up to the V6 engine (optional on LE) and includes fog lights, a height-adjustable power lift gate with a flip-up window, tri-zone automatic climate control, an 8-way power driver seat with adjustable lumbar support, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, an 8-in touchscreen and an upgraded audio package with satellite and HD radios.

The XLE ($38,500) adds roof rails, a sunroof, passive entry and keyless start, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning systems, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a 4-way power passenger seat, second-row integrated sun shades, a navigation system and Driver Easy Speak (broadcasts the driver's voice to the kids in the back). Optional on XLE are second-row captain's chairs (yielding 7-passenger seating overall).

The new SE ($41,200) is essentially an XLE with sportier styling, LED running/accent lighting, 19-in wheels and sportier suspension tuning.

The Limited ($42,500) adds to the XLE content its own 19-in alloy wheels and LED running lights, plus rear parking sensors, the second-row captain's chairs, heated and ventilated front seats, driver memory settings, and a 12-speaker JBL premium audio.

The Limited Platinum ($44,800) tops things off with a panoramic sunroof, an enhanced 360-degree parking camera, front parking sensors, automatic wipers, a heated steering wheel, heated second-row seats and Safety Connect emergency communications.

A top two trims can be equipped with a second-row bench if you need 8-passenger capacity. All but the LE and LE Plus can also be had with a rear-seat entertainment system.

Safety

No other three-row crossover can top the 2017 Highlander's standard safety equipment. Besides the usual allotment of antilock brakes, stability control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and a rearview camera, it boasts a driver knee airbag, a front passenger under-cushion airbag, forward collision warning and automatic braking, and lane-departure warning and keeping. The XLE trim and above includes blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning systems.

In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash testing, the Highlander earned a perfect 5-star overall rating, comprised of a 5-star side-impact score and 4-star ratings in rollover and front-impact tests. In testing conducted by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Highlander earned the firm's highest rating of Top Safety Pick+.

Behind the Wheel

The 2017 Highlander boasts a high-quality and versatile cabin that also looks pretty good. We appreciate the ample and clever storage solutions up front, including a dash-spanning shelf and a cavernous center console bin. The Highlander's technology is also worthy of praise, with simple and quick-to-respond touchscreens that are easy to use despite being a bit far away.

In back, the second-row seats slide and recline generously, while making third-row access reasonably easy. It's still pretty cramped back in row 3 compared to its more adult-friendly competitors, but its three-across bench means you can carry an extra kid, if necessary.

The upside to the Highlander's slightly smaller size is that it's a bit more maneuverable. Indeed, with its more manageable dimensions, tall seating position and decent sightlines, it's pretty easy to park. You should also find that the latest Highlander strikes a pretty good balance between comfort and driving response. In fact, the new SE trim features supposedly sportier suspension tuning, but it's not so great that we'd bother with it over the standard set up.

As for the engine, it's a no brainer. Don't even consider the base 4-cylinder: it's substantially slower than the V6 and less efficient. We'd say the bigger engine is $2,000 well spent, especially since the Highlander's new V6 boasts more power and better acceleration than most competitors. It's smooth, relatively quiet and should definitely handle whatever your family chooses to load it up with.

Other Cars to Consider

2017 Honda Pilot -- The recently redesigned Honda Pilot now goes toe to toe with the Highlander in all key areas, including interior quality, fuel economy and pricing. It has a more spacious interior, though, without sacrificing maneuverability.

2017 GMC Acadia -- Completely redesigned for 2017, the new Acadia has smaller, more manageable dimensions than before -- actually, it's a lot like the Highlander now. We think it's worth a look. Read 2017 GMC Acadia vs 2017 Toyota Highlander: Which is Better?

2017 Mazda CX-9 -- Here's another redesigned model. As before, the CX-9 is the athlete of the segment, but now boasts an improved interior, more feature content and the most efficient engine in the segment.

Used Acura MDX -- If you'd rather have a 3-row crossover from premium brand, consider the MDX, which boasts a cavernous interior and a lot of technology. Pricing is high, though, so you may have to consider a used model.

Autotrader's Advice

It's a hefty $5,000 jump up to the LE Plus trim level, but its myriad upgrades should be well worth it for your family. The XLE's extras may also be worth considering, especially given its leather, heated seats and kid-friendly sunshades, but we don't think it's worth going much higher than that.

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New 2017 Toyota Highlander XLE
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New 2017 Toyota Highlander SE
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New 2017 Toyota Highlander SE
New 2017 Toyota Highlander
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New 2017 Toyota Highlander XLE
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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2017 Toyota Highlander: New Car Review - Autotrader