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2018 Toyota Highlander: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader February 2018

The 2018 Toyota Highlander may not be the most recently redesigned 3-row family crossover, but significant improvements made last year, as well as a fundamental excellence, have maintained its relevance and appeal. In short, the Highlander is well-rounded. It stands out with its safety, including standard accident-avoidance tech, and an engine that is not only one of the most powerful in the segment, but also one of the most efficient. Its cabin is attractive, user-friendly and well-made, while many will appreciate its distinctive size. You see, it may not be the biggest 3-row SUV -- that third row is tight for big kids and adults -- but it also doesn't feel as cumbersome or minivanlike as many rivals can. This can be a boon when parking or negotiating a tighter road. There's also the matter of Toyota's renowned reliability.

Of course, the Highlander does not have the largest cabin around -- families with bigger kids or bigger cargo-carrying needs may need to look at a competitor. It's also not the most dynamic to drive, and although the Highlander has user-friendly technology and five USB ports (the kids will love that), you can't get Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, features that are increasingly common and indispensable.

So again, look around a bit, but know that the 2018 Highlander should definitely be on your radar.

What's New for 2018?

After significant updates were made last year, the 2018 Highlander carries over unchanged. To know more about what changed last year, read 2016 vs. 2017 Toyota Highlander: What's the Difference?

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

Third-row seat less roomy than those of rivals; no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto; base 4-cylinder engine is barely more fuel-efficient than the V6

How Much?

$31,000-$46,700

Fuel Economy

The Highlander's entry-level engine is 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 in the city, 24 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg in combined driving.

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 it effectively returns 21 mpg city/27 mpg hwy/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 2018 Toyota Highlander is offered in six trim levels: LE, LE Plus, XLE, SE, Limited and Limited Platinum. With the exception of the top and bottom trim levels, front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is optional.

The Highlander LE ($31,000) starts with the 4-cylinder engine, front-wheel drive, 18-inch 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. Adding the V6 engine raises the LE's base price to $33,100. All-wheel drive can also be added with the V6.

The LE Plus ($35,500) 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, upholstery consisting of fabric and SofTex vinyl, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, an 8-in touchscreen and an upgraded audio package with satellite and HD radios.

The XLE ($38,900) 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 SE ($40,100) is essentially an XLE with sportier styling, LED running/accent lighting, 19-in wheels and sportier suspension tuning.

The Limited ($42,100) 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 ($46,700) 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. It only comes with all-wheel drive.

The 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 2018 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 2018 Highlander boasts a high-quality and versatile cabin with ample and clever storage solutions. The Highlander's technology is also worthy of praise for its functionality, with simple and quick-to-respond touchscreens. The lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is an unfortunate stand-out given that many competitors come standard with them on most trim levels.

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 Highlander strikes a good balance between comfort and driving response. Even the supposedly sportier SE trim isn't that much more responsive than other versions.

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 V6 (introduced last year) 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

2018 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.

2018 GMC Acadia-- Completely redesigned last year, 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?

2018 Mazda CX-9 -- The CX-9 is the athlete of the segment with a sharper driving experience that helps you forget you're driving a three-row family vehicle. It also boasts a snazzy interior, ample feature content and the most efficient engine in the segment.

2018 Volkswagen Atlas -- The Atlas is the new kid on the block. It's a big kid, too, possessing a huge cabin with adult-friendly space in every row. A solid, decidedly German driving feel is another advantage, along with an industry-best six-year warranty. Read 2018 Volkswagen Atlas vs 2017 Toyota Highlander: Which is Better?

Used Acura MDX -- If you'd rather have a three-row crossover from premium brand, consider the MDX, which boasts a lot of technology and one of the most spacious interiors among luxury models. 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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2018 Toyota Highlander: New Car Review - Autotrader