The 2019 Toyota Highlander may not be the most recently redesigned 3-row family crossover, but it’s well-rounded and stands out in a number of key areas. The first is safety, as accident-avoidance tech comes standard on every trim level. Its cabin is also user-friendly, well-made and packed with USB ports, 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 as many rivals can when parking or negotiating a tighter road. There’s also the matter of Toyota’s renowned reliability and a strong V6 engine that bests its rivals.
Of course, the Highlander does not have the largest cabin around — families with bigger kids or bigger cargo-carrying needs may need to look elsewhere. It’s also not the most dynamic to drive, and although the Highlander has user-friendly technology, you can’t get the increasingly common Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. There’s also the fact that many of its appealing attributes are shared with its top competitors. So cross-shopping is a must, but know that the 2019 Highlander should definitely be on your radar.
What’s New for 2019?
The SE trim level gets an abundance of extra black trim for 2019. The top two trims gain LED foglamps.
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
Small third-row seat for the segment; unresponsive accelerator pedal; no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto; slow and inefficient base engine
$31,330 — $48,630
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. 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. Surprisingly, it 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 FWD. 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 2019 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, FWD is standard and AWD is optional.
The Highlander LE ($31,330) starts with the 4-cylinder engine, FWD, 18-in alloy wheels, heated side mirrors, a backup camera, rear privacy glass, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning and automatic braking, lane-keeping assist, automatic headlights and high beams, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, 8-passenger seating (with a 60/40-split folding, reclining and sliding second-row seat), rear air conditioning, a 6.1-in touchscreen, five USB ports and a 6-speaker sound system. Adding the V6 engine raises the LE’s base price to $33,380. AWD can also be added with the V6.
The LE Plus ($36,260) comes standard with the V6 and adds foglights, a height-adjustable power liftgate with a flip-up window, tri-zone automatic climate control, an 8-way power driver’s 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 ($39,220) adds roof rails, a sunroof, passive entry and keyless start, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic warning systems, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a 4-way power passenger’s seat, second-row sunshades, 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 that result in 7-passenger seating.
The SE ($40,440) is essentially an XLE with sportier styling that includes an abundance of black exterior trim and special LED exterior lighting, plus 19-in wheels and sportier suspension tuning.
The Limited ($42,430) adds to the XLE content its own 19-in alloy wheels and LED running lights, plus rear parking sensors, LED foglights, the second-row captain’s chairs, heated and ventilated front seats, driver memory settings and a 12-speaker JBL premium audio.
The Limited Platinum ($45,550) tops things off with a panoramic sunroof, a 360-degree parking camera, front parking sensors, automatic wipers, a heated steering wheel, heated second-row seats and Safety Connect emergency communications. AWD is standard.
The top two trims can be equipped with a second-row bench if you need 8-passenger capacity. All but the LE and the LE Plus can also be had with a rear-seat entertainment system.
No other 3-row crossover can top the 2019 Highlander’s standard safety equipment. It features antilock brakes, stability control, eight airbags (front, front-side, side-curtain, driver knee and passenger under-seat) plus a backup camera, lane-keeping assist, forward-collision warning and automatic braking. The XLE trim and above includes blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic warning.
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, last year’s mechanically identical Highlander earned the firm’s highest rating of Top Safety Pick.
Behind the Wheel
Even a lower trim like the 2019 Highlander LE Plus boasts a high-quality and versatile cabin with ample storage and easy-to-use technology. Upper trims mostly add leather and ritzier features. Unfortunately, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not among them.
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 boasts more power and better acceleration than most competitors. Unfortunately, it’s controlled by an unresponsive accelerator pedal seemingly programmed to prevent sudden, unintended inputs from your foot. You can literally tap it repeatedly and nothing will happen. Perhaps this could be considered good for safety, but other Toyotas and other competitors don’t seem to identify the same need and it can make for a frustrating driving experience.
Other Cars to Consider
2019 Honda Pilot — The Honda Pilot 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.
2019 Subaru Ascent — The Ascent is all-new this year and can best be described as a Honda Pilot built using Subaru Outback parts. The two are very similar in overall packaging and even appearance. Its standard AWD and turbo engine make it stand out.
2019 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.
2019 Volkswagen Atlas — The Atlas possesses a huge cabin with adult-friendly space in every row. A solid, decidedly German driving feel is another advantage, along with an industry-best 6-year warranty. Read Volkswagen Atlas vs Toyota Highlander: Which is Better?
Used Acura MDX — If you’d rather have a three-row crossover from a 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.
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.