2017 Toyota Highlander First Drive
Refreshed: More Power, More Safety, More Choices
Now in its fourth year, Toyota's third-generation Highlander is improved enough for ’17 to make it worthy of a look for three-row CUV shoppers. Highlights include a new 295hp 3.5L port- and direct-injected V-6 driving through an eight-speed direct-shift automatic, refreshed exterior and interior designs, new safety systems including a standard back-up camera, a new sporty SE trim, two new grades of Highlander Hybrids, and a 5,000-pound towing package on all V-6 models.
That new V-6 not only pumps out 25 more horses and 15 more lb-ft of torque (at 263 lb-ft) than the one it replaces, it is also more fuel efficient with EPA ratings as high as 21 mpg city, 27 highway and 23 combined with standard front-wheel drive and one mpg lower with available Dynamic Torque Control all-wheel drive. That's better than the base FWD LE model's 20/24/22 mpg with its 185hp 2.7L four and six-speed auto but no match for ’17 Highlander Hybrid, boasting 306 net gas/electric hp and 30/28/29-mpg fuel economy.
It features efficiency-enhancing Atkinson-cycle-capable dual variable valve timing "with intelligence" (VVT-i), dual fuel injection, exhaust manifolds integrated into the cylinder heads, and (except on LE models) Toyota's first stop/start system, which shuts the engine down during stops, then restarts it when the brake pedal is released. Stop/start eliminates idling to save some fuel and makes for a slightly quieter cabin when at rest.
The Hybrid Synergy Drive system pairs this new V-6 with a high-torque electric-drive motor-generator for a system total 306 hp. And all four grades of Highlander Hybrid come with Electronic On-Demand All-Wheel Drive with intelligence (AWD-i), which drives their rear wheels with a second electric motor when needed to help maintain traction.
Standard Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P) driver-assist systems use radar and cameras to detect visible lane markers, moving vehicles, and even pedestrians in its path. It includes a Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, and Automatic High Beams. The system can apply automatic braking if necessary to help avoid or mitigate frontal collisions.
A Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert system is standard on XLE grade and above, and the Limited Platinum grade offers a standard Bird’s Eye View Camera with Perimeter Scan. Cameras on the front, side mirrors, and rear project a panoramic view on the central screen to aid maneuvering in and out of parking spaces, while Perimeter Scan gives a live, rotating 360-degree view around the vehicle. Just a few inches longer than a midsize sedan, all Highlanders offer three-row seating and up to 158.7 cubic feet of total cabin volume. For Highlander families, there are five USB ports, and XLE and above trims feature a Driver Easy Speak feature with a microphone in the overhead console that amplifies the driver’s voice and broadcasts it through the audio system’s rear speakers.
We drove SE, Limited, and Hybrid models on straight and twisty two-lanes and came away generally impressed. The interiors of all three models were nicely trimmed, the driver and front passenger seats were comfortable, the cabins were surprisingly quiet, and the infotainment systems controls were logically designed and arranged.
Second-row room is good—partly because the front seats have a bit too little rearward travel for long-legged adults—and those mid-row seats slide fore-aft to maximize either leg or cargo room. However, the third row (not surprisingly) is a tight squeeze for grown-ups. The glove box is large, the center console box huge and deep, and there's a clever storage shelf in the dash.
The new V-6 is strong but somewhat noisy at full throttle. Steering and braking were good, the turning circle was tight, and the suspension of each model was tuned appropriately for its respective role. The Limited handled and rode well for a largish three-row CUV, the more agile SE bordered on fun to drive, and the Hybrid (though pleasingly quick) was a bit soft and floaty for our taste. Driving fairly aggressively, we averaged 22 mpg in the Limited and 25.7 mpg in the Hybrid.
As we said, this ’17 Toyota Highlander is not an all-new entry in this very competitive segment, but it's new and improved enough to earn a serious look.
2017 Toyota HighlanderVehicle type: Crossover Utility Vehicle
Base price: $30,490
Price as tested: $44,990
Engine: 3.5L V-6
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Horsepower: 295 @ 6,600 rpm
Torque: 263 lb-ft
Curb weight: 4,655 lbs
Towing capacity: 5,000 lbs
EPA mileage rating: 21/27/23 mpg (FWD); 20/26/22 (AWD)