IT’S A BEST BUY BECAUSE:
Highlander provides excellent passenger and cargo room, pleasant road manners, a quiet cabin, and a good selection of family-friendly features… not to mention a wonderfully refined and efficient hybrid version.
The third row is too small for average-sized adults to ride in comfort.
The Highlander is one of only three mainstream-brand midsize SUV to offer a hybrid powertrain and three rows of seating; the others are the Ford Explorer and redesigned-for-2021 Kia Sorento.
WHAT IS IT?
The Highlander is Toyota’s three-row midsize crossover SUV. It seats seven passengers with the second-row captain’s chairs, or eight when equipped with the available second-row bench seat. Trim levels ascend through L, LE, XLE, new-for-’21 XSE, Limited and Platinum models. All are available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, and all but the L and XSE are available with a 243-hp gas/electric hybrid 4-cylinder powertrain instead of the regular 295-hp gas V6. Standard safety features on all models include forward collision warning and automatic braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning and mitigation, lane-keep assist, full-speed dynamic cruise control, automatic high beams, and road-sign assist. Also offered are a blind-spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, and obstacle detection. Available features include Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Amazon Alexa compatibility, a wireless charging pad, a 10-inch head-up display, WiFi hotspot, a 12.3-inch touchscreen, and a digital rearview mirror that projects the rearview camera image in the rearview mirror (handy if people or tall cargo block your view back). Also available is Toyota’s “Driver Easy Speak” feature, which amplifies the driver’s voice through the rear-seat speakers for easier communication with passengers in the 3rd row.
After its redesign for 2020, the Highlander gains a sport-themed XSE model for ’21 that includes sport suspension and steering tuning, unique 20-inch machined-face alloy wheels, more-aggressive body styling touches, and sporty interior trim with available two-tone red/black leather interior upholstery.
EPA-estimated fuel economy is 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway with front-wheel drive), 20/27 with the front-wheel drive, and 20/27 with all-wheel drive. The Highlander Hybrid is rated at 36 mpg city/35 mpg highway with FWD and 35/35 with AWD. In Consumer Guide® testing that consisted of 55-percent highway driving, an AWD Platinum averaged 21.3 mpg and an AWD Hybrid Platinum averaged an impressive 38.4 mpg (easily beating the EPA estimate).
VALUE IN CLASS
Even though it isn’t quite as large as its class-leading three-row competitors, the Toyota Highlander excels at delivering the traits that SUV-buying families want most. It offers fine passenger/cargo room and versatility, decent maneuverability for its size, a comfortable ride, and nicely finished interior with a generous list of standard safety equipment and available technology features. Plus, the excellent Hybrid version boasts standout fuel economy with no significant penalties in comfort or drivability.