Few brands have the SUV landscape covered as totally as Toyota. Even when it comes to large family duty, they have a trio to choose from. But it’s the Highlander crossover that picks up the bulk of that business, and its been updated for 2017 to give those families more of what they really want.
Now midway through its 3rd generation, the Toyota Highlander adds a multitude of updates for 2017. But don’t think they’re the hastily assembled kind of revisions in response to some sales slump, rather just the normal progression of keeping current with the segment. As despite a rash of recently re-engineered competition, the Highlander remains a top seller in the family 3-row utility world.
You don’t have to like the big mouth look, in fact most of our staff don’t; but you certainly won’t be able to ignore it, as it seems to be swallowing up as much road as possible while heading in your direction.
The big news for ’17 is new SE trim. It tames that front end somewhat with dark pieces replacing the usual chrome. 19-inch wheels are added as well, to support a sportier image.
Fortunately, it doesn’t stop with looks. SEs also get a retuned suspension for a little more agility. Still, this is perhaps where Highlander shows its age the most, having a heavier feel compared to much of the competition who have moved on to lighter weight materials. But that also gives it a totally solid, safe, and secure feeling compared to many rivals.
From the high seating position, drivers will be enjoying that enhanced nimbleness from new black leather seats with silver stitching. Of course its accompanied by dark dash and door trim.
Controls and layout are all very familiar, with no major changes here; including the very helpful storage in the dash. Good news for those with electronics to keep charged, all Highlanders now come with 5 USB ports!
Both 7 and 8-passenger versions are available, with the 2nd row seats remaining very comfortable and spacious. And while many competitors have stepped their game up in the 3rd row department, access here is still very good, though very low seat bottoms make for an awkward seating position.
Cargo space continues to be good here; 13.8 cubic-ft. behind the 3rd row, 42.3 behind the 2nd, and a max of 83.7 cubic-ft. Boosting practicality further, the Highlander is one of the few SUVs that still has a flip up glass for the rear hatch; though only in upper trim levels.
Even better news, is the arrival of a higher power. An enhanced version of the 3.5-liter V6 that gets a 25-horsepower boost to 295. Torque rises 15 lb-ft. to 263.
All this while actually improving fuel economy, thanks to a new 8-speed automatic transmission.
Government Ratings are now 20-City, 26-Highway, and 22-Combined with all-wheel-drive. Our average was 21.0 miles-per-gallon of Regular.
At the track, thanks to the upgraded V6, Highlander certainly feels less sluggish off the line. There’s a strong low end pull to get you going, while it eagerly delivers power on the high end as well. We hit 60 in 7.7-seconds; with a ¼-mile time of 16.0-seconds flat at 92 miles-per-hour.
Base LE trim still comes with a 185-horsepower 2.7-liter I4, though in front wheel-drive only; and of course the Highlander Hybrid remains available as well.
As for how the upgraded SE suspension handled our cones; well, there is still some mild understeer as you might expect, but the tauter suspension is very noticeable.
In fact, after a few runs, we were really hauling the goods, shaving ever closer to the cones and keeping speeds higher than we would have expected going in. Even body roll is well subdued; it was tire sidewall flexing that seemed to hold us back the most.
Of course it’s all about family safety these days; and for 2017, all Highlanders get Toyota Safety Sense P with automatic emergency braking as standard equipment.
Highlander pricing starts at just $31,625. New SE trim goes for $40,685, with all-wheel-drive adding another $1,460.
Even with the rapid pace of change these days, the Toyota Highlander has had no problem staying near the top the sales charts in the highly competitive 3-row crossover utility segment. Toyota fans will find more of what they love here in this upgraded 2017 version. And that should ensure current Highlander sales remain high, until an all-new one hits the streets.
Engine: 3.5 liter
Torque: 263 lb-ft.
0-60 mph: 7.7 seconds
1/4 mile: 16.0 seconds @ 92 mph
EPA: 20 mpg city / 26 mpg highway