We test the top-trim nonhybrid Highlander
The Highlander isn’t trying to be something it’s not; its styling, size, and age give no pretense of athleticism. People expect it to be a comfortable family hauler and little more. In our week with the Highlander, we found the crossover mostly met these expectations, though a redesign is in order.
The current Highlander made its debut five model years ago, so it’s a bit overdue for some engineering TLC. Toyota gave it a refresh for 2017, providing more power for the V-6 engine and a new eight-speed automatic transmission. It also added an SE trim with a sportier suspension, though we found the ride on that model jarring on less than perfect pavement. The 2019 Highlander sticks with its old platform because it has not yet moved to the Toyota New Global Architecture.
Our 2019 tester packs a 3.5-liter V-6 engine instead of the standard four-cylinder. This large engine produces 295 hp and 263 lb-ft of torque, which is more gusto than many of its other V-6 competitors. At least on paper.
In our tests, the Highlander scooted to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds. That makes it slower than a 2016 Honda Pilot Elite we clocked hitting the target a full second quicker. It’s also behind the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum with the V-6 EcoBoost, which made the mark in 6.4 seconds. Meanwhile, the 2019 Subaru Ascent reached 60 mph in 6.9 seconds—with a four-cylinder engine. But the Highlander narrowly beat a number of other competitors, including the V-6-equipped 2017 Nissan Pathfinder SV (7.4 seconds), 2017 Dodge Durango GT RWD (7.6 seconds), and 2018 Volkswagen Atlas (7.3 seconds). All these testers were equipped with all-wheel drive, unless otherwise noted.
When accelerating quickly onto the highway, the Highlander exhibits some initial lag, but it produces more than enough power for passing. It makes little noise on the highway even at higher speeds, and the ride feels well controlled on normal roads. But if you take a sharp curve, you’ll feel the Highlander start to waiver. Although we don’t expect superb handling from a three-row crossover, we can’t help but lament the Highlander’s dulled steering senses.
Which brings us to the figure eight. The Highlander wasn’t the worst performer, but it was far from the best. It rounded the bends in 27.7 seconds at 0.62 g, behind the Pilot (27.5 at 0.63), Explorer (27.1 at 0.66), Ascent (27.1 at 0.63), and, narrowly, the Atlas (27.6 at 0.62). It outperformed the Pathfinder (28.1 at 0.60) and Durango GT (28.3 at 0.60).
Testing director Kim Reynolds praised the Highlander’s power through the figure eight but also noted its drawbacks. “There’s quite a lot of understeer, and it’s very exaggerated if you go too deep into the throttle on exit,” he said. “It feels rather heavy, and there’s noticeable body roll, but it’s pretty well damped.”
In braking tests, the Highlander managed to reach a complete stop from 60 mph in 128 feet. That is a greater distance than it took the Pilot, Explorer, Pathfinder, and Ascent, though not the Durango. Road test editor Chris Walton recorded “pronounced dive, with a bit of front end wander” on the Highlander.
“I can’t imagine a mom with a car full o’ kiddos would feel confident in a panic stop from 60 in this,” he concluded.
Being the top trim model, our Highlander Limited Platinum boasted high-quality surfaces, including the leather seats. But some of the technology left us wanting. Graphics on the infotainment system are a little outdated, and Toyota doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto on the Highlander. There are finicky haptic controls to the side of the 8.0-inch screen instead of physical buttons.
Priced similarly to the top-trim Pilot, our Highlander Limited Platinum rang out to $48,319 USD. Notable features include heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row outer seats, a 12-speaker audio system, and a panoramic moonroof. Every Highlander comes standard with a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, automatic high-beams, dynamic radar cruise control, and lane departure alert with steering assist.
Although the second-row seats are a bit heavy to slide fore and aft, we like the simple and easy mechanism for folding them flat (first pulling the lever on the seat back and then the lever on the seat bottom). Predictably, there’s not much room to spare in the third row, unless the second row is pretty far forward. With the second-row seats positioned with maximum legroom, there’s no way I could get my 5-foot-3 frame into the rear seat comfortably. Not that I expected to, but I find it’s not always an impossible task. When I recently drove the Ascent, I could fit my legs comfortably in the third row with the second-row seats pushed all the way back. The Ascent has nearly identical second-row legroom to the Highlander (0.1 inch difference) but 4 inches of extra legroom in the third row.
The Highlander is neither the quickest nor the best handling large crossover. On the plus side, it’s a quiet cruiser that has plenty of cargo space and room for passengers in the first two rows, if not the third. Frankly, it’s surprising the Highlander is as competent as it is given its age. A fully redesigned Highlander could come as early as next year, and thanks to TNGA, it will be well positioned to catch up to some of its more refined competitors.
|2019 Toyota Highlander Limited AWD (Platinum)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$48,319|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 8-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||3.5L/295-hp/263-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,631 lb (55/45%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||192.5 x 75.8 x 70.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.2 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.5 sec @ 92.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||128 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.76 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.7 sec @ 0.62 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||20/26/22 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||169/130 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.87 lb/mile|