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A somewhat more aggressive look, more power, an improved set of safety features, and a new sportier SE model highlight the changes Toyota is ushering in for its spacious crossover utility vehicle, the 2017 Highlander. The SE joins LE, LE Plus, XLE, Limited, and Limited Platinum models. The Highlander Hybrid is now also available in LE and XLE trims, in addition to the carry-over Limited and Limited Platinum.
The current generation of the Toyota Highlander, which made its debut for 2014, continues this model’s reign as a family mainstay. It goes for a true middle-of-the-road position among three-row utility vehicles—as a model that looks a little more rugged and truck-influenced than many of its peers on the outside, yet stands as an entirely carlike, family-friendly minivan alternative when you look at it from the inside out.
A new nose gives the Highlander a more aggressive but arguably less attractive exterior appearance. The grille now takes on an odd cone shape with a silver finish on LE and XLE models, black for the SE, and platinum on the Limited models. The grille juts out further and makes the vehicle 1.3 inches longer. The Limited model adds puddle lamps that spell out "Highlander" on the ground, all models get LED taillights, and the rear end features a chrome garnish on higher line models.
The overall look remains in the gray area between SUVs and more rakish crossover wagons, but it's definitely closer to a truck look, with the maw-like grille and exaggerated wheel flares and sills. It's somewhat reminiscent of the off-road-centric 4Runner in profile, and there's an SUV-ish style that runs exactly opposite to the trend in most other big crossovers (such as the Hyundai Santa Fe, Honda Pilot, and Chevrolet Traverse).
The 3.5-liter V-6 adds direct injection for 2017, and that helps improve power and fuel economy. Horsepower increases from 270 to 295 and torque is up from 248 to 263 pound-feet. It's also teamed up with a new 8-speed automatic transmission, and it can be paired with either with front- or all-wheel drive.
On the road, the V-6 provides plenty of power and is competitive with the best V-6s in the class. Power is delivered smoothly and the 8-speed automatic has almost imperceptible shifts. The transmission can be a bit tardy to downshift for passing, but once it does, that slowpoke in front of you will soon be in your rearview mirror. The turbocharged Ford Flex and V-8-powered Dodge Durango are quicker, but the Highlander's V-6 is certainly strong and, in our experience, surprisingly fuel efficient—the addition of direct injection should only improve that.
Cabin refinement is top-notch. Quiet, calm, and well appointed, the Highlander feels like a luxury vehicle inside, with thick acoustic glass that damps powertrain noise, and insulation in the floor that blots out vibrations, suspension chatter, and tire squawk. Soft-touch materials on the dash are rich, the trim materials are attractive, and the tray formed into the dash is a truly useful spot for all kinds of small electronics. The look can be a bit busy with some trim and material combinations, but all said, it's a quality environment.
The Highlander is very much about space. It's 192.5 inches long, with a wheelbase that's nearly 110 inches, which places it around the same length as a roomy mid-size sedan; yet there are three rows of seating and space for up to eight in all.
The front seats are quite good, though the hardware for the cooled seats does interfere with comfort slightly. We aren't pleased that to get power adjustments on both front chairs, you have to spend for the pricey Limited model.
*This vehicle is Certified Pre-Owned and is eligible for our third party warranty program.