2018 Toyota Highlander: Family SUV Remains Solid, Versatile and Unchanged

By Mike Blake Carlisle Events
Thursday, May 3, 2018

Toyota’s family SUV, the Highlander, underwent a thorough freshening in 2017 and is scheduled for a full makeover for 2019, so it remains unchanged for 2018. I tested the 2017 model, so why review the model this year? The answer is that the model still stands on its own as a 2018, and deserves a test to also see if we were accurate in our appraisal from a year ago.

This third-generation of the three-row family SUV, debuted in 2014, but the Highlander began its life in late 2000, known as the Toyota Kuraga (pronounced Kluger) in Japan and Australia. The name "Kluger" derives from the German word "klüger", meaning "clever" or "very clever. In January 2001, Highlander became the first car-based midsize SUV or midsize crossover available in North America and it has been a solid seller for Toyota ever since.

Moving to 2018, Highlander combines a family-use personality with niche-solid economy and driver-friendly maneuverability for in-town and soft-road utility.

The Highlander exterior features a bold grille, striking LED taillights, a sophisticated silhouette, low roofline and sculptured side-door panels. Highlander measures 192.5 inches long, 75.8 inches wide and 68.1 inches high on a 109.8-inch wheelbase, to provide 8.0 inches of ground clearance and a towing capacity of 5000 lbs., with a curbweight in Limited trim of 4495 lbs.

Available in 4-cylinder and V-6 powertrain configurations, the 2.7-liter 4-cylinder is coupled with a 6-speed Electronically Controlled automatic transmission with FWD, and with intelligence (ECT-i), sequential shift mode and snow mode. The system is good for 185hp and 184 lbs.-ft. of torque for an EPA estimate of 20mpg/city, 24mpg/highway and 22/combined.

The 3.5-liter V-6 engine that powered my test vehicle, delivers 295hp and 263 lbs.-ft- of torque, mated with a Direct Shift – 8AT, 8-speed Electronically Controlled automatic transmission with intelligence in either FWD or AWD, for an EPA fuel rating of 20mpg/city, 26mpg/highway and 22mpg/combined for AWD. I tested the 2018 Highlander Limited in better conditions than I tested last year’s model – clear roads this year vs. snowy roads in 2017. This year, the better conditions improved fuel consumption from 21.9mpg in 2017, to 22.8, in mixed-use driving. Acceleration and performance were as expected with good response from a stop and in passing. Track tests were nearly identical to last year, as I shaved one-tenth second off both runs -- 7.6 seconds from zero-to-60mph and a 15.9-second quarter-mile.

The interior is well-crafted and quiet, and seats seven, providing 39.5 inches of front headroom (with moonroof), 39.6 in row two and 35.9 inches in row three; leg room is 44.2, 38.4 and a child-worthy 27.7 in row three, with shoulder room of 59.3, 59.6 and 55.0.

My Limited trim cabin was packed with infotainment and amenities upgraded with Entune™ Premium JBL®Audio with Integrated Navigation and App Suite. Blue LED ambient lighting around the dash and doors adds a touch of high-tech elegance, and comfortable second-row captain’s chairs, perforated leather-trimmed seats, heated and ventilated front seats, a 4-way power passenger seat and memory settings for the driver seat and side mirrors set the luxury tone for driver and passengers.

From a safety perspective, Highlander earned an IIHS TOP SAFETY PICK+ ranking --qualifying for the award with standard equipment. Highlander is among numerous Toyotas employing the innovative Toyota Safety Sense™ P driver-assist technology as standard. TSS-P uses millimeter-wave radar and a monocular camera sensor to detect obstacles and automatically apply braking if necessary to help mitigate or avoid collisions in certain conditions. TSS-P includes the Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection function; Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist function; Dynamic Radar Cruise Control and Automatic High Beams.

Available in LE, LE Plus, XLE, SE, Limited and Limited Platinum trims, as well as four Hybrid trims starting at $36,270, the gas-version Highlander starts at $31,030 for the base model and tops out with the Limited Platinum starting at $46,660. Prices are up $400 per model for 2018. The Hybrids start at $36,670 and run to $48,280. My test Limited based at a $43,540 starting price that included the3.5-liter engine, 8-speed automatic transmission, Toyota Safety Sense™ P (TSS-P) package, Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Rear Parking Assist Sonar, Integrated Backup Camera, Smart Key System+ Liftgate with Push Button Start, Leather-Trimmed Steering Wheel, Tilt/Telescopic Steering Wheel, Heated/Ventilated Front Seats, Seating for Seven with Second-Row Captain's Chairs and 60/40 Split Third-Row Seats, Multi-Information Display, Roll-Top Center Console, Soft-Touch In-Dash Shelf, Three-Zone Automatic Climate Control, Entune™ Premium JBL®Audio with Integrated Navigation and App Suite, Height-Adjustable Power Liftgate and Flip-Up Rear Hatch, Chromtec® Roof Rails and a Moonroof.

Blizzard Pearl paint was matched to an Almond Perforated Leather interior. A rear seat Blue-ray Disc™ entertainment system with9-inch display added $1810; the All-Weather Floor Liner Package (front, rear and cargo) added $249; Body Side moldings added $209, Door Edge Guards added $125;Remote Engine Starter added $499; Roof Rack Cross Bars added $350 and Running Boards added $599. With Delivery, Processing and Handling fees of $995 ($35 more than last year), my test 2018 Toyota Highlander Limited stickered at $48,771 (with slightly different accessories, the sticker was $2760 higher than my test Highlander last year).

> Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.

Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.

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