Could the 2018 Toyota Highlander be the ultimate mid-size crossover SUV? It can seat up to eight on three rows of seats, it’s versatile, the engine is strong, and despite its practical roots, it still retains a semblance of style.
This is the minivan for the new age, minus the shame. It comes with vast interior space and chunky, pseudo SUV styling that breaks up the slab-sided monotony. Although this is a mercilessly competitive sector and there are a whole host of rivals ready to shine a light on the slightest flaw, the Toyota Highlander has been well received and it’s clearly one of the best in class.
Toyota has nailed its colors to the mast with truck-styling, while others have gone for softer, more car-like curves. But how does it really stack up against the rest of the best crossovers on the market right now?
Performance and Trim Specifications
The Highlander is a car for the people, so it’s no surprise that there’s a dizzying array of specs. The base level LE is all about the $31,030 sticker price. That’s a sensational price tag for a car of this size, but there’s always a price to pay.
Here it’s the anemic 2.7-liter engine mated to a six-speed gearbox that means you’re limited to 185 bhp and 184 lb/ft of torque through the front wheels. That’s simply not enough to pull a 4,165 lb car.
The LE Plus and up get a version of the 3.5L V6 with an eight-speed automatic that is a much more serious proposition. It offers 295 bhp and 263 lb/ft of torque. Also, it includes all-wheel-drive.
From there, the trim levels and standard equipment are the main differences. If you choose the most expensive Limited Platinum version, the Highlander jumps from just over $30,000 to $45,200, without options. The XLE, SE, and Limited versions offer a healthier middle ground.
You can opt for the hybrid, too, and you get the full range of trim specs to choose from once again. It starts out with a detuned version of the 3.5-liter V6, three electric motors, and a totally different CVT gearbox. That provides a total output of 306 bhp and it turns this big bus into a 30-mpg car, but it does add 300 lb to the overall weight.
You would think that small entry level model would at least be fuel efficient. You would be wrong — very wrong. The 2.7-liter just cannot pull that mass and you end up with a car that struggles to hit 20 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway; there are sportscars with better numbers. Sadly, this poor fuel efficiency rules out the cheapest Highlander for most, because you’ll lose more money on fuel than you’ll save on the purchase.
The 3.5-liter V6 is hardly a poster child for the green movement either, and will return 21 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the freeway. Inevitably, the hybrid is the cleanest car in the line-up which will do 29 mpg in the city and marginally less, 27 mpg, on the freeway.
Safety and Infotainment Features
This leviathan scored five stars on the NHTSA crash tests and is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+. Every model, even the entry-level LE, comes with the Toyota Safety Sense Package. This package includes automatic emergency braking that can sense pedestrians and other cars, adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert, reversing camera, and more. There are 20 individual safety features and it’s a big deal that this is standard equipment across the range.
Every model from the XLE up gets a rear cross traffic alert and the Limited edition is fitted with parking sensors to keep your bumpers safe.
As for the infotainment, it’s everything you’d expect from a Toyota. That means this is a solid set-up, although the base level model is underequipped with a 6.1-inch screen that gives way to an eight-inch touchscreen for the LE Plus and up. Interestingly enough, the LE Plus requires a connected smartphone to run the nav, but with the XLE you get a self-sufficient system.
It’s a testament to the sheer size of this car that you get an intercom system in the more advanced models that ensures the driver can talk to their passengers more clearly. All that, and you don’t get Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which is a real omission in the modern age. But Toyota’s Entune infotainment does work well if you can live without the nth degree of connectivity.
In terms of luxury, the dashboard and front seats are well-trimmed with soft-touch and relatively expensive materials. But the car trails off towards the back, as if the design team had to make cuts along the way. Even the Limited edition’s wood veneer isn’t in the Lexus league either, but it’s still impressive for this sector.
How Does It Stacks Up Against the Competition
The 2018 Toyota Highlander has a serious, heavyweight reputation in a sector that is swimming with quality cars. The likes of the Chevy Traverse, Mazda CX-9, Volkswagen Atlas, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, and Nissan Pathfinder are all waiting to take a swing at the Highlander. You could throw the Kia Sorento and more in there, too.
The Mazda is a radically different approach to the same basic problem and provides a more car-like experience than the truck-like Highlander. It wins on style and handling, but arguably loses when it comes to the interior and the standard safety equipment.
The Honda puts up a good fight, too, bringing the V6 engine as standard and winning the price war. Again, though, the Toyota’s standard safety equipment and, in this instance, cavernous interior space means there really isn’t a clear-cut winner.
The VW Atlas has its fit and finish, the Explorer has its more cohesive styling, and the Pathfinder is a solid contender too. Even in this company, though, the Toyota stands proud.
Is it the best? If you like the styling and you’re not looking at the lethargic entry-level model, then the Highlander certainly makes a compelling case.
- 5-liter V6 engine is smooth and strong.
- Standard safety equipment could seal the deal.
- Massive interior space and seating for eight.
- Styling is different.
- That entry-level engine is only there to bring the price down.
- Infotainment is lacking Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
- Navigation is basic in the lesser models.
- There are more luxurious options.