Our review score: 8.4 / 10
Absolutely not! The 2015 Toyota Highlander may not be the most “unique” midsize SUV on the market, but it’s still a superb people mover with a comfortable cabin, high-tech safety equipment and plenty of useful accessories.
With so many people movers out there, figuring out the best one can be a chore. The market is flooded with all sorts of SUVs, crossovers, minivans and wagons – and each of them is great at accomplishing the task of transporting copious amounts of people from point A to point B. The new Toyota Highlander is one of the best at this sort of thing and that’s all that really matters.
Its exterior design is a little derivative, but we would argue that it makes up for the shortcoming with its neat cabin and lots of high-tech features. So, as long as you don’t base your judgement on what this vehicle looks like, you will love it:
Slightly Derivative Design
This is the third iteration of the Highlander, which was introduced to the world in 2014. This means that the design hasn’t really changed at all – not exactly a surprise. When designing this generation, Toyota was aiming to give the SUV a more masculine edge, and that part is evident as soon as you look at it, thanks to a bold grille opening and more chiselled flanks. It now looks less like a minivan and more like an actual SUV. So, if you have been researching only the “softer-looking” crossovers, like the Chevrolet Traverse, Hyundai Santa Fe and Ford Flex, then this design will catch your eye.
That said, it’s still a little too similar to many of its competitors. If you view it from the side for instance, you may notice that it resembles hard-edged SUVs like the Dodge Durango and BMW X5, while the bold new grille and the embellished wheel wells may remind you of certain Mitsubishi vehicles. We would argue that the move into this bold new direction has worked out significantly better for the Highlander than the Honda Pilot and Toyota 4Runner, but the fact is still near-impossible to dispute.
Lacklustre Base Engine
We are not fans of the base 2.7-litre four-cylinder engine, which seems to show strain whenever it accelerates past legal highway speed limits and carrying more than two passengers. Its output sits at 185 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, which may seem reasonable, but given the vehicle’s weight and size, we can see why the vehicle would struggle at times. If you want it to perform reasonably well, then we suggest going for the 3.5-litre V6 engine, which can produce 270 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque.
Quiet and Comfortable Ride
As is the case with most people haulers, the biggest appeal here is the cabin. The Highlander can fit up to eight passengers, and we can guarantee that no matter how big you are, you can make yourself comfortable in every available seat. At the front, you have two buckets separated by a hefty tambour-covered console, while the second row offers a choice between a pair of captain’s chairs and three-person split-bench. Second-row seats also come with a recline function, which is there to make tall passengers as comfy as possible. The third row is a little tighter than the rest of them, but adults can still fit in there – with a few adjustments.
The cargo area is quite sizable too. You get 13.8 cubic feet behind the third row and 42.3 behind the second one. If you want to make things even more spacious, you can fold down the second row and get 83.7 cubic feet, which should be enough for most people.
The vehicle comes with thick acoustic glass that completely eradicates engine noise, while insulation in the floor damps vibrations and other little annoyances. Soft-touch materials and woodgrain add a sense of luxury, making the ride even more appealing.
In other words, comfort is definitely not in short supply.
Lots of High-Tech Features
No matter which trim level of the Highlander you go for, you are bound to find plenty of features to enjoy. All the versions of the vehicle come with Toyota’s Entune smartphone connectivity kit, a USB port, Bluetooth and a rearview camera. In addition to all this, the base LE trim offers split-folding second- and third-row seats along with 18-inch wheels. If you add a Convenience package, you will also get climate control, satellite radio, a power driver’s seat and a power tailgate.
The higher-end XLE model has leather upholstery, heated front seats, a sunroof, an eight-inch touchscreen, navigation, garage door opener, pushbutton start and a V6 engine. If you want your kids to be entertained, you can also obtain a Blu-ray entertainment system. This is arguably the most optimal version of them all due to its $40,000 price tag and the presence of the V6 engine.
Finally, there’s the Limited trim, which comes with a hybrid powertrain and a whole host of features, including 19-inch wheels, rear parking sensors, a blind-spot monitoring system, second-row captain’s chairs, heated and ventilated front seats, a power passenger front seat and premium audio. This is the most expensive trim level of them all, costing almost $50,000.
Amazing Safety Features
Safety is another major perk that the Highlander has in store. It includes features like eight airbags, a standard rearview camera and hill-assist. The more advanced options are a lane-departure warning system, blind-spot monitors and parking sensors.
However, it’s the safety scores that show what this vehicle is really like. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has given it five stars overall, five stars for side-impact tests and four stars for frontal crash and rollover tests. The Insurance Institute Highway Safety has named the Highlander its Top Safety Pick+ thanks to an “acceptable” score in small-overlap crash test. It has earned top “good” score in the organization’s other four categories.
If you want an SUV that will keep your family safe, the Highlander should be at the top of your list.
If you are okay with the way the Highlander looks, then you should definitely check out this SUV. It’s not the best, but it’s pretty close.