Fully redesigned last year, the Toyota Highlander returns with three powertrain options, including the segment’s only hybrid. This standard front-wheel drive SUV with available all-wheel drive seats up to eight. This versatile model offers generous towing and up to 5,000 pounds of towing capacity.
The midsize 2015 Toyota Highlander may be the ideal family model, a crossover utility vehicle with three rows of seating and available all-wheel drive. Its superior cabin space includes generous storage with the rear seats folded down. A 5,000-pound towing capacity ensures that your camper or boat goes with you.
Now in its third generation, the 2015 Toyota Highlander has evolved into a premium, yet affordable crossover utility vehicle. The current generation has a more athletic stance with a bold grille accented by wraparound headlamps and marked by chiseled fenders.
By repositioning the front pillars and extending the rear quarter glass, Toyota has made the Highlander seem much larger, yet it is only three inches longer than the previous generation model. Distinctive upper and lower profile character lines and available running boards mark the sides of this vehicle. To the rear is an oversized spoiler, wrap around tail lights and available LED lights.
You get three rows of seating in the 2015 Toyota Highlander. All models have bucket seats up front with a third-row bench seat. A middle-row bench seat can be swapped out for captain’s chairs, eliminating one seating position. Consider the first two rows more than sufficient for adult bodies; the last row is best suited for small children due to limited legroom.
The Highlander’s cabin seems expansive, with much natural light flooding the interior. Fabric trimmed seats are standard, SofTex and leather seats are available. SofTex has the look and feel of leather, but it is lighter and easier to clean.
The driver’s seat is supportive, with six-way manual adjustment standard with eight-way power adjustable support in upper trim level editions. Furthermore, the front passenger has four-way manual or power support.
Both the second- and third-row seats fold flat, 60/40 designs that offer a variety of storage possibilities. The available second-row captain’s chairs come with a folding table and two cup holders.
The standard equipment list with the Toyota Highlander is a long one. The base model comes with front and rear air conditioning, an integrated backup camera, a tilt and telescopic steering column, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity and keyless entry. You also get power windows, power door locks, a power liftgate, eight cup holders, four in-door bottle holders, three 12-volt outlets, cargo area lights, cargo hooks and tie downs, an overhead console and numerous storage compartments.
As you move up through trim levels, this vehicle offers zoned climate control, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, enhanced instrumentation, push-button start, a 120-volt outlet and second-row retractable window sunshades. Select safety and comfort features are included with the Limited edition.
A 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine producing 185 horsepower is the standard engine and is available with the LE edition only. This engine offers little advantage over the V6 as it is rated at 20 mpg in the city to the V6’s 19 mpg in the city. The Highlander gets 25 mpg on the highway regardless of which engine you choose.
Most Highlanders come equipped with a 3.5-liter V6 engine, which is widely used in medium and larger Toyota vehicles. In the Highlander, this 24-valve V6 is rated at 270 horsepower. Both engines are paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission.
As equipped, the V6-powered all-wheel drive Highlander delivers very good off the mark acceleration and more than sufficient power on the road. Likely, with a cabin full of people and a trailer to pull, performance would be diminished somewhat. Yet, the transmission shifts smoothly through all forward gears, the engine purrs and the Highlander stays planted as you navigate twisty roads. Brake assist and hill descent assist provide added support when towing.
Also available is a hybrid edition, priced from just under $50,000. This model is all-wheel drive only and pairs a V6 gasoline engine with three electric motors. It achieves a net 280 horsepower, has a 3,500-pound towing capacity and gets 27 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.
Our test Highlander came with an Entune premium audio system with an app suite and navigation. An 8-inch touch screen clearly displays commands and offers turn-by-turn navigation instructions. As tested, the directions were accurate and my smartphone synched without a problem.
Buyers can also upgrade to a premium JBL audio system, doubling the number of speakers to 12. Toyota also offers a rear DVD entertainment system and a driver assist package as mentioned below.
The 2015 Toyota Highlander has received the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick+ award. The IIHS recognized the Highlander for superior scores in crash testing, including front, side and roof strength tests. The IIHS also pointed out the Highlander’s available pre-collision system with dynamic radar cruise control.
All Toyota products come equipped with anti-lock brakes, stability control, traction control, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, a backup camera and hill start assist. An available driver technology package brings in lane departure warning, automatic high beam headlights and the pre-collision system.
With a starting price of $29,665, the Toyota Highlander is priced competitively with the Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Pilot and Nissan Pathfinder, which are its main competitors. Highlander is sold in four trim levels: LE, LE Plus, XLE and Limited. All models, except for the base edition, are available with all-wheel drive, which adds $1,540 to the base price. The base edition is the only model that offers the four-cylinder engine.
Well-equipped models with all-wheel drive, navigation and a V6 engine will cost you about $38,000. The top-of-the-line Limited edition with a platinum package (i.e., driver technology, heated second-row captain’s chairs and a panoramic moonroof) and a rear DVD package pushes the final price above $45,000.
The Toyota Highlander offers sensible placement between the smaller RAV4 and the larger Sequoia. This model is best suited for a growing family with the rear seat most usable for small children or better left folded down to increase the interior storage compartment. When properly equipped, this vehicle can pull a boat too, providing an all-around sensible model for your consideration.