2016 Toyota Highlander

Starting MSRP: $29,990 - $44,490

Estimated MPG: 20 city / 25 hwy

2016 Toyota Highlander Review

With seating for up to eight, a refined interior, good fuel economy and plenty of utility, the 2016 Toyota Highlander is a near perfect midsize crossover for families on the go.

By Chris Brewer
Last Updated 10/18/2016

When Toyota’s Highlander arrived on the scene 15 years ago it made quite an impact, essentially helping to launch the midsize crossover movement. Now in its third generation, the 2016 Toyota Highlander continues to set the standard for the segment, offering five nicely appointed trim levels: LE, LE Plus, XLE, Limited and Limited Platinum.

The 2016 Toyota Highlander can be configured to seat eight. Owners who only need seven seatbelts can replace the second-row bench with a pair of captain’s chairs. The base Highlander is powered by a four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Toyota also offers a V6 engine with the choice of front- or all-wheel drive.

Exterior

Exterior
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While the exterior has certainly evolved over the past 15 years, the third-generation Highlander continues with a classic design that favors function over form. The bold grille and lights combine to give the front fascia a mildly aggressive character, with a pleasant combination of sharp angles and rolling lines. The Highlander’s shape is classic, but far from old fashioned.

The oversized windshield and windows look great while providing excellent visibility. The tall stature of the Highlander provides an authoritative driving position, but you never feel like you’re driving an oversized monster truck. Simply put, the Highlander looks great but rarely garners unwanted attention.

The base LE model arrives with projector-beam halogen headlights and daytime running lights. The color-keyed mirrors, door handles and rear spoiler add to the upscale appearance and the 18-inch alloy wheels remind you that the Highlander is an economically priced vehicle, but certainly not an economy SUV.

My LE Plus test vehicle features integrated fog lights, unique 18-inch five-spoke alloy wheels and an adjustable power liftgate with a handy flip-up hatch window. The flip-up window adds utility to the Highlander, allowing longer cargo to be transported more easily. If you’ve ever tried to bring 12-foot boards from the home improvement store you know how handy a flip-up window can be.

Interior

Interior
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The 2016 Highlander’s interior offers an upscale feel that falls a little short of luxury, but certainly warrants the use of the “premium” classification. The base LE trim features three rows of attractive cloth seats, with enough seating for eight. The XLE trim is available with leather, which is standard in the Limited model. The front two rows offer plenty of room for five, but the third row’s three-seatbelt setup seems a little optimistic. Families with small children will find all eight seats useful, but for the rest of us the third-row seats are only acceptable for two passengers.

The Limited and Limited Platinum’s second-row captain’s chairs leave the Highlander short a seatbelt, but the seven-passenger variant gains a useful middle walkway for easier third-row ingress and egress.

I am a fan of Toyota’s recent interior designs. The dashboard is thoughtfully implemented with plenty of integrated storage spots and easy-to-reach controls that are intuitive for the most part. The Highlander’s fit and finish are of the highest quality and you get the sense that the interior will still look relevant in 10 years. The metallic trim accents are attractive but understated. LE Plus and above trim levels include a leather-trimmed tilt-and-telescopic three-spoke steering wheel.

The 2016 Highlander outdoes some of its crossover competition on the utility front, providing plenty of cargo space. Even with all the seats in place the Highlander still offers an impressive 13.8 cubic feet of room. When you lower the 60/40 split-folding third-row seat, space expands to 42.3 cubic feet, making the Highlander a near-perfect vacation vehicle for a family of five. Drop both the second and third row and the Highlander’s cargo space jumps to a maximum 83.7 cubic feet, impressive by any standard.

Performance

Performance
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The base Highlander is powered by a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 185 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. If your primary goal is family-oriented around-town driving and highway cruising, the least expensive powertrain might be the way to go. Unfortunately, folks from cold weather climates will want to keep in mind that the four-cylinder Highlander is only available with front-wheel drive. The four-cylinder Highlander earns an EPA-estimated 20 mpg city and 25 mpg highway.

My test vehicle was powered by a gutsy 3.5-liter V6 engine that’s mated to a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission. The V6 engine produces 270 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. I spent a week with the front-wheel drive version; all-wheel drive is available as an option. Fuel economy is decent considering the Highlander’s size and utility, at 19 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. That’s almost identical to the four-cylinder model’s ratings, something to keep in mind when you are shopping. The all-wheel drive variant is rated at 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway.

New for 2016, all V6-powered Highlanders arrive with a comprehensive towing package as standard equipment. The package allows the Highlander to tow up to 5,000 pounds, but adds resale value and long-term reliability to the Highlander even if you never attach a trailer. The package includes a heavy-duty radiator, an engine oil cooler, a transmission oil cooler, a 200-watt fan coupling, and a 150-amp alternator. Heat is the number one enemy of your vehicle’s engine and transmission, and the standard towing package helps to keep both at bay, potentially extending the life of your Highlander.

Driving the Highlander is easy and comfortable. While you are certainly in a midsize three-row crossover, the Highlander exhibits the road manners you’d expect from an SUV that shares a platform with a passenger car. The ample power from the V6 is enough to induce some torque steer in front-wheel drive models, something that initially catches you off guard, but it is easy to adjust to. The Highlander’s four-wheel disc brakes help bring it to a stop with no drama. Passing is a cinch thanks to the precise steering and excellent acceleration.

I drive different vehicles every week and didn’t notice any learning curve when jumping behind the wheel of the Highlander, which is something that I can’t always say about three-row SUVs. The 2016 Highlander is instinctively easy to drive, performs well in daily-driving environments and is surprisingly quiet on the highway.

Technology

Technology
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The 2016 Toyota Highlander includes a nice amount of standard technology features. Ample reading lights and power outlets can be found even in the base trim. The standard six-speaker Entune audio system features a 6.1-inch high-resolution touch-screen display with Bluetooth and USB connectivity. An integrated backup camera with projected path markers adds to the value.

My LE Plus test vehicle adds three-zone automatic climate control and an enhanced Entune Audio Plus system that includes navigation and a larger 8-inch touch screen. The system also incorporates HD Radio with traffic and weather, SiriusXM satellite radio and more.

Limited and Limited Platinum models are equipped with a premium JBL Audio system that includes built-in navigation and an app suite. The system boasts 12 JBL speakers for optimal and immersive sound.

Safety

Safety
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The 2016 Toyota Highlander earned a top five-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety administration (NHTSA). The Highlander also earned a Top Safety Pick+ award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Standard safety equipment includes front, side, knee and head curtain air bags, anti-lock brakes, stability control and a rearview camera.

Limited and Limited Platinum models are equipped with additional advanced safety systems, including rear parking sensors and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. Limited Platinum models also include a pre-collision system, adaptive cruise control and Safety Connect, which is a subscription-based service that provides emergency assistance, stolen vehicle location services, roadside assistance and automatic collision notification.

Cost-Effectiveness

Cost-Effectiveness
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The base front-wheel drive 2016 Toyota Highlander LE with the four-cylinder engine starts at $29,990, a price point that is competitive with comparably equipped rivals like the Dodge Durango, Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer and Flex, Chevrolet Traverse and Mazda CX-9. Toyota has done their research, the Highlander is tough to beat and even vehicles with a slight edge in one area or another are not significantly superior as a whole.

My test 2016 Highlander LE Plus V6 represents exceptional value, bundling the most requested options like three-zone climate control, upgraded interior materials and an 8-inch touch-screen navigation system for $33,895 plus a $900 destination charge.

Overall

Overall
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The midsize crossover segment is extremely competitive and many of the Highlander’s top rivals have recently undergone appealing updates. While a refreshed Highlander is in the works for the 2017 model year, the 2016 Highlander is an excellent family vehicle that’s known for its great reliability and strong resale values. If you are looking for a crossover with plenty of cargo space, a good towing capacity and three rows of seats, Toyota’s Highlander is well worth investigating.