2017 Toyota Highlander Limited Review

This top-seller is ubiquitous for a reason

Wade Thiel, Senior Staff Writer

Positives: Attractive new face for 2017, top of the line interior materials on dash and seats, powerful V6 engine.
Negatives: Infotainment controls can be hard to reach, cramped third row isn't suitable for adults, offers few driving thrills.
Bottom Line: The Toyota Highlander is the kind of vehicle that's easy to like. It's well-rounded and not terrible at any one thing. That being said, if you're looking for something engaging to drive, you'd be better off elsewhere. The Highlander is practical, not fun, and that's both its biggest attribute and downfall.
 View Our 2017 Toyota Highlander Overview
Three-row mid-size SUVs seem to be some of the most sought after vehicles these days. It makes sense. With a three-row SUV like the Highlander, you get seating for 7 or 8 people, a reasonably large cargo area, plenty of technology features and a capable vehicle on the highway or city streets. It can tow a trailer or power down a snowy road with ease. The Toyota Highlander was built to compete with the best in this segment, and it gives the major players, like the Honda Pilot and the Mazda CX-9, a run for their money.

Toyota made some updates to the 2017 version of the Highlander, so we had to test the vehicle out to see how if and how it improved. Here’s what we found after spending a week behind the wheel.

Driving Experience



The Highlander drives like a smooth and soft truck. It's not sporty, and when you’re behind the wheel it feels bigger than it actually is. That said, cruising along in it is an enjoyable experience, one with few surprises. You can’t chuck this thing into a turn like you can with the Mazda CX-9 or Audi Q7, but it’ll handle well enough for most people out there.

Ride Quality: The Highlander errs on the soft side when it comes to ride quality. It's comfortable going down the freeway and absorbs the bumps and gaps on local roads well.

Acceleration: The 3.5-liter V6 moves the vehicle down the road well, especially for something this size. Reported 0-60 times are just over 7 seconds.

Braking: The strong, progressive brakes offer good pedal feel and stop the vehicle without issue.

Steering: The electric power steering is on the lighter side and not too precise. Despite this, we didn’t have much difficulty placing the vehicle in the turns, though a little more steering feel and weight would help instill more confidence.

Handling: Body roll is noticeable, but that's not totally surprising given the car's need for broad appeal. The vehicle is happiest cruising down the open road. If you push it in the corners, you feel the heft.




Toyota typically does a decent job integrating technology into its vehicles. The company’s Entune infotainment system is respectable, and the version that’s in the Highlander does its job well. it’s a robust system with a large number of apps and connectivity features. However, there are other automakers that do things better.

Infotainment System: The Entune infotainment system offers plenty of features including USB and auxiliary inputs, satellite radio, Bluetooth and Siri Eyes Free. It operates smoothly. While the graphics and ease of use aren’t the best out there, overall, it’s a high-quality system.

Controls: The controls in the Highlander are clear and easy to use. However, reaching them proved annoying. The infotainment system was a little too far away from our comfortable seating position. While the controls themselves are fine, Toyota should tweak the ergonomics a bit.

Bluetooth Pairing: It took a minute or two to pair our Android smartphone with the system because it could not find the phone. Entune typically pairs very quickly, so it could've been a glitch with the car or our phone.

Voice Call Quality: Calls were clear on both sides. We experienced no issues.




Toyota made some small changes to the exterior Highlander for 2017. The most obvious styling change is the SUV's new prominent face. The Highlander needed an eye-catching element and the large grille certainly stands out. It’s an attractive vehicle, and Toyota made a good decision when updating the model. The trend toward bigger grilles continues, and the Highlander has not escaped untouched.

Front: The Highlander new face features a split trapezoid-shaped grille with two bars up top and three bars below that takes up most of the front end. Round fog lamps sit low and to either side of the grille, and attractive, aggressive headlight housings sit up high with nice LED trim running along the base.

Rear: The rear features a large rear window, LED taillights and a partial black bumper that helps mitigate some of the car's visual height, but it still looks pretty tall from behind. The backside of the vehicle doesn’t make as bold of a statement as the nose. Why the rear glass sweeps up at the outside bottom edges is strange and seems unnecessary.

Profile: From the side, you can see how the character lines flow down the side and slant up towards the rear. The fenders disrupt the character lines as your eyes travel down the side of the vehicle. Other than that, the Highlander has a pretty standard and attractive shape, but it’s not exactly exciting.

Cabin: The cabin of the vehicle is a little busy, with several layers in the dash. This is somewhat mitigated by Toyota’s use of black materials and a few brushed aluminum trim pieces.




The Highlander's interior is easy to like because its functional, well put together and spacious. The materials on the dash and door are sturdy and feel high-quality, but there is a fair amount of hard plastic on the dash, as well. The leather throughout most of the cabin is soft and thick, making us believe it would hold up well over time.

Front Seats: The leather seats offer plenty of support and adjustment. They place you in a good driving position and provide plenty of leg and hip room.

Rear Seats: The second-row seats offer supportive cushioning and ample space and are suitable for even taller adults. The third-row seats, however, are only suitable for kids. The seats themselves offer supportive padding, but the amount of leg and hip room is limited.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The Highlander is a quiet and solid vehicle, and we noticed no errant noises. Having said that, the engine makes more noise than expected under heavy acceleration.

Visibility: You sit up high in the Highlander, making it easy to survey the road. Despite the good view of the road, seeing exactly where the vehicle ends is a little difficult, and it takes a while before you’re comfortable in tight parking lots. Backup camera is an absolute must in this beast.

Climate: The climate control system works well, and we encountered no delays in heating or cooling, and the climate controls are easy to use.




If you’re looking for a safe vehicle, the Highlander fits the bill. The government awarded it a five-star overall crash test rating. The vehicle received four stars in the frontal crash test and rollover test and five stars in the side crash test. This is one safe three-row SUV.

IIHS Rating: The Highlander received a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the IIHS. The model was awarded good ratings in all crash tests and ease of use for child seat anchors. The only blemish on its record was an acceptable rating for headlights.

Standard Tech: The Highlander comes equipped with a suite of safety technology standard for this trim level. Standard equipment for the Highlander Limited includes blind spot and lane departure warnings, child seat anchors, daytime running lights, airbags, automatic headlights, a pre-collision safety system, stability and traction control and ABS with emergency brake assist.

Optional Tech: Monroney not provided.




Toyota knows its customers well, and it outfitted the Highlander with plenty of useful storage spaces. The cabin features several places to stow items, and the cargo area is versatile as well, offering not quite as much space as the Honda Pilot but keeps close to all its major competitors.

Storage Space: Toyota placed a compartment beneath the armrest and a shelf on the dash. These two features proved useful for everyday items and electronics. The two cupholders in the center console are also well placed.

Cargo Room: The Highlander has just under 14 cubic feet of storage space with all of the seats up and almost 84 cubic feet with the seats folded. Some of the competition beats Toyota’s vehicle in this regard but the model is on par for the segment.

Fuel Economy



The new 3.5-liter V6 engine ups the efficiency ante for the Highlander. The EPA estimates put the vehicle at 21 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. We expect the EPA estimates to be pretty close in real-world driving based on our experience with the vehicle.

Observed: We saw an average 21 mpg over the course of our week with the vehicle.

Driving Factors: We primarily drove the Highlander in the city with a few trips on the highway. When in the city, we experienced heavy traffic.




The Entune Premium JBL audio system with integrated navigation and app suite provides you with plenty of options when it comes to listening to music and the radio. The system comes with AM/FM radio, a CD player, MP3 capability, an auxiliary and USB ports. The 12-speaker system offers clear sound with no distortion.

Final Thoughts

The Toyota Highlander is a versatile vehicle that comes with plenty of modern technology. It’s a three-row SUV that can haul lumber or gear one minute and in the next pick up the kids from school. It works well as a family vehicle, but if you’re interested in something that’s engaging to drive or an off-road beast, you should look elsewhere.

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