Our Complete Toyota Highlander Review
The Toyota Highlander is a midsize SUV with a sterling reputation for safety, ample seating, and family-friendly infotainment options. Now in its fourth generation of design, the Highlander continues to win hearts and minds by being an accessible consumer ride.
However, if you’re in the market for a three-row SUV, is the Highlander the right vehicle for you? After all, there are many great cars in this category, and you want to make sure you’re getting the most value for your upcoming purchase.
We’ll cover all the details right here with our Toyota Highlander review to ensure that the process goes as smoothly as possible.
Toyota Highlander: updates and features
First, it's important to note that the Highlander's reputation for reliability and safety is longstanding. With the 2021 models, this reputation continues. There have been updates in other areas as well.
For security on the road, the Highlander's comes with Toyota's Safety Sense suite, and all trim levels now come standard with LED projector headlights, making it easier to drive in the dark. Toyota also added a firmer suspension system to keep the ride smooth.
In 2021, the Highlander XSE trim debuted, which gives you black roof rails, ambient cabin lighting, and sport-tuned suspension. If you're looking for an earlier model of the Highlander, 2020 was the most recent redesign year. All models received a stronger V6 engine and an upgraded interface with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Before that, 2017 brought additional interior upgrades and Toyota's Safety Sense, too.
Between 2018 and 2019, there were slight improvements to the Toyota Highlander, but nothing major. Overall, the last five years of production have produced a consistent, quality ride.
Should you choose the V6 engine or the Toyota Highlander hybrid?
For 2021, expect the same engine stats and gas mileage that you saw in 2020. For the V6, you’ll get a 3.5-liter engine with 295 horsepower and 5,000 pounds of towing capacity, along with eight-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. If you do a lot of car camping or navigating rough roads, upgrading to an all-wheel drive is recommended.
Fuel economy for the 2021 Highlander car sits at 20-mpg in the cities and 28-mpg on the highways. If you upgrade to an all-wheel-drive system, those stats change to 20-mpg in urban areas and 27-mpg on the freeways. If you opt for the Highlander hybrid, your mileage grows to 36 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway.
Before 2020, the V6 was not as potent, so engine power and fuel economy may vary. Although it is in a different class, these Highlander stats are similar to those for the Toyota Camry, which is a mark in the automaker’s favor regarding overall brand consistency.
Seating, tech, and interior storage
Regardless of where you take your Highlander or how many passengers you take with you, Toyota wants you to have a comfortable, entertaining ride.
Seats are very generous in this SUV, although the third row remains tight for legroom, making it more suitable for children than adults. The second row fits adults easily. Depending on what trim level you get for the current model, you can opt for captain seats or a bench. Captain seats will switch your max occupancy from eight to seven.
Optional seating upgrades include leather and heated front seats to match with a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The Highlander has 16 cubic feet of trunk space with the third row of seats up and 48 cubic feet of cargo space with the third row down. Lay both the second and the third row down simultaneously, and your cargo space jumps to 84 cubic feet, meaning that your vehicle can either function as a passenger car or a long-haul option to store camping gear. Previous models of the Highlander had similar cargo specs.
For tech and infotainment:
All 2021 models come standard with Apple Carplay and Android Auto interfacing. Before this, they were optional. Each Highlander has an eight-inch infotainment touchscreen, although you can upgrade the touchscreen size to 12.3-inches in the Platinum Trim. USB ports are standard, as is Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio, and a Wifi hotspot.
Toyota Highlander reliability and safety
No review would be complete without a handling and safety check. Fortunately, this is the area where the Toyota Highlander continues to shine.
For 2021, all Highlanders come with the Toyota Safety Sense, Version 2.5. The Safety Sense suite includes lane-departure warning, automatic emergency braking, forward-collision warning, adaptive cruise control, and lane-tracing assist. As mentioned earlier, LED headlights are now standard, but if you upgrade to a higher trim, you can get LED fog lights, too.
Topping off this list of safety features is Toyota's emphasis on children's car seats, which is a big reason why it remains a family-friendly vehicle. Two sets of LATCH connectors are on the second-row seats, along with a tether anchor. Because of these features, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety scored the 2021 Toyota Highlander "good" in terms of child safety, and 2020, 2019, and 2018 were also standout years, with all three models winning five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
As for how the Highlander handles on the road, it's smooth, balanced, and responsive, with decent traction on rough surfaces. As mentioned, this comes as no surprise, considering Toyota's overall reputation in this area. The Toyota 4Runner is also an equally safe and reliable option for rugged SUVs.
How much is a Toyota Highlander vs. its competitors?
If you’ve read this far into our review, you’re probably considering the Toyota Highlander as a decent contender for your next big purchase. However, the Highlander is not the only three-row SUV out there. So how does it stack up to its competitors when you compare their features against the Highlander’s price?
The Highlander is a direct competitor of the Honda Pilot, the Kia Telluride, and the Ford Explorer. The Pilot remains the king of cargo space. The Explorer and the Telluride are usually more affordable.
However, Toyota’s reputation for safety, reliability, and rough road handling is tough to beat. If you’re looking for an earlier model of this car, too, you can find it at a great price. Shift will also help you shop smart. At Shift, you’re offered the best in class service contracts without the sales pressure. You’ll get the excellent price and value of a used car with the bumper-to-bumper protection of a new car, too.
Toyota Highlander review: the final verdict
The Toyota Highlander is an excellent vehicle, regardless of the model year. It’s safe, reliable, always on top of the latest tech features, and its spacious seating and all-wheel drive upgrades make it well-suited for long-distance adventures, too.
However, you may find yourself in a situation where you’re sold on the Toyota brand, but not necessarily the Highlander model. If this is the case, here are the most reliable Toyotas to buy.
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All prices are based on vehicle availability and pricing as of
September 24, 2021
Pricing shown is not guaranteed and does not include taxes or other product fees.