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2018 Toyota Highlander Review

The Toyota Highlander is a no-compromise, three-row crossover SUV that brings together the best in style, technology, comfort, capability and safety. Since its release in 2001, it has won multiple awards for value and safety, including a 5-Star Overall Safety Rating from NHTSA.

For the efficiency-minded, a Highlander Hybrid is offered in four grades, all of which feature the clever All-Wheel Drive with intelligence (AWD-i) system. Hybrid or not, though, legendary Toyota dependability and a long list of safety features ensure Highlander’s position as one of the best SUVs in the mid-size segment.

The award-winning Highlander and Highlander Hybrid come standard with Toyota Safety Sense™ P (TSS-P), Entune™ multimedia and an aggressive exterior design, not to mention available room for up to eight passengers. And with ten trims to choose from, there’s a Highlander for everyone, with Highlander LE offering a highly capable SUV with generous standard equipment and Highlander Limited Platinum delivering cutting-edge technology and a bevy of available luxury options. An available AWD system makes Highlander capable in harsh weather, and safety isn’t a concern with Toyota Safety Sense™4 and Star Safety System™ as standard equipment on all models. Since its introduction in 2001, Highlander has defined what a mid-size SUV should be. The 2018 Highlander is no exception.


Starting MSRP $31,230

Key Features

  • Five total USB ports
  • Entune™ Audio
  • Toyota Safety Sense™ P (TSS-P)

As the entry trim in the lineup, Highlander LE combines SUV utility with generous standard equipment like eight-passenger seating and numerous safety and convenience features.

LE Plus
Starting MSRP $35,660

Key Features

  • Stop and Start Engine System
  • Three-zone automatic climate control
  • Integrated fog lights

LE Plus improves on the LE trim by adding useful comfort and convenience features. LE Plus also introduces the model’s 3.5-liter V6 engine and available all-wheel-drive system.

Starting MSRP $39,120

Key Features

  • Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert
  • SofTex®-trimmed 60/40 split fold-flat third-row seat
  • Smart Key System with Push Button Start

Highlander XLE takes the feature list a step further, offering the great standard safety features from the LE and LE Plus and adds driver convenience and in-cabin technology.

Starting MSRP $40,290

Key Features

  • LED Daytime Running Lights (DRL)
  • 19-in. machined-face alloy wheels with black finish
  • Dark-painted roof rails

With its unique interior and exterior appointments, Highlander SE is the perfect choice for buyers looking for the ideal blend between the practicality of an SUV and the exciting looks of a sports car.

Starting MSRP $42,280

Key Features

  • Rear Parking Assist Sonar
  • Heated power outside mirrors with memory
  • Integrated backup camera with dynamic gridlines

Highlander Limited takes refined luxury and modern convenience a substantial step forward, thanks to its impressive list of high-tech driver assistance features.

Limited Platinum
Starting MSRP $45,400

Key Features

  • Panoramic moonroof
  • Safety Connect®
  • Bird's Eye View Camera

With Limited Platinum, the Highlander experience is second to none. From connected safety to plush interior appointments, it offers the most advanced features available in the lineup.

Hybrid LE
Starting MSRP $36,870

Key Features

  • Electronic On-Demand AWD system with intelligence (AWD-i)
  • Hybrid blue accent badges
  • Integrated backup camera with projected path

Highlander Hybrid LE takes the generous standard equipment found on Highlander LE and combines it with an efficient hybrid V6 engine and a standard AWD-i drivetrain.

Hybrid XLE
Starting MSRP $41,930

Key Features

  • Entune™ Premium Audio with Integrated Navigation
  • Leather-trimmed front and second-row seats
  • Driver Easy Speak

Highlander Hybrid XLE builds on Hybrid LE’s standard feature list and adds noteworthy comfort and convenience equipment throughout its spacious three-row cabin.

Hybrid Limited
Starting MSRP $45,360

Key Features

  • 19-inch Chromtec alloy wheels
  • Blue LED ambient lighting
  • Perforated heated and ventilated front row seats

With high-style appointments like LED lighting and flashy wheels, Highlander Hybrid Limited makes it clear that it’s a high-end trim designed to stand out from the crowd.

Hybrid Limited Platinum
Starting MSRP $48,480

Key Features

  • Blind Spot Monitor1 with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert
  • Rain-sensing windshield wipers
  • Entune™ Premium JBL® Audio

Hybrid Limited Platinum is truly the complete package, featuring a premium assortment of the great safety, comfort and convenience technology available in the Highlander lineup.

Competitive Comparison

Reliable and Efficient
Highlander offers multiple engine and transmission pairings, all of which offer impressive power and efficiency. These include a 185-horsepower, 2.7-liter four-cylinder that drives the front wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmission, and a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 295 horsepower and is paired with a Direct Shift 8AT 8-speed automatic transmission that can be configured to drive all four wheels. Both engines feature D-4S direct injection. Highlander Hybrid is equipped with a unique 3.5-liter V6 Atkinson Cycle engine and Electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (ECVT).

Multimedia for the Masses
Highlander’s spacious cabin features two 12V power outlets and five USB ports standard. Heated and ventilated seats are available on Limited and Limited Platinum trims, along with a 120V auxiliary power outlet. Its Entune™ multimedia systems make it easy to stream music from connected devices, while the available JBL® audio system will ensure it sounds great.

Comprehensive Safety
Like all Toyota models, safety is a priority on Highlander. This midsize crossover SUV has a long list of safety features – eight airbags, Toyota Safety Sense™ P (TSS-P) and Star Safety System™ are standard across all trims. Premium features like Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and Front and Rear Parking Assist Sonar are also available on select trims.

Ample Towing
When equipped with the 3.5-liter V6 engine, all non-hybrid Highlander models offer towing capacity of 5,000 pounds when properly equipped. This impressive towing figure allows drivers to be prepared for any adventure that awaits, whether it's hauling a trailer to a new home or bringing a boat to the lake.

Model Review

2018 Ford Explorer

What is it? The Ford Explorer hit the scene in 1990 and quickly found success as an early player in the era’s exploding SUV market. Although initially a traditional body-on-frame vehicle, Explorer eventually succumbed to the growing unibody trend. Occurring in 2010, this change cemented Explorer’s transition from a practical-yet-capable SUV into a more car-like family-oriented crossover vehicle.

What's the latest? Explorer unveiled its current fifth-generation design – complete with its first unibody chassis – for the 2011 model year. It is currently offered in five different trims, including a performance-oriented Sport model. This Sport, along with the top Platinum model, comes equipped with a powerful 3.5-liter EcoBoost® engine and Ford’s Intelligent 4WD system (the latter being optional on the lower three models). For 2018, Explorer continues mostly unchanged, with just a quintet of new wheel options, a Safe and Smart package with Lane Keeping Assist, and Wi-Fi® hotspot connectivity for up to 10 devices.

How does it stack up? Explorer’s base price (MSRP $31,990) is nearly $1,000 higher than Highlander’s, but while Highlander tops out with the all-wheel drive Limited PLT trim (MSRP $46,660), Explorer can run over $7,000 more with the Platinum trim (MSRP $53,940). Explorer has a more powerful base engine (290 hp V6) than Highlander’s 185 hp four-cylinder, while the range-topping 365 hp 3.5-liter EcoBoost® bests Highlander Hybrid’s 306 net system horsepower. However, Highlander has a better fuel mileage rating in city driving, with even its base engine having an EPA-estimated 20 mpg city, versus Explorer’s EPA-estimated 17 mpg city.

2018 Honda Pilot

What is it? In 2002, Honda replaced its Isuzu-based Passport SUV with a new in-house SUV – the Honda Pilot. Importantly, this also marked a change from a truck-based rigid frame construction to an all-new, more car-like unibody architecture shared with the Acura MDX, Odyssey minivan and even the Accord sedan. Like it is today, the original Pilot hit the market with a 3.5-liter V6 engine and a choice between front-wheel drive and Honda’s VTM-4 on-demand four-wheel system.

What's the latest? Pilot began its third generation in 2016. It is offered in five trims, four of which are front-wheel drive unless the available i-VTM4 all-wheel-drive system is equipped, while the top-tier Elite comes standard with i-VTM4 AWD. All models come equipped with a 280-horsepower V6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission except for the Touring and Elite models, which are outfitted with a nine-speed automatic transmission instead.

How does it stack up? Compared to Highlander, Pilot’s price points are very closely matched, starting out just $130 lower (MSRP $30,900). While EPA fuel mileage ratings differ by model and drivetrain, Highlander holds a small edge in city fuel economy estimates. Highlander Hybrid, however, has far better EPA-estimated mileage ratings, and Pilot has no hybrid option. Pilot’s V6 is standard across all trim levels, and with 280 hp, it is considerably more powerful than Highlander’s base four-cylinder. However, Highlander’s optional V6 and V6 hybrid options top the Honda, with 295 and 306 hp, respectively. Finally, Highlander’s TSS-P suite of active driving systems is standard, while the comparable Honda Sensing™ system is an extra-cost option (MSRP $1,000) on Pilot.

2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee

What is it? The Jeep Grand Cherokee played a huge role in the SUV boom of the ‘90s. Despite Jeep’s heritage and reputation for serious off-road machines, Grand Cherokee was introduced with a unibody chassis rather than body-on-frame. At the time – 1992 – this was a rarity among SUVs, but it helped Grand Cherokee get into the suburban driveways of buyers who didn’t want the driving manners of a truck. All that being said, 4WD-equipped Grand Cherokees were still reasonably capable off-road, unibody or not. Grand Cherokee’s current (fourth) generation debuted in 2011.

What's the latest? For 2018, the all-new, 707-hp, Hellcat-powered Trackhawk joins the lineup, which now boasts two performance models (the other being SRT) among its seven trims. Grand Cherokee still comes in both 4x4 and 4x2 configurations for each of its Laredo, Limited, Trailhawk, Overland and Summit models. The Grand Cherokee Sterling Edition is a new appearance package designed to celebrate the model’s 25th anniversary. For customers upgrading to the nine-speaker Alpine audio system, Active Noise Cancellation is now included with the package.

How does it stack up? Excluding Grand Cherokee’s vastly more expensive high-performance models (for which Highlander offers no similar option), the two vehicles are comparably priced, and both are available with a 295-horsepower V6. Grand Cherokee offers a torquey diesel V6, and its 4WD versions can be had with a 360-horsepower V8, both of which are unavailable on Highlander. Highlander’s TSS-P suite represents an advantage in standard active safety features, while Grand Cherokee’s base 8.6-inch and optional 10.8-inch ground clearance is a sizeable advantage over Highlander’s 8.0 inches for anyone interested in off-road metrics.

2018 Subaru Outback

What is it? Introduced in 1994, Outback started life as a beefed-up Subaru Legacy station wagon. Its unique body cladding and raised suspension helped Outback stand out as a model of its own. Since its introduction, Outback has earned a loyal following among owners as it followed Legacy across five generations. Despite its wagon layout, Outback uses its raised ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive to offer off-road capability that rivals many SUVs.

What's the latest? Now in its fifth generation, Outback uses its wagon body style to stand out from Legacy, which is now sold in sedan form only. The 2018 Outback offers 8.7 inches of ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive across all of its six trims. The four 2.5i models are equipped with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder boxer engine, while the two 3.6R models come equipped with a 3.6-liter six-cylinder boxer engine.

How does it stack up? Outback has a base price of $25,895, undercutting Highlander by thousands of dollars. Outback also has standard all-wheel drive, which is an optional feature on Highlander. Outback and Highlander are callout callout-sm matched on safety and convenience features, although Highlander has Toyota Safety Sense™ P (TSS-P)2 standard on all trims, whereas similar equipment is optional on Outback and not available on all trims.


2018 Toyota Prius is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety TSP.