Shopping for a vehicle that can accommodate a family of five yields fewer choices in the types of vehicles available than you'd think, especially if you've got at least one kid in a baby or booster seat. At that point, something with three rows of seating is about all that will truly be able to accommodate your brood.
But that doesn't mean you'll end up with a massive tank of a vehicle. The Toyota Highlander is one of a wide field of mid-size crossovers that offers three rows of seating in a package that may look like a hefty vehicle but is actually quite easy to live with in the day-to-day thanks to its sharing a platform with cars like the Toyota Camry and the upscale Lexus ES sedan and RX crossover.
The Highlander gets its motivation from a 3.5L V6 that makes 295 hp and 263 lb-ft of torque and feeds it to an eight-speed automatic transmission and either front- or all-wheel drive. What makes this Toyota stand out from most of its competition is an available hybrid powertrain that pairs that V6 with electric motors for 305 hp and comes standard with AWD and a continuously variable transmission.
Both drivetrains move the Highlander with authority, but while the hybrid's performance advantage is more pronounced than that modest 10-hp bump would suggest thanks to the generous torque of those electric motors. Neither version of the Highlander is a performance-oriented vehicle, however: the driving experience is pleasant but not particularly engaging.
Naturally, the hybrid model is the most efficient, with fuel consumption estimates of 8.1/8.5 L/100 km (city/highway),while gas models are rated 11.7/8.8 L/100 km with AWD.
The Highlander comes in LE, XLE and Limted trims, with Hybrid models being available in the latter two configurations. The LE starts out as a front-driver, with AWD being standard in all other trims.
Standard features include Toyota's Safety Sense P active safety suite, which fits every Highlander with forward collision warning and automatic braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning with steering assist, automatic high beams and radar cruise control.
Other key standard items are a 6.1-inch display audio system, dual-zone manual climate control, seats for eight and 18-inch alloy wheels. An LE AWD convenience package adds automatic engine start/stop, three-zone automatic climate control, satellite radio, power driver's seat, heated front seats, flip-up rear glass, power tailgate, 8.0-infotainment display, fog lights and leather-trimmed steering wheel and shifter.
Move up through the range and Toyota adds niceties like navigation with voice recognition, passive keyless entry, blind spot monitor with cross traffic alert, sunroof, sport-tuned suspension, second-row captain's chairs, 19-inch wheels, ambient lighting, ventilated front seats, leather upholstery, rain-sensing wipers and LED headlights.