Where many automakers cater to mid-size crossover shoppers with a pair of models, one with two rows of seating and another with three, Toyota pins all of its mid-size aspirations on the Highlander, which comes standard with seating for up to eight.
We’re not surprised that’s been the case for nearly 20 years: Toyota appears to put quality ahead of quantity when choosing which segments to compete in.
Changes for the 2019 model year are modest, with the base LE trim gaining a new, black lower rocker panel. SE trim, which becomes a stand-alone model this year, gets LED fog lights and black SE badges, grille and headlight surrounds. And in the Highlander Hybrid gas-electric family, the Limited variant adds LED fog lights.
Toyota last redesigned the Highlander in 2014, and while that suggests a new design will probably come by 2021, this one still feels reasonably fresh. Gasoline models use a 3.5L V6 engine that makes 295 hp and 263 lb-ft of torque and come with an eight-speed automatic transmission. It’s a good powertrain: the engine feels strong even when hauling around this sizable vehicle, and the transmission does a good job managing that power.
Hybrid models add an electric motor to the mix for a combined output of 306 hp; the transmission there is a continuously variable unit.
Only the gasoline Highlander LE starts out with front-wheel drive; all other models are all-wheel drivers.
Toyota is in the minority of automakers who see a market for hybrid power in this segment; the smaller Mitsubishi Outlander comes with that option too, but in plug-in format to allow some electric-only motoring, which the Highlander can only do for very short distances.
Standard features in LE FWD trim include a six-speaker stereo with 6.1-inch display screen, dual-zone climate control and 18-inch alloy wheels. LE AWD adds blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert. If you want niceties like automatic climate, power driver’s seat, heated front seats and a power tailgate, those things come in the LE’s optional convenience package.
XLE AWD comes with an 8.0-inch display audio system, navigation, power front passenger seat, leather upholstery and passive keyless entry.
SE AWD adds a sport-tuned suspension, 19-inch wheels and the enhancements listed up top.
Limited models gain ventilated front seats, heated second-row captain’s chairs, 12-speaker stereo, heated steering wheel, birds-eye view camera, panoramic sunroof and parking sonar.
Hybrid XLE and Limited trims are equipped similarly to their gasoline-powered siblings.
Toyota’s fuel consumption estimates for the Highlander are 12.0/8.9 L/100 km (city/highway) with an optional start/stop system; FWD and LE AWD models are marginally more efficient. Meanwhile, the Highlander Hybrid’s ratings are 8.1/8.5 L/100 km.