2017 Toyota Highlander
What if you need a three-row crossover SUV but don't want to drive a bus?
You might be interested in the Toyota Highlander. It's got room for eight, but it still fits in the garage.
It's also one of the few vehicles in this class that doesn't come standard with -- or even offer -- a turbocharged engine. And that is by no means a bad thing.
What It Is
The Highlander is a midsized three-row crossover SUV. Like its competitors, it's basically a high-riding car with an available light-duty AWD system rather than a truck-based off-roader with four-wheel drive (and low-range gearing).
It's smaller on the outside than others in this class, but it has comparable passenger and cargo room inside.
It offers two engines, one of them a V-6. Most other vehicles in this class have turbocharged engines, and some don't offer a V-6 at all.
Prices start at $30,630 for a base trim/front-wheel drive Highlander with a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine.
A top-of-the-line SE with a 3.5-liter V-6 and all-wheel drive has a $41,150 sticker.
The Highlander's optional V-6 is more powerful (295 horsepower versus 270 previously) and gets better gas mileage; it is paired with a new eight-speed automatic transmission, whereas it had a six-speed automatic last year.
There's also a new sport-themed SE V-6 package with firmer suspension tuning, a 19-inch wheel/tire package and blackout exterior trim.
All Highlanders get an exterior styling refresh, including a new grille and headlight design.
It's more manageable in tight spots and easier to park.
The standard four-cylinder engine is mechanically simpler than rivals' turbocharged four-cylinders.
The all-wheel-drive system can lock the power split 50-50 front to rear, very much like a truck-type 4WD system.
It has 8 inches of ground clearance -- more than most in this class.
What's Not So Good
The standard four-cylinder isn't as powerful as turbocharged four-cylinders in rival vehicles.
AWD isn't available with the four-cylinder; you have to upgrade to the V-6 to get it.
The third row is tighter than that of several rivals.
Under the Hood
The Highlander's standard engine produces 185 horsepower and 184 foot-pounds of torque. It's paired with a six-speed automatic transmission.
EPA rates its mileage at 20 mpg city and 24 mpg highway.
The optional 3.5-liter V-6 makes 295 horsepower and 263 foot-pounds of torque. So equipped, the Highlander's zero to 60 mph time drops to just over 7 seconds. It gets nine seconds with the 2.7-liter engine. Mileage with this engine and FWD is 20 mpg city and 27 highway.
If you buy the V-6, you can buy all-wheel drive to go with it. This system normally operates in FWD mode in order to maximize fuel efficiency. If the front wheels begin to lose traction, power is automatically routed to the rear wheels as necessary.
On the Road
The Highlander's standard engine has enough power, just not an abundance of power. Its chief negative is that you can't get it with the AWD system.
With the V-6, you've got an abundance of power.
Either way, this is an exceptionally quiet vehicle -- so quiet you notice the absence of sound. Toyota excels at this. There is also a general plushness to the seats and the ride. It's easy to imagine yourself in a Toyota Camry or Avalon.
At the Curb
It's a big jump from a two-row/five-passenger crossover SUV to one with three rows and room for as many as eight.
To make all the space inside, the usual practice is to make it bigger on the outside. The just-redesigned 2018 Chevy Traverse is a good example of this. It is 204.3 inches end to end now, which makes it longer than a Chevy Tahoe, which is a full-size SUV.
You get three rows, but you also have less room in your garage and to maneuver out there in the world.
The Highlander manages to be big in interior space but not too big on the outside. Overall length is 192.5 inches, making it a foot less long than the new Chevy Traverse. A Mazda CX-9 is 199.4 inches long, and a Ford Explorer is 198.3 inches long.
Inside the Highlander, you'll find some brilliant design flourishes, such as the sliding sunroof-style cover for the center console, which lets you access the contents without having to tilt anything up (and in your way). The front section of the same center console folds open to present you with a proper Big Gulp-sized cupholder.
There is also a storage shelf spanning almost the entire length of the dash.
The Bottom Line
If you need the room but not the size or the turbo, the Highlander is one you'll want to check out.
Eric's new book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" will be available soon. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.Copyright 2017 Creators Syndicate, Inc.