There are a lot of mid-sized SUVs out there these days. Just about every one of them has something special. But if you’re looking for the best overall package, it’s going to be hard not to choose the 2015 Toyota Highlander.
To be fair, it doesn’t blow the competition away in every category. There are other SUVs with bigger engines or fancier interiors. The Highlander is like a great football team that is missing a big star, but has lots of strong players. The result is a winning team that leaves the competition wondering what happened.
In my mind, the closest thing the Highlander has to a star is its looks. That wasn’t always the case. The first generation was pleasant enough. It helped establish Toyota in the mid-sized SUV range. Unfortunately the next two redesigns were disappointing. It was like Toyota wanted to be bold, but kept going conservative. This body style that debuted last year, and it finally turns the corner. It has an aggressive front end sweeping up to a nice angled beltline. In fact, I was leaving a parking lot and saw one driving on the road My first reaction was, “That’s a nice looking SUV.” Then I realized it was the same car I was driving. Because the styling was new in 2014, it will be fresh for years to come.
You have your choice of two engines. There is a 185 horsepower four-cylinder, or a 270 horsepower six-cylinder. It’s probably not much of a shock but I’d definitely recommend the six. The power was perfect for this sized vehicle. Just enough to make you feel that you can punch your way out of any situation. It even felt reasonably quick from a standing start. I haven’t driven the smaller engine, but I’m thinking that you’ll be left wondering why you didn’t spring for the extra two cylinders. You can expect 19 MPG in the city and 25 MPG on the highway in the two-wheel drive. My week in the all-wheel drive version averaged about 20 MPG.
Inside, the Highlander once again delivers a great overall experience. You won’t confuse it with a luxury car, but you won’t be left thinking you bought cheap. My test car was the Limited model with leather interior. It also had captain’s chairs in the center row (with a very functional flip-up arm rest and drink holder). The third row isn’t huge, but it’s enough to haul extra people or kids when you need the room. I especially liked the cooling seats up front.
The dash is nicely laid out. I particularly liked the shelf underneath. It will quickly get filled up with all the stuff you need to manage your family or your latest driving vacation. There’s even a handy hole to run your charger cable through. The video display is nice. Base models have a six-inch screen, while upscale models get an eight inch version. Navigation is above average.
Driving is another winning experience. There are sportier rides, but the Highlander doesn’t leave you wanting. It has plenty of safety options to help you survive like adaptive cruise control or lane departure warnings.
For full disclosure, I’m a little biased towards the Highlander. We bought one in 2005 and drove it 149,000 miles in nine years. Beyond the usual maintenance we never had to fix anything. Absolutely nothing. That’s exactly what you want from a modern car.
Mid-sized isn’t what it used to be. It’s bigger. In fact, the Highlander is bigger in just about every dimension over our first generation model. That’s a good thing. It means more leg and hip room. If you want something the same size as that original Highlander you have to drop down to a compact SUV.
Starting price for the base LE model is $30,695. For another thousand bucks you can get the six cylinder engine. It’s worth the money. My limited test model with plenty of options was $41,120. It also had the Driver Technology package for $1,400 that included a pre-collision system and automatic high beams along with other safety goodies. You could pay another $10,000 to $15,000 for comparably equipped luxury car, but why? This Highlander has everything you want at a great price.
The Highlander has always been a solid choice. I give Toyota credit for making it even better. If you’re looking for a mid-sized SUV start with the Highlander. Other cars may entice you with various options or looks, but the Highlander delivers on every level.