Re­vised V6 En­gine, Trans­mis­sion Im­prove High­lander’s Per­for­mance

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - AUTOS - Derek Price cargaz­

Toy­ota has a knack for en­gi­neer­ing magic tricks.

It’s lat­est ho­cus-pocus? The 2017 High­lander si­mul­ta­ne­ously squeezes bet­ter per­for­mance and fuel econ­omy out of its six-cylin­der en­gine.

A re­vamped V6 makes more power than be­fore — 295 horses — while also bump­ing up its gas mileage thanks to a new eight-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion.

The new pow­er­train re­sults in fuel econ­omy rat­ings of 21 city/27 high­way, com­pared to 18/24 in the out­go­ing 2016 V6 High­lander.

Even more im­pres­sive is the High­lander’s snap­pier feel. It re­sponds faster when you step on the gas pedal and pro­vides more kick for pass­ing or merg­ing, which is an im­por­tant safety fea­ture in my book.

Even if you don’t buy into my “power equals safety” the­ory, Toy­ota of­fers more stan­dard safety gad­gets this year, too — a crit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tion for many peo­ple shop­ping for a fam­ily car.

The 2017 High­lander joins a long list of mod­els mak­ing Toy­ota Safety Sense stan­dard equip­ment. The High­lander’s ver­sion of the ac­tive safety pack­age in­cludes Pre-Col­li­sion Sys­tem with Pedes­trian De­tec­tion; Lane De­par­ture Alert with Steer­ing As­sist; radar cruise con­trol and au­to­matic high beams.

It’s all part of Toy­ota’s prom­ise to make au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing stan­dard across its lineup by the end of this year, four years ahead of the gov­ern­ment man­date.

I spent a week driv­ing the new V6-pow­ered High­lander, and for the most part it went just as ex­pected. A quiet, solid-feel­ing cabin with lots of stor­age com­part­ments and a roomy cargo area in back — even with the thirdrow seats in place — made it pre­dictably prac­ti­cal for fam­ily ad­ven­tures.

I thought two things could be im­proved, though.

One, the en­gine didn’t sound as but­tery smooth as I’ve come to ex­pect from Toy­ota. Af­ter the changes, the re­vamped V6 sounds rougher and more truck-like, which was un­usual be­cause Toy­ota tends to make even its big­gest, brawni­est SUVs sound like a Rolls-Royce.

My other com­plaint is about the big, open shelf that runs along the length of the dash. It makes sense from a stor­age per­spec­tive, adding some us­able real es­tate in an area that usu­ally goes to waste, but it also in­vites ugly messes with open arms. I wish there was a way to cover it with doors to keep the whole world from see­ing the bits of pa­per and junk that are likely to ac­cu­mu­late there.

The cen­ter con­sole fixes this prob­lem per­fectly with a rolling lid, al­most rem­i­nis­cent of an an­tique roll-top desk. It keeps messes out of sight and out of mind. The big dash shelf, in con­trast, is more like putting your messes on dis­play in a lighted glass cu­rio cab­i­net.

While its new pow­er­train is the big news this year, the High­lander gets a few other changes, in­clud­ing a new SE grade that looks a bit sportier than other trims. Dark paint on the roof rails and front grille com­bine with 19-inch wheels and a sus­pen­sion tuned to be more firm and ag­ile to give it a more ag­gres­sive feel over­all.

My tester was an SE, and while I per­son­ally pre­fer the softer feel of other grades, I can see the ap­peal to peo­ple who want more of a re­spon­sive driv­ing feel in their fam­ily hauler.

All trim lev­els get changes to the front and rear styling this year, help­ing to keep the High­lander look­ing sharp in a red-hot mar­ket for crossovers. Still, I wish Toy­ota would take the styling in an even bolder di­rec­tion, more like it’s tak­ing its sedans.

Pric­ing starts at $30,630 for the base LE trim and tops out at $46,260 for the Lim­ited Plat­inum.

The Toy­ota High­lander gets a num­ber of up­grades for 2017, in­clud­ing a more pow­er­ful and fuel ef­fi­cient V6 en­gine. Its styling is up­dated in front and back, too.

Am­ple cup hold­ers and stor­age com­part­ments make the High­lander’s cabin a great place for fam­ily trips.

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