Toy­ota Highlander: Leader of the mid­size cross­over pack

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The Toy­ota Highlander started the mid­size cross­over SUV cat­e­gory 15 years ago, so it had a head start on be­com­ing a bench­mark. The third-gen­er­a­tion model, now en­ter­ing its third year, of­fers room for up to eight, a choice of three pow­er­trains and four model grades. It all adds up to the ideal fam­ily ve­hi­cle.

The Highlander didn’t need much to get even bet­ter for 2016, but Toy­ota went ahead and made the tow­ing pack­age standard on all V6 mod­els. The pack­age in­cludes a heavy-duty ra­di­a­tor with en­gine oil cooler, 200-watt fan cou­pling, sup­ple­men­tal trans­mis­sion oil cooler and 150-amp al­ter­na­tor and al­lows the V6 mod­els to tow a trailer up to 5,000 pounds. Other pow­er­train choices in­clude a 2.7-liter 4-cylin­der in the LE front-drive model, and Hy­brid Syn­ergy Drive with 280 to­tal sys­tem horse­power. The four-cylin­der and the V6 are both teamed with a six-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion.

The Highlander is sized for fam­i­lies with up to 158.7 cu. ft. to­tal cabin vol­ume. That in­cludes 13.8 cu. ft. with the third seat­ing row in use — a 34-per­cent in­crease over the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion (2013 model). With the 60/40 split fold-flat thirdrow seats low­ered, cargo space ex­pands up to 42.3 cu. ft. and then up to 83.7 cu. ft. with the 60/40 split fold-flat sec­ond row also low­ered.

The sec­ond row of­fers bench seat­ing for three, or two cap­tain’s chairs fea­tur­ing a col­lapsi­ble side tray with cup hold­ers. En­ter­ing the third-row is easy us­ing a one-step sec­ond-row slid­ing seat func­tion on both driver and pas­sen­ger sides. Thirdrow pas­sen­gers get a standard re­cline func­tion. But should those in the “way­back” need some oc­ca­sional cor­rec­tive in­struc­tion, there’s no need to shout from the front. Driver Easy Speak (standard on XLE and Lim­ited grades) works like a high-tech bull­horn, us­ing a mi­cro­phone to carry the driver’s or co-pi­lot’s voice through the audio sys­tem’s rear speak­ers.

For fam­i­lies that travel in style

The Highlander’s de­sign turns heads, but not at the ex­pense of func­tion. There’s ex­cel­lent vis­i­bil­ity in all di­rec­tions, from all three rows. And it’s a hushed cabin, too, thanks to acous­tic-type glass used for the wind­shield that helps keep out­side noise where it be­longs — out­side. The most in­su­la­tion cov­er­age ever ap­plied in a Highlander en­sures a serene ride for all.

Three hy­draulic en­gine mounts, ex­panded cover- age of the dash si­lencer and en­hanced body seal­ing all help to dampen vi­bra­tion. The avail­able panoramic moon­roof was de­signed to re­duce wind noise, even when it’s open.

A lux­ury look, with ev­ery­day util­ity

The quiet­ness sets the stage for the pre­mium feel through­out the Highlander cabin. High qual­ity ma­te­ri­als and ex­ten­sive standard equip­ment un­der­score the renowned Toy­ota value. A soft-touch in­stru­ment panel and sil­ver-painted, satin, and chrome-plated ac­cents through­out the in­te­rior con­vey a near-lux­ury feel.

Seat­ing cov­er­age choices start with pre­mium fab­ric and also in­clude avail­able smooth or per­fo­rated leather. The LE Plus grade and above fea­ture con­trast stitch­ing for the seats, and on the Lim­ited grade, wood­grain pat­tern trim on the dash and doors adds a touch of ele­gance. A high qual­ity knit head­liner and avail­able sec­ond-row sun­shades (on XLE and Lim­ited) are rem­i­nis­cent of a lux­ury ve­hi­cle.

A cabin high­light is the mas­sive roll-top cen­ter con­sole, which pro­vides a com­fort­able arm­rest eas­ily shared by the driver and front pas­sen­ger — no arm-wrestling match needed. The con­sole box is big enough to hold a very large hand­bag. An LCD Multi-In­for­ma­tion Dis­play within the gauge clus­ter puts vi­tal in­for­ma­tion in the driver’s line of sight. It’s a 3.5-inch black and white screen in the LE and LE Plus grades and a 4.2-inch color screen in XLE and Lim­ited.

Power to the par­ents

The LE front-wheel drive model’s standard 185-horse­power 2.7-liter four-cylin­der en­gine uses Vari­able-Valve Tim­ing with in­tel­li­gence (VVT-i) for a thick torque curve. It’s teamed with a six-speed elec­tron­i­cally con­trolled au­to­matic trans­mis­sion, and the com­bi­na­tion yields EPA-es­ti­mated fuel econ­omy rat­ings of 20 mpg city/25 mpg high­way/22 mpg com­bined.

All other gas grades come with a 3.5-liter V6 equipped with dual Vari­able-Valve Tim­ing with in­tel­li­gence (VVT-i). The silky-smooth V6 gen­er­ates 270-horse­power at 6,200 RPM and 248 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,700 RPM. It’s like­wise teamed with a six-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion, this ver­sion of­fer­ing se­lectable man­ual se­quen­tial shift­ing. Fuel econ­omy is EPA-rated at 19 mpg city/25 mpg high­way/21 mpg com­bined on FWD mod­els and 18/24/20 for AWD.

The stiff body struc­ture, com­bined with finely tuned MacPher­son strut front sus­pen­sion and dou­ble-wish­bone rear sus­pen­sion, de­liver the best-ever ride qual­ity in a Highlander, and elec­tric power steer­ing con­trib­utes to the more dy­namic char­ac­ter. Highlander rolls on standard 18-inch al­loy wheels with 19-inch al­loys standard on the Lim­ited grade.

Dy­namic All-Wheel Drive

Driv­ing a fam­ily cross­over, no­body wants to have to think much about all­wheel drive ca­pa­bil­ity; they just need it to work when needed to get the ve­hi­cle through slip­pery weather, snow and the oc­ca­sional muddy trail. Dy­namic Torque Con­trol All-Wheel Drive for the Highlander helps do just that.

The sys­tem takes in­put from var­i­ous sen­sors (ve­hi­cle speed, steer­ing speed and an­gle, throt­tle an­gle and yaw rate) to ac­tively gov­ern torque dis­tri­bu­tion to the rear wheels via an elec­tro­mag­net­i­cally con­trolled cou­pling in the rear dif­fer­en­tial. Dy­namic Torque Con­trol au­to­mat­i­cally shifts to AWD when ac­cel­er­at­ing to help pre­vent front wheel slip­page, or when sen­sors de­tect wheel slip­page, vary­ing front to rear torque dis­tri­bu­tion 100:0 to 50:50. Then, un­der nor­mal cruis­ing con­di­tions, it en- gages front-wheel drive to help re­duce fuel con­sump­tion. An AWD LOCK switch holds the 50:50 torque split for cer­tain low-speed driv­ing sit­u­a­tions in chal­leng­ing con­di­tions. And you see it all hap­pen­ing in real time on the multi-in­for­ma­tion dis­play, which shows torque-dis­tri­bu­tion info.

A so­phis­ti­cated, high­speed in­ter­ac­tive man­age­ment sys­tem co­or­di­nates con­trol of the Dy­namic Torque Con­trol AWD, Ve­hi­cle Sta­bil­ity Con­trol (VSC) and Elec­tric Power Steer­ing sys­tems to en­hance per­for­mance, han­dling and safety.

Highlander Hy­brid: High power, high fuel ef­fi­ciency

Toy­ota set out to be­come the hy­brid leader nearly 20 years ago, and it has suc­ceeded. The Highlander Hy­brid is one of six hy­brid mod­els Toy­ota of­fers (plus an­other six in the Lexus lux­ury fam­ily). Avail­able ex­clu­sively in the Lim­ited grade, the Highlander Hy­brid is equipped with standard elec­tronic on-de­mand all-wheel-drive with in­tel­li­gence (AWD-i).

The Highlander Hy­brid im­presses with power and ef­fi­ciency. In fact, it’s the most pow­er­ful High­land- er, with 280 to­tal sys­tem horse­power from a Hy­brid Syn­ergy Drive sys­tem that pairs a 3.5-liter V6 gaso­line en­gine with a high-torque elec­tric drive mo­tor-gen­er­a­tor. And it’s the most fuel-ef­fi­cient Highlander, too, with EPA-es­ti­mated 27 mpg city/28 mpg high­way/28 mpg com­bined fuel econ­omy.

Mak­ing the grade

The 2016 Highlander starts with the high-value LE grade and pro­gresses to the LE Plus with added equip­ment. Next comes the XLE with more ameni­ties and then the top-of-range Lim­ited with lux­u­ries in­clud­ing heated and ven­ti­lated front seats, avail­able heated sec­ond-row cap­tain’s seats and a heated steer­ing wheel (on the Plat­inum Pack­age).

Toy­ota made the LE and LE Plus grades mono-spec, of­fered with no op­tion pack­ages. The standard equip­ment ros­ters are quite ex­ten­sive, with the LE fea­tur­ing:

• 18-inch al­loy wheels

• En­tune Audio fea­tur­ing a 6.1-inch touch­screen

• Blue­tooth phone and mu­sic stream­ing

• In­te­grated backup cam­era

• Seat­ing for eight with sec­ond- and third-row 60/40 split fold-flat seats

• Heated side mir­rors with turn sig­nal in­di­ca­tors

• Am­ple stor­age com­part­ments in­clud­ing a mas­sive roll-top cen­ter con­sole

• In-dash shelf with easy ac­cess to power and USB ports

• Wind­shield wiper de­icer, and much more.

Tow Pack­age on V6 mod­els

The “Plus” for the LE Plus grade means:

• Fog lights

•A height-ad­justable power rear lift­gate with flipup rear hatch win­dow

• 8-way power driver seat with lumbar sup­port

• En­tune Audio Plus with Sir­iusXM Satel­lite Ra­dio and HD ra­dio fea­tur­ing an 8-inch dis­play mon­i­tor

• Three-zone au­to­matic cli­mate con­trol

• Leather-wrapped steer­ing wheel and shift knob

• The XLE grade edges the Highlander into lux­ury ter­ri­tory with:

• Leather-trimmed seats

• Heated front seats

• Smart Key with push but­ton start

• Tilt-slide moon­roof

• Driver Easy Speak

• Sec­ond-row in­te­grated sun shades

• Chromtec roof rails

• 4.2-inch color multi-in­for­ma­tion dis­play

• Anti-theft sys­tem

• Homelink The XLE’s standard En­tune Pre­mium Audio with Nav­i­ga­tion and App Suite fea­tures an 8-inch touch screen dis­play. The Highlander XLE of­fers the op­tion of seat­ing for seven with sec­ond-row cap­tain’s chairs, and a Blu-ray DVD rear-seat en­ter­tain­ment sys­tem is also avail­able.

Highlander reaches new heights

There’s no mis­tak­ing the added lux­ury in the Highlander Lim­ited. The de­sign goes even fur­ther up­town with 19-inch Chromtec al­loy wheels and LED day­time run­ning lights. In­side, am­bi­ent light­ing around the dash and doors adds a touch of high-tech ele­gance, and nu­mer­ous ameni­ties raise the com­fort quo­tient con­sid­er­ably. Seat­ing for seven in­cludes sec­ond-row cap­tain’s chairs, per­fo­rated leather-trimmed seats, heated and ven­ti­lated front seats, a 4-way power pas­sen­ger seat and mem­ory set­tings for the driver seat and side mir­rors.

Safety tech­nol­ogy fea­tures in­clude Blind Spot Mon­i­tor with Rear Cross-Traf­fic Alert and rear park­ing sonar, while en­ter­tain­ment is up­graded with En­tune Pre­mium JBL Audio with Nav­i­ga­tion and App Suite. There are three op­tion pack­ages avail­able to take the Highlander Lim­ited (gas or Hy­brid) higher still. One is a Blu-ray DVD rear-seat en­ter­tain­ment sys­tem. Sec­ond is the Driver Tech­nol­ogy Pack­age which adds more safety fea­tures, in­clud­ing:

• Safety Con­nect (Emer­gency As­sis­tance, Stolen Ve­hi­cle Lo- cator, Road­side As­sis­tance and Au­to­matic Col­li­sion No­ti­fi­ca­tion. Avail­able by sub­scrip­tion)

• Pre-Col­li­sion Sys­tem with Dy­namic Radar Cruise Con­trol

• Lane De­par­ture Alert with Au­to­matic High Beam Head­lights

Ad­ding the Plat­inum Pack­age takes Highlander to the top with the Driver Tech­nol­ogy Pack­age plus a panoramic moon­roof, heated steer­ing wheel and heated sec­ond-row cap­tain’s chairs and, newly added for 2016, rain-sens­ing wind­shield wipers.

Safety Star

All 2016 High­landers have eight standard airbags and, like ev­ery 2016 Toy­ota, the Star Safety Sys­tem, which in­cludes En­hanced Ve­hi­cle Sta­bil­ity Con­trol, Trac­tion Con­trol, Elec­tronic Brake-force Dis­tri­bu­tion, Brake As­sist, Anti-lock Brak­ing Sys­tem, and Smart Stop Tech­nol­ogy. All High­landers also come equipped with a standard backup cam­era and Hill-start As­sist Con­trol.

Toy­ota Mo­tor Man­u­fac­tur­ing, In­di­ana (TMMI) in Prince­ton, Ind., which em­ploys over 4,000 Amer­i­can work­ers, as­sem­bles all High­landers and ex­ports them to 12 coun­tries.

Lim­ited warranty

Toy­ota’s 36-month/36,000 mile ba­sic new-ve­hi­cle warranty ap­plies to all com­po­nents other than nor­mal wear and main­te­nance items. Ad­di­tional 60-month war­ranties cover the pow­er­train for 60,000 miles and cor­ro­sion with no mileage lim­i­ta­tion. The hy­brid-re­lated com­po­nents, in­clud­ing the HV bat­tery, bat­tery con­trol mod­ule, hy­brid con­trol mod­ule and in­verter with con­verter, are cov­ered for eight years/100,000 miles, which­ever comes first.

The Highlander also comes standard with Toy­ota Care, a com­pli­men­tary plan cov­er­ing nor­mal fac­tory-sched­uled main­te­nance and 24-hour road­side as­sis­tance for two years or 25,000 miles, which­ever comes first.

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