2019 Toyota Highlander: Think of it as fine wine on wheels

11 Feb 2019 | 1,046 views | No Comment
  By Don Hammonds Toyota's 2019 Highlander is a whole new ball game for this writer. It has been at least eight years or more since I have driven a Highlander, so I had absolutely no idea how this product has matured and transformed into one of the top products in its mid-sized SUV corner of the market, if not THE best of the bunch. First, the 2019 Highlander looks vastly different and feels larger than the generation model I tested. And I could not help but notice that it had a real luxury ambiance that made you feel well taken care of while you drove it. I really liked not only how the Highlander performed,  but also how it made me feel.  You feel utterly in control of the Highlander, and its road feel, handling and steering are all top drawer.  Braking is confident and sure without feeling as though you are about to be tossed through the windshield--and yes there are some SUVs out on the road now that do make you feel that way. And it's so roomy! My sometimes-battling teenagers each claimed a row of seats to occupy, and they each felt like they were kings, ensconced in their own separate kingdom with enough isolation so they didn't get on each other's nerves. Some reviewers have complained that the  third row seat is cramped, but my kids, even my lanky 14 year old did not have any issues. The dashboard felt large and sweeping, but not so much so that I felt overwhelmed.  All the controls were where they should be and there were no nasty surprises as I managed the whole instrument panel. And everything was absolutely intuitive.  This is one of the few products I can think of in which you could jump right in and not have to bother with the owners manual to find out how everything worked.  Of course, I do NOT recommend ignoring the owners manual, but you get the message, I'm sure. The Highlander, Toyota's three row crossover, is priced from $31,230 to $48,480 (these are base prices quoted), according to Consumer Reports, and it comes in the following models: Hybrid LE, Hybrid Limited,. Hybrid Platinum, Hybrid XLE, LE, LE Plus, Limited, SE and XLE versions. The Highlander comes in front wheel and all wheel drives, and there are three powerplant offerings: a 2.7 liter 185 horsepower four, a 3.5 liter 295 horsepower V-6, a 3.5 liter, 306 horsepower V-6 as part of a powerplant system for the hybrid.  Transmissions available include a six speed automatic and an eight speed automatic CVT. Fuel economy, by the way ranges from 20 miles per gallon city to as much as 27 miles per gallon on the non-hybrid versions.
Let's start with the LE, the base model. It has the base LE starts with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine I mentioned earlier, a six-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. The 3.5-liter V6 that comes standard on all other models is optional on the LE and pairs with an eight-speed automatic. Optional all-wheel drive can be added to the V6.
Standard LE features include 18-inch alloy wheels, heated mirrors, a windshield wiper de-icer, rear privacy glass, a rearview camera, rear air conditioning, a height-adjustable driver's seat, a sliding and reclining 60/40-split second-row seat, and a reclining 60/40-split third-row seat. You also get a 6.1-inch touchscreen, five USB ports (three in the front and two in the rear), Bluetooth, and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player. A big bonus in our view is that every Highlander also comes with the Toyota Safety Sense bundle that includes automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking. If you want to step up a bit, consider the LE Plus, with its standard  V6 engine, a height-adjustable power liftgate, a flip-up rear window, fog lights, tri-zone automatic climate control, upgraded upholstery and trim, a power-adjustable driver's seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems, a high-resolution 8-inch touchscreen, satellite and HD radio, and a variety of smartphone-connection apps. Next up is the XLE, which has a standard equipment list that includes sunroof, roof rails, keyless entry and ignition, an upgraded instrument panel, leather upholstery (simulated leather for the third row), heated front seats, a power-adjustable passenger seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, second-row window sunshades, a 110-volt power outlet, a navigation system, and Driver Easy Speak, which carries the driver's voice through the rear speakers to distant passengers. When you examine it, the SE seems a lot like the XLE but  you do get a SUV that has a more sporty flare to it as a result of equipment that includes   larger 19-inch wheels, LED running lights, and sportier suspension tuning and styling elements. You're headed to the top of the line if you get the Limited.  It adds LED running lights, different 19-inch wheels, rear parking sensors, a rear cargo cover, heated and ventilated front seats, driver-seat memory settings, second-row captain's chairs, and a 12-speaker JBL audio system to the XLE trim's features. The  Limited Platinum is the cream of the crop Highlander, with  a panoramic sunroof, automatic wipers, a surround-view parking camera system, front parking sensors, Safety Connect emergency communications, a heated steering wheel, and heated second-row seats. Anything I didn't like? Yes.  The all black interior darkened everything so dramatically that it made the interior feel like a cave.  Safe, but foreboding.  And there was some hesitancy every now and then with the shifting of the transmission.  And infotainment fans might not be happy to know that  the Highlander doesn't offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone integration, a deal breaker for some people. Safety equipment is a good reason to buy a Highlander.  Standard features for safety include automatic emergency braking, and other features include forward collision warning/automatic braking, lane departure alert, steering assist alerts and other items.  By the way, Highlander enjoys a five star safety rating from NHTSA.

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