12 Best Family Cars: 2017 Toyota Highlander
The 2017 Toyota Highlander breezed onto this year’s list of Best Family Cars by virtue of its alluring combination of contemporary charm and everyday usability. Naturally, the Highlander scores high in the areas of comfort, flexibility and ease of use, but what truly distinguishes it from more traditional people movers is its unique fusion of form and function.
Updated for 2017, the latest Highlander stepped up its game on multiple fronts, starting with a cleaner, more aggressive exterior design. That bold yet sophisticated character carries over to a spacious, user-friendly cabin with standard accommodations for eight. Comfortable, well finished and impressively leather-lined even in mid-grade XLE guise, the Highlander boasts numerous family-friendly touches including a multi-function under-dash shelf, voluminous center console, a bevy of conveniently located storage nooks, and one-touch access to the third row.
When not carrying people, the Highlander’s 60/40-split second- and third-row seats fold virtually flat to create one of the largest cargo bays among midsize SUVs. Accessing the cargo area is a cinch as well, thanks to a 2-piece liftgate that’s power activated in all but base LE models.
Multimedia duties are handled via Toyota’s Entune multimedia system, which continues on as one of the most straightforward touchscreen infotainment consoles available. There are also five USB ports distributed throughout the cabin. Moving up the line to XLE and Limited trims brings additional high-tech touches like a larger 8-inch touchscreen (up from 6.1 inch), a superb-sounding 12-speaker audio system by JBL, dynamic guidelines for the backup camera, three-zone climate control, a rear-seat Blu-ray DVD entertainment system with a 9.0-inch screen, and Driver Easy Speak, a potentially stress-reducing feature that uses a microphone to project the driver’s voice to back-seat passengers.
Hauling the mail, and your family
Save for entry-level LE and Hybrid models, all Highlanders share a revised 295-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine and new 8-speed automatic transmission — a combo that allows it to tow up to 5,000 pounds and dash from 0-60 mph in less time than some dedicated sports cars. This bump in power also brings with it a welcome bump in efficiency, with front-wheel-drive V6 models returning an EPA-estimated 21 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway.
Safe and smart
The 2017 Highlander has earned a 5-Star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as well as a Top Safety Pick+ ranking from the IIHS. Those stellar marks reflect both its world-class passenger-protection capability and lengthy roster of standard active safety aids like adaptive cruise control, automatic pre-collision braking, lane departure alert and assist, pedestrian detection, and automatic high beam control.
Along with a competitive pricing structure that begins just north of $30,000, the Highlander does an admirable job of upholding the longstanding Toyota tradition of retaining a comparatively large percentage of its original purchase price over time. That contributes to its attractive 5-Year Cost to Own figure, meaning more return on your original outlay when it comes time to hand in the keys.