The 2017 Toyota Highlander XLE is the middle trim of the company's full-size SUV and features a 3.5-liter V6, all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Base Price: $40,940 As Tested: $43,184
Highlights: The Toyota Highlander gets a new, 295-hp V6 for 2017 with a stop-start system and loads of standard safety features. The XLE trim adds leather and heated seats, push-button start, power moonroof, second-row sunshades and the Entune infotainment system.
Opinion: As with most Toyotas, the Highlander is easy to get comfortable with -- there's a 'fits everyone' seating position, buttons where you expect to find them and large, logically laid-out controls. There's ample room for six (and you can squeeze seven) in the XLE; ours was configured -- with two buckets in the second row -- and the middle seats tip and slide easily for rear access. I hauled four fifth-graders on a field trip and everyone fit without complaint (without complaint about the Highlander, anyway).
I really didn't enjoy driving it, though: Compared to the last Highlander I drove, this one felt underpowered and sluggish despite having more power and torque on paper. The transmission shifted far too frequently and would only maintain eighth gear going downhill on the freeway -- the slightest throttle application kicked it down. I don't know if it's been tuned for hyper economy or what, but it just seemed like I had to keep my foot deep in the throttle the entire time to get any meaningful acceleration. Sport mode wasn't much better.
It's a first-rate family package, but Toyota needs to retune the engine/transmission for snappier response if it wants to compete with the Explorer, CX-9 and other three-row utilities.
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