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2016 Toyota Highlander - A Three Row Car-pooler Review by Larry Nutson +VIDEO

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2016 Toyota Highlander
A three-row car-pooler

By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor and Bureau Chief
Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

Toyota’s mid-size crossover SUV, the Highlander, has been around for about fifteen years. The 2016 model is the third year of this third-generation Highlander.

The 2016 Highlander offers four model grades or trims to choose from, three powertrain choices - a 4-cylinder, a V6 or a hybrid, and seating for up to eight.

I drove and wrote about a 2015 model with the hybrid drive train just about a year ago and in that piece talked about the decision making you need to go through to decide if the extra cost for the hybrid will payoff over the time you have the SUV.

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This time around my Highlander-for-a-week was the 2016 XLE V6 with all-wheel-drive.

For 2016, the Highlander didn’t change much but now the towing package is standard on all V6 models. A good move, in my view, since it simplifies the buying process and you never know what future needs could be.

The package includes a heavy-duty radiator with engine oil cooler, 200-watt cooling fan coupling, supplemental transmission oil cooler and 150-amp alternator. This allows the V6 models with 270 HP and 248 lb.-ft. of torque coming from the 3.5-L engine to tow a trailer up to 5,000 pounds.

Other powertrain choices include a 185 HP 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 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

The 2016 Highlander starts with the 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.

Of course the whole reason for having an SUV is to transport people and stuff easily and conveniently and avoiding the proverbial squeezing in of everything. The Highlander is offered with a second row bench seat for three or two captain’s chairs. I prefer the two-seat setup thinking back to the younger years of my two children each having their own space.

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The third row is great to have if you are in the car-pooling mode for all those kid-sports. It’s easy to get back there with the slide-forward feature on the second row seats that’s on both sides of the Highlander.

Should things get too wild in the “way-back”, you can see what’s happening with the flip-down mirror located in the overhead console. And, Driver Easy Speak is equipped on XLE and Limited grades. It uses a microphone to carry the driver’s voice through the audio system’s rear speakers, so the shout from the front seat is avoided.

For cargo carrying such as trips to the garden shop or your favorite home improvement store there’s 13.8 cu. ft. with the third seating row in use. With the 60/40 split fold-flat third-row 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 or the two captain’s chairs also lowered.


On all trim grades except the LE the Highlander has a height-adjustable power rear liftgate. One feature I liked that is not found on every SUV is the flip-up rear hatch window that makes for easy access without opening the entire rear hatch

The 185 HP 4-cylinder is only available on the LE front-wheel drive model and is mated to a six-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission. The EPA test-cycle estimated fuel economy ratings are 22 mpg combined with 20 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. The LE is priced at $29,990.

All other model grades come with a 3.5-liter V6 priced from $31,515 to $44,490. The Hybrid is offered in Limited trim at 47,870 and Limited Platinum trim at $50,485.

The V6, which would be my engine of choice, also uses a six-speed automatic transmission, with an added selectable manual sequential shifting feature. The EPA test-cycle fuel economy ratings for the Highlander are all fairly close to each other. Front-wheel drive V6 EPA test-cycle ratings are 21 mpg combined with 19 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. All-wheel drive V6 EPA test-cycle ratings are 20 mpg combined with 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway.

By the way, the V6 engine is certified as an Ultra Low Emission Vehicle. That means, besides being green, you might just get a closer parking space at your workplace if you are located in a LEED certified building.

The hybrid is the Highlander fuel economy leader, especially in city driving. But does the added purchase cost payoff, especially with today’s low gasoline prices. You can read my review of last year’s Highlander Hybrid right here.

If you live in a part of the country that gets snowy winter weather I would recommend getting all-wheel drive. Toyota’s system is nicely efficient, as evidenced by comparing the EPA test-cycle ratings, and 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.

On the outside the Highlander is SUV-ish but pleasant to the eye. On the inside there is a very upscale feel and look to the materials and finishes. You have to climb up a bit to get in but many drivers like the high seating position for good outward visibility. It’s pretty quiet on the inside too, with good management of wind and tire noise.

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I liked the massive roll-top center console that provides a comfortable armrest and was big enough for me to keep my SLR camera out of sight.

The XLE I drove comes with the Entune Premium Audio with Navigation and App Suite features an 8-inch touch screen display. I liked the two knobs for tuning the radio, however they were quiet a reach with their placement at the top of the display. I thought a bottom location would have been better.

The optional Blu-ray DVD rear-seat entertainment system was also on my media-loaner but I didn’t have any young ones available to test it out. I liked the heated seats on a few cold Chicago days but was wanting for a heated steering wheel too. You have to step up to the Limited Platinum for that.

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On the safety side, driver-assistance features offered on the Highlander include a back-up camera, Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and rear parking sonar, Pre-Collision System with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Automatic High Beam Headlights. As driver-assistance technology advances we will see more and more eventually become standard equipment, such as forward collision alert with automatic braking.

More information, specs and photos of the 2016 Toyota Highlander can be found at To compare the Highlander to other mid-size SUV have a look right here at The Auto Channel.

© 2016 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy

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