Three-row midsize crossover SUVs are today’s favored mode of transportation for families and their friends, with the 2018 Toyota Highlander operating in the thick of the segment. This seven- or eight-passenger SUV delivers the expected high level of quality and refinement and supplies buyers with a wide variety of options to choose from.

Best Value

The 2018 Toyota Highlander tackles the segment with six trims: LE, LE Plus, XLE, SE, Limited and Limited Platinum. A Highlander Hybrid comes in three trims, but Toyota markets it separately.

A 2.7-liter inline-four is the standard engine and comes with the base LE trim and front-wheel drive only. We found the base engine anemic, especially when operating under heavy loads. Although our best value pick isn’t the LE, if you choose the base model upgrading to the V6 is a wise decision.

Of the six trims, the XLE ($40,380, including a $995 destination charge) is our top pick as it adds remote keyless entry with illuminated entry, leather seats, navigation, a 120-volt power outlet, retractable second-row sunshades and makes eight-passenger seating possible with its optional bench seat. Grab the rear-seat entertainment system to keep the little ones in the second and third rows occupied. Unless you're in the snowy north, you won't need the Highlander's all-wheel drive, but at $1,065 on the XLE, it's worth the small expense.

  • Model: 2018 Toyota Highlander XLE AWD
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6
  • Output: 295 hp/263 lb-ft
  • Transmission:Eight-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain: All-wheel drive
  • MPG: 21 city/27 highway
  • Options: : All-wheel drive ($1,065), Rear-seat Blu-Ray entertainment system with two wireless headphones ($1,810)
  • Base Price: $39,915 (including a $995 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price:$43,185

Performance

Toyota Highlander

The Highlander’s 3.5-liter V6 engine delivers generous off-the-mark acceleration and ample passing power. It is ideally suited for this SUV, even under a full load. Add to this its 5,000-pound towing capacity and the Highlander is one versatile SUV. The eight-speed transmission shifts cleanly and smoothly, enabling the Highlander to move at a confident clip.

Steering is light to the touch and there's some significant body lean when entering corners – then again, this is a family crossover, and not exactly from a brand known for its handling prowess. Instead, the Highlander delivers a comfortable ride over all but the toughest road surfaces. Most models ride on 18-inch wheels, which is for the best from a comfort standpoint.

Style

Other than its stacked trapezoidal grille, the Highlander’s design is relatively subdued. Cut lines and sculpting deliver character to an otherwise staid profile. Wraparound tail lamps and a liftgate spoiler embellish the rear.

Inside, you’ll find one of the most comfortable interiors of any Toyota model. The front seats are comfortable and power operated, although we find it strange that the passenger seat doesn’t offer a height adjustment feature. The second-row 60/40 bench seat holds three with ease and folds flat when you don’t need it. The third row also seats three, although the side-by-side room is tight.

Standard cargo space is small, measuring just 13.8 cubic feet. Fold the rear seat and you’ll have 42.3 cubic feet of storage room at the ready or 83.7 cubic feet behind the first-row seat.

The Best and Worst Things

The Highlander’s cabin is one of the most comfortable in the segment. Add in supple ride quality and most families should find this one pleasing SUV.

Toyota trails everyone in smartphone connectivity, offering neither Android Auto nor Apple CarPlay. Toyota is showing signs of loosening its resistance to third-party technology by adding CarPlay on some models (the redesigned Avalon sedan is the first), but we doubt the Highlander will get it until its next redesign.

Right For...

Toyota Highlander

Today’s families. Sure, Toyota offers the Sienna minivan, but the Highlander acquits itself quite well in the people-moving department.

Wrong For...

The family still drawn to all things minivan and the attendant storage space. That’s where the Sienna comes in, easily besting the Highlander for the storage/hauling of people and things.

The Bottom Line

If you can look past the Highlander’s polarizing front fascia and actually get in and drive one, you’ll see there is a lot to like about this SUV. Well-equipped models in this segment typically go for about $40,000 and that’s where our best value model resides.