2017 Toyota Highlander SE AWD Turns My Head

Back in 2015, I did a ‘Trunk Show’ about the 2015 Toyota Highlander and I wasn’t too impressed. I didn’t do a full review and I found the Highlander sluggish with an interior that didn’t inspire and drove more like a minivan.

I know that the Highlander is incredibly popular among car buyers and I get why. It drives like a car because it is on that type of platform, it gets excellent gas mileage and is a safe ride.  Does that ring true for the refreshed 2017 Toyota Highlander SE with AWD that I tested out last month?  Let’s find out.

The light plays tricks on the 2017 Toyota Highlander SE ‘Salsa Red’ paint.

Source: Victoria Mason

On the Outside with the Toyota Highlander

The 2017 model, a third-generation Highlander,  features a slightly sportier look than the previous model I drove back in 2015.  This alone made me happy.  The addition of the 8-speed automatic versus the 6-speed is also a welcome change.  We’ll discuss that part later.

The exterior impresses with its more pronounced grille and LED taillights.The automatic liftgate on the roomy cargo space also has a rear window that flips up.  I normally don’t use this window but I actually did this time around and welcomed the feature.  This model also features a power tilt/slide moonroof with a sunshade that adds light and a feeling of space inside the vehicle.  The addition of four new USB ports is another plus.

Step Inside the Toyota Highlander

To be truly impressed by this refresh on the Toyota Highlander means you have to step inside it.  This is where I found it most lacking in 2015 and where I fell in love with it this time around.  The interior has been updated with Toyota looking at Lexus and taking cues from them.  With seating for seven passengers, the third row can seat kids and teens but not adults comfortably for any long length of time.

The clarity on the Highlanders back up camera on the 8″ display was one of my favorites on this model. Accompanied by a system that shows which passengers are buckled and a host of easy to use and intuitive features within the navigation and Bluetooth-enabled touchscreen and I was happy driving the Highlander every time I got into the driver’s seat.  They are pretty comfortable too.  The additional shelf that runs along the front of the dash is another nice touch.
The updated interior dashboard. Source: Victoria Mason

The second-row features seats that really fold flat.  You can add up the storage space when the third row (60/40 split) is down and then ramp it up to exceptional when you fold down the second row. That second row also features retractable sunshades that add to the interior comfort of the passengers. With seating for seven passengers, the third row can seat kids and teens but not adults comfortably.  This is a continuous problem for SUVs with a third row.  I for one am always on the hunt for a legit third row that can withstand a long car ride and doesn’t look like a government vehicle just dropped in off the streets of DC and into my driveway.

If you follow me on Facebook you can see how clear the backup camera is too.

Second row has more than adequate legroom and comfort with the Captain style seats. Source: Victoria Mason

How Does the Toyota Highlander Drive?

When buying the Highlander I would recommend getting the V6 engine instead of the 4-cylinder.  You will not be sorry you spent the extra money.  Why?  Because when it comes to SUV driving you need the extra oomph under the hood to make the drive less sluggish.  Remember, when I mentioned that in the beginning?  I found the V6 on the model reviewed to handle better with more power on acceleration that the previous generation. My only issue was that the 8-speed automatic sometimes makes the ride feel jostled.  However, it is brief and I feel like most drivers would not notice it.

Overall, the 2017 Toyota Highlander SE with a V6 engine and AWD is a win in my book.  It changed my mind about the vehicle and I can now recommend it and feel as if I have a greater understanding of it as a whole.  It is a comfortable SUV that offers Toyota Safety Sense with a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, dynamic radar cruise control, and automatic high beams.  The gas mileage is excellent about 22 combined mpg with 20 city and 26 highway.

The price on this review SE trim package is $42,315 but a Highlander starts at just over $30K. You can find something a bit faster in this vehicle class but you don’t need to because the Highlander offers a smooth ride, good suspension, and a reliability that makes your money go a long way.



*Disclosure: TMC was not paid for this post.  Products received are for review purposes only and courtesy of Lexus/Toyota and ESI.