Stick Shift: 2017 Toyota Highlander

The Toyota Highlander has always been a crossover of a practical disposition, offering lots of quality and substance, but little in looks and performance to excite the driver. 2017 represents an unmistakeable correction to this plague of visual lifelessness, with the first big update to the popular 3-row crossover in three years. Here than are the big difference between the 2016 and 2017 Toyota Highlander.

Exterior

Even though the 2017 Toyota Highlander shares the same body as last years model, the looks of the newest crossover have been dramatically improved. The always large trapezoidal grille has been enlarged even further, and lines have adopted a sharper, more modern look. My Highlander, in SE trim, brings even more sporty style. The slates of the grille are gloss black and can look especially aggressive with matching dark paint. Dark black accents fill the slightly reshaped headlights, and around back, the taillights have been redesigned and feature LED’s. Round off these exterior changes with big, attractive 19” wheels, and you see a once ordinary looking crossover that’s starting to really turn heads.

Technology

An exciting change for the 2017 model year is that the Toyota Safety Sense collection of accident-avoidance technology can now be found on every trim level. Included in this is forward-collision warning with automatic braking, sensitive enough to catch both cars and pedestrians. Adaptive cruise control is tremendously helpful on long road trips, as is lane departure warning with steering assist. These technologies not only come with any Highlander you choose now, but they are sensitive and well-executed. Sometimes, almost too well, as their were times I felt like a student driver being nagged at by my instructor from the passenger seat every time I veered away from perfect center within my lane. I almost wished the sensitivity of these driving assists could be adjusted down so as not to be quite as intrusive. You wont find many big interior changes in the new 2017 Highlander. The cabin has retained its leather seats, handsome trim and smart layout. It continues to use that intuitive 4.2” touchscreen display and happily, has added a few extra USB ports.

Performance

The new Toyota Highlander, like the 2016 model, comes equipped with a 3.5 Liter V6 engine. However, a number of power producing changes allow the 2017 model to make 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque. This represents a 9% increase in power over the 2016 Highlander. Combine this with better handling of that extra power through a significantly different drivetrain, in the form of a new direct shift 8-speed automatic, and the product is one of the fastest 3-row crossovers on the road. A more powerful engine paired to a smarter transmission lets you have your cake and eat it too. After all, how often does a vehicle become faster and more enjoyable to drive, while delivering better fuel economy at the same time? The 2017 Toyota Highlander now has 23 combined MPG thanks to the smart gearing of the new 8-speed automatic. Also helpful in this department is a new stop/start engine feature that momentarily shuts off the V6 when you come to a complete stop, only to silently fire it back up when you take your foot off the brake and begin to roll forward.

My SE model ups the ante in performance even further with sport tuned front independent and McPherson strut and rear double wishbone suspension. With generous ground clearance, there is the inevitable levels of body roll, but by and large the Highlander handles itself with confidence and poise. You’ll never feel compelled to challenge anyone to an impromptu stop-light drag race, but the 2017 Toyota Highlander has gone a long way to not just look faster, but actually be faster as well. In addition to being less flat and more fun, it’s much smarter, safer, fuel efficient and ultimately better at connecting to what we want as drivers.

By: Brandon Randall

Price as tested: $42,440.00

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