When drivers of earlier models of the Highlander saw me test driving the 2017 Toyota Highlander SE-V6 FWD, all they wanted me to confirm was that it was the newest model. After that, they took over the conversation, informing me of the differences between this one and theirs. I was impressed.
There are indeed some significant updates in this new trim level. This Sport Edition, which also comes in AWD, features a new front fascia with black treatment on the front grille, headlamp housings and roof rails. The 19-inch split multi-spoke machined-face alloy wheels with black finish and black center underscore the athletic look. Other trims have chrome grilles, but the all-black is exclusive to the Sport Edition and really pops on the Salsa Red Pearl color that I was driving.
The 3.5-liter D-4S injection V6 engine brings 25 more horsepower and 15 more lb-ft of torque compared to the 2016 model. The driver now has access to 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque and 5,000 pounds of towing capacity. It also employs a new Direct Shift – 8AT 8-speed automatic transmission. The front and rear sport tuned suspension made it a sharper ride to handle. In short, there is more power to move everything from people to groceries to boats and other cars, if necessary.
In tune with the latest offerings in the auto industry, this sporty SUV features the Stop and Start Engine System for better fuel efficiency and Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P) technology for a more secure journey. These features include a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection and lane departure alert with steering assist as well as auto high beams – when enabled – that kick in at speeds above 25 miles per hour. By the end of 2017, TSS-P will be standard on almost all of Toyota vehicles. This will be four years ahead of the 2022 industry target announced last year by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The interior features striking black leather-trimmed seats with silver stitching and pattern inserts, plus matching dark dash and door accents. With a number of short road trips planned with various numbers of passengers during this test drive, I had a great time playing around with all of the different seating and storage configurations fit for up to seven passengers. The walk-thru path between the second row captain’s chairs made it more spacious and open particularly for children needing to go back and forth to the 60/40 split third-row seat. The infotainment system with an eight-inch touch screen offers what you’d expect in a new model, but it was the three USB ports in the front and the two in the second row that had my passengers smiling.
I appreciated the openness that power title/slide moonroof with sunshade provided, and absolutely loved the adjustable power liftgate with the flip-up rear window. It was a treat to just lift up the rear window to reach in and take things out of the cargo area or put them in without having to deal with the entire door. You never really know what’s going to grab someone’s attention.
Warning to new owners: Be ready to hold court when you park it in your driveway. There is a lot to talk about with this Highlander.
2017 Toyota Highlander SE-V6 FWD MSRP: $39,690; Combined City/Highway: 23.