2017 Toyota Highlander V-6 AWD

Like the 1986 film Highlander, the Toyota SUV that shares its name is a crowd-pleaser that fails to inspire fervor among critics. After more than 190,000 Highlanders rolled off dealer lots last year, Toyota’s mid-size crossover SUV entered 2017 with a host of changes aimed at satisfying the masses and pundits alike.

2017 Toyota Highlander V-6

Notably, all Highlanders, from the base $31,590 LE to the top-of-the-line $48,840 Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum, now come standard with a pre-collision warning system with pedestrian detection and automated emergency braking, plus lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high-beams. Our all-wheel-drive $43,184 Highlander XLE test car also packed blind-spot monitoring, a feature unavailable on the lower-level Highlander LE and LE Plus.

Toyota’s 2GR-FKS six is a gem of an engine that builds power almost all the way up to its 6800-rpm redline. At the track, this Highlander shaved 0.3 second off of its predecessor’s zero-to-60-mph and 30-to-50-mph times, hitting the marks in 7.0 and 3.8 seconds, respectively. Unfortunately, the 2017 Highlander’s 5.6-second 50-to-70-mph passing time was both slow for the class and nearly a second behind that of its forbear. Blame the new eight-speed automatic transmission’s hesitancy to downshift. Regardless, the revised Highlander’s V-6 offers plenty of grunt in most real-world driving situations. Thanks in part to our test car’s automatic stop-start system, we managed a reasonable 21 mpg during our time with the crossover, 2 mpg better than what we got from a Mazda CX-9.

Shadow of an SUV

In spite of the Highlander’s carlike unibody construction and low step-in height, this mid-size crossover’s handling reminds us of an old-fashioned body-on-frame SUV, as its softly sprung suspension allows excessive body roll in turns. On the plus side, the suspension absorbs road irregularities with nary a shudder, and the electrically assisted steering is relatively quick and generally well weighted.

At 4560 pounds, our all-wheel-drive Highlander test car was no lightweight, and the excess mass made itself known when applying the brakes, as the Toyota needed 181 feet of tarmac to stop from 70 mph—11 feet more than a 161-pound-lighter all-wheel-drive GMC Acadia Denali.

While the Highlander’s lifeless handling and cramped third row continue to curb our enthusiasm for the Indiana-built crossover, the updated 2017 Highlander’s long list of standard safety and convenience features, more powerful and fuel-efficient V-6 engine, and improved exterior styling will continue to attract hoards of shoppers looking for a comfortable and reasonably priced mid-size crossover SUV.

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