You get what you pay for(?)
I initially rented a Jeep Compass Trailhawk for the day, but after driving it only 2 miles, I immediately went back in for an exchange. More on that in a later [abbreviated] review.
At first glance on the side, it slight resembles a Grand Cherokee. I think that’s in part due to Jeep has a similar styled wheel and the oddly distinctive rear tail light.
But the front is all Highlander. When I first sat down in the driver’s seat, it was apparent that this was much closer to the base model than the fully optioned one. The blacked out spots for the non-existent fog lights could have been made a little smoother. The rounded center inset piece is even shaped like a light bulb.
This isn’t exactly an interior picture that would be in 2019 Highlander literature. I think the only thing that could compare would be an old Ford Cargo Van with an am/fm radio surrounded by blanks. Both of those just look awful and screams cheap. I don’t think that’s appropriate for ANY vehicle that costs nearly $35 grand.
I see the styling cues to the RAV4, but the Highlander is noticeably much larger.
With the backseats folded down, the Highlander could be a viable option to Santa’s sleigh. The Sienna would be only marginally bigger in available cubic feet of storage.
With the 3-person backrow seats up, I think 3 teenagers would be comfortable back there as long as the middle row seats were moved up a little. But if 7 passengers and the driver were making a multi-state trip, the Sienna would definitely be the better choice.
The 295hp 8-speed automatic performed well although at 25mph, the transmission seemed unsure whether or not to downshift 1 or 2 gears. It was acceptable, but it was not nearly as smooth as the Kia Optima (did I just say that?) from last week. But with those 2 extra gears, the much bigger and heavier Highlander can deliver nearly 30mpg on the highway.
The center stack is reminiscent of the Camry from a few months ago, but the sound system was a such a disappointment that even the $19000 Sentra tops it performance and sound quality. According to Toyota’s website, there’s 5 different variations of Entune and JBL stereos available for the Highlander. The one on this 2300-mile example was the base Entune with only 6 speakers with the top shelf JBL units have 12 speakers. As a testament to the width of the 8-seat Highlander, I immediately noticed that the tune knob was a long arm stretch from the driver’s seat.
The larger than normal steering wheel buttons were welcomed after several recent vehicles had a less intuitive layout. Adaptive cruise control is standard, but can be defeated if the ‘cruise on’ button is pushed in and held for 2 seconds.
The dashboard is bare bones with only a narrow changeable screen in the center. The trip computers relating to gasoline usage were spot on accurate.
Hidden down below the USB, aux, and 12v outlets is the traction control defeat button and other weather driving assist buttons.
I’d never seen a pass thru shelf for plugging in electronics for a passenger vehicle, but here it is! There was plenty of space on this shelf that went from the gear shifter to the passenger door for 4 devices to sit and charge or for simultaneous aux port sound system use. I wonder how long the plastic cover will last in rentals before it disappears forever?
The center console could store more than enough snacks for a week long trip. Toyota measures it at 24.5 liters or nearly 6 1/2 gallons. There’s another 12V plug in and the tray is movable back and forth.
The middle row seats were spacious and the seats were comfortable, but lacking in the thigh support.
I’ve been exposed to previous model year Highlanders from a volunteer job I had a few years ago. I would drive a 2012 Highlander Hybrid up to 300 miles in a day and it never had a hiccup. I’m no longer associated with that organization, but when I left 2 years ago it had 210,000 miles and still going strong. They also had a base 2013 Highlander that had about half as many miles, but still ran like a top.
I see no indication why this 2019 model would not have a different long-term outlook as far as build quality to any previous Highlanders. Why would Toyota mess with a good thing?
Things of note:
MSRP starts at $34,500 for the base AWD V6.
Achieved a predictable 22.9 mpg. The EPA says 20CITY/29HWY.
Top shelf Limited trims can reach $50,000 with minimal additional options.
295hp is a fair medium for fuel economy and power.
Buy it? Rent it? Avoid it?
I know more than a few people that have early generation Highlanders and they are top tier when it comes to reliability. 300,000 miles is not uncommon on a 2005 with plenty of life still left to go and not even an oil leak. I’d expect the same from this generation, but the hybrid battery is always hit or miss depending on driving conditions and climate. I’d rent a Highlander again when hauling a lot of cargo or 6 other passengers, but first, I want to scope out and compare the Pathfinder and Explorer that are in this class also.
Toyota if you’re listening . . .
These seem to be the king of longevity in this class and it’s very telling when looking at prices of comparible used SUV’s with over 100K miles. How difficult would it be to get an ultra-efficient diesel to the American market? I hope for the 2020 models and beyond that SiriusXm will be standard in every vehicle. I’ve recently been in various Yaris, Corolla, Camry, RAV4 models, and now a Highlander that didn’t even have satellite radio available.
On a scale from 1-100: (1- nay / 100- yay)
Buy it now – 55
Buy it later at half the current price – 80
F.E.D. (Fun, Efficiency & Desirability) – 40
Oooh and ahhh factor – 30
Recommended to rent – 75