Fifteen years after its debut at the New York Auto Show, the Toyota Highlander is in the second year of its third generation as a midsize, car-based sport utility vehicle.
The Highlander was a quick hit and became Toyota’s best-selling SUV until its smaller sibling, the RAV4, assumed the carmaker’s top SUV spot in 2006.
Facing increasing SUV competition, the Highlander was extensively redesigned in 2014, boosting its tired predecessor. The 2015 model remains the same as last year’s offering.
The Weekly Driver Test Drive
Available in five trims, my weekly was the top-line Limited Platinum model. The base model begins with a four-cylinder engine and 18-inch wheels and a host of standard technology features. More technology and convenience upgrades add $15,000 and mark the parameters of the Limited Platinum trim.
Its upgrades feature the Driver Technology Pack and include: a panoramic roof, heated steering wheel, heated second-row captain’s chairs and a half-dozen other items. A chuck of single items additions is also in the mix, including a towing hitch ($699), running boards ($599) and remote engine start ($499). All options considered and the Highlander’s top-line offering is 50 percent more than the base model.
As a midsize SUV, the Highlander has two spacious rows, the second row featuring uber-comfortable captain’s seats. I only sat in the second row on a quick trip, but it’s easy to imagine the same comfort on a long journey. The third row, a pullout configuration, is smaller. Together, the Highlander seats seven comfortably.
The Highlander offered a steady, quiet ride and I liked the exterior/interior color coordination. The exterior paint is the most unusual name I’ve ever experienced in 10 years of car reviews — “Ooh La La Rouge Mica.” The dark red was sharply complemented by a beige leather interior.
Although the Highlander has a healthy share of technology, its audio, navigation and other systems operated intuitively. The lane change warning system was super sensitive and it startled me the first few times I crossed a lane designation on a corner or in a few other no-traffic situations.
The Highlander isn’t the quickest SUV, but it’s close. Acceleration is steady and I capitalized a few times on freeway ramps and driving more aggressively instead of allowing other vehicles’ drivers to power ahead. The only odd stretch of driving occur on a 15-mile stretch while driving at night in moderately gusting winds. The Highlander felt like it drifted slightly.
One of the nicer features on the Highlander is the inclusion of a dashboard shelf and a cavernous storage box under the console. The shelf is short, deep and extends throughout most of the dash. It’s convenient for personal items and it’s illuminated at night.
The storage bin opens in opposing directions and also has a pullout tray. Below it, the space extends seemingly to the floor. The storage extras further add to the Highlander’s overall roominess. Total cargo space is 83.7 cubic feet, about average for midsize SUVs.
Smooth, strong V6 engine.
Second-row captain’s chairs.
Well-designed interior with intuitive controls.
Console shelf under lighting.
Body swaying in strong winds.
Hard to access USB port.
Facts & Figures: 2015 Toyota Highlander
Acceleration: 0-60 mph, 7.6 seconds.
Fuel economy: 19 mpg (city), 25 mpg (highway), 21 mpg (combined), six-speed automatic transmission.
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $42,3330.00.
Manufacturer’s Website: www.toyota.com.
Price As Tested: $45,716.00.
Warranty: Bumper to bumper, 3 years/36,000 Powertrain, 5 years/60,000 miles; Corrosion, 5 years/unlimited miles.
What Others Say:
“The 2015 Toyota Highlander is the standard bearer for the midsize crossover-SUV market. It also comes with a cleverly laid-out interior with a pass-through cable organizer for your various devices, and Easy Speak, which amplifies the driver’s voice so rear passengers can hear better. With a Top Safety Pick and crash-test rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Toyota Highlander’s an obvious choice for families.” — Kelley Blue Book.
“The 2015 Toyota Highlander, now in its third generation, is a top contender in this family-friendly crossover SUV segment. Tossing out minivans and V8-powered toy box-hauling behemoths, the Highlander is likely the sweet spot for most.” — Edmunds.com.
“Where the Highlander really stands out is its everyday capabilities. For one thing, it’s easy to drive. While it feels a little more substantial than a tall Camry does, it still offers effortless steering and a highly comfortable ride.” — autotrader.com.
The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:
“Comfortable, versatile and spacious, the 2015 Toyota Highlander is well-suited for a lot of SUV needs, hauling families to hauling supplies. It’s just not a particularly fun vehicle to drive, although it’s hard to figure out why.”
Article Last Updated: March 20, 2015.
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A sports, travel and business journalist for more than 45 years, James has written the new car review column The Weekly Driver since 2004.
In addition to this site, James writes a Sunday automotive column for The San Jose Mercury and East Bay Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., and a monthly auto review column for Gulfshore Business, a magazine in Southwest Florida.
An author and contributor to many newspapers, magazines and online publications, James has co-hosted The Weekly Driver Podcast since 2017.