When I first drove the newly redesigned Toyota Highlander a few years ago along the sunny Pacific Coast Highway in California, I was impressed with not only its new look and interior amenities, but also with its drivability and comfort on the open road.
Today, I still feel the same about the latest iteration of Toyota's family hauler. With plenty of interior space and thoughtful touches on the centre stack that make the Highlander quite easy to live with, there's very little not to like.
Modern look infused with character
For starters, the 2016 Toyota Highlander still benefits from the vehicle's 2014 makeover that really brought it squarely into the modern world and gave it a look that appeals to return customers and new families alike. The 8-passenger SUV's distinctive front grille with available LED daytime running lights gives it a presence on the road that the previous generation sorely lacked. Toyota designers successfully injected some personality into the Highlander at precisely the moment when the competition (read: Honda Pilot and Nissan Pathfinder) was doing that and more.
Around back the 2016 Highlander features an angular design in line with the rest of the Toyota lineup. There's also an available height-adjustable power liftgate, which means you never have to worry about smacking the rear hatch against a low-hanging roof in a garage. It even has a super convenient option to open just the rear window.
Step inside the 2016 Toyota Highlander and that's where you'll find my favourite bits. Hands down the best update on the Highlander has to be the dash and centre stack. The folks at Toyota did an excellent job of designing an area that is both highly functional and aesthetically pleasing. The layout seems simple enough, and truthfully it is, and that's really what makes it so appealing. Large buttons and knobs make the radio and navigation system easy to manipulate. Toyota's onboard infotainment system is a breeze, as well (probably one of my favourite to use at the moment). Although neither Apple CarPlay nor Android Auto is currently offered, it's still a great system to use.
My absolute favourite feature? Toyota integrated a nifty little shelf that stretches from just below the 6"-8" entertainment screen and HVAC controls to the glove box. It's perfectly sized for iPhones and keys and even features openings conveniently located right above the USB ports to ensure easy charging points for all. It's such a simple design element, but it really stood out for me and made me enjoy my time in the Highlander even more.
Seating in the 2016 Toyota Highlander is comfortable and made for all sizes. Space in the second and third rows is plenty generous; my young son had oodles of legroom back there. Plus, Toyota offers a pretty cool feature that lets you "talk" to the third row without having to yell via the Bluetooth mic, projecting the driver and front-seat passenger conversation to the rear. No more yelling at the kids to behave themselves in the third row; now you can simply ask them in a calm manner (at least that's what Toyota hopes).
What about the drive?
Like all models in the 2016 Highlander lineup, my front-wheel-drive LE Convenience tester was blessed with Toyota's 3.5L V6 producing 270 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque. This engine offers up plenty of oomph and get-up-and-go when needed. However, it’s not an outwardly powerful motor nor does it need to be. It has just the right amount of performance and connectivity between the front wheels that driving the Highlander isn't as bland as you might think. In fact, I quite enjoyed my time behind the wheel and looked forward to longer hauls as it was so incredibly comfortable and smooth on the open road.
My only gripe with the 2016 Toyota Highlander is the visibility or rather a lack thereof. You'd think that visibility wouldn't be an issue at all in a vehicle this big, and I'd assumed the same. However, the A- and B-pillars are absolutely huge, blocking a great deal of my side views as a driver. If I found myself at a 4-way stop I often only discovered there was an oncoming car to my left after I'd started to go (thinking no one was there). What a shock it was! I quickly learned that I needed to move my head in order to see around the pillars and keep from colliding with anyone.
In terms of safety, however, the Highlander is loaded with active and passive features including a back-up camera and eight airbags as standard equipment, available blind spot monitors with rear cross traffic alert, and of course all the necessary onboard safety features (such as LATCH hook-ups in both the second and third rows).
Final word on the Highlander
Overall, the freshly updated 2016 Toyota Highlander represents a great option if you're in the market for a family hauler that's stylish, comfortable, reliable, and not a complete bore to drive. Truly, the Highlander's interior space, comfort, and design elevate it to the top of the crop in my opinion.