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Do you have carpool duties or a large family but don’t want the expense of a full-size SUV? The Toyota Highlander has third-row seating to fit everyone without breaking the bank. This midsize crossover also earned pretty high ratings from Consumer Reports, beating the Subaru Ascent in 2021. And though the Highlander might not be the best-loved three-row SUV, it’s the best-loved Toyota SUV according to owners.

So, is it a good choice if you routinely need that third row? Let’s find out.

The 2021 Toyota Highlander can seat eight, but can it do so comfortably?

The Toyota Highlander appears on U.S. News’ list of the 14 best eight-seat SUVs. The article notes this SUV’s impressive safety rating, a long list of standard features, and pretty good engine performance.

However, although the Highlander can seat eight, it can’t do it comfortably for long stretches. It’s much more comfortable for only five people, but it can still seat eight if needed.

U.S. News recommends it as an eight-passenger SUV for short trips only, like carpool duty, but not long road trips.

The Toyota Highlander’s interior and amenities

The 2021 Toyota Highlander has a high-quality cabin and plenty of cargo space. It also boasts comfortable seats in general despite its notoriously cramped third row. The driver’s seat has an eight-way power adjuster, and the second-row bench seat slides back and reclines. Plus, buyers can add heated and ventilated front seats, a 10-way adjustable driver’s seat, and heated second-row captain’s chairs. Also, expect standard tri-zone automatic climate control. 

Toyota’s infotainment system is user-friendly, and the Highlander comes with a standard 8.0-inch screen or an optional upgraded 12.3-inch screen. Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Amazon Alexa come standard, as do satellite radio and a Wi-Fi hotspot. You can also add Driver Easy Speak, a cool feature that uses the speakers to amplify your voice in the back rows so that you don’t have to yell at the kids when you’re driving. 

Standard driver assists are plentiful. They include forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, automatic high beams, lane trace assist, traffic sign recognition, rearview camera, and rear-seat reminder.

You can also add optional advanced safety features such as blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear parking sensors, a surround-view parking camera system, adaptive headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a rearview mirror camera.

Trim levels and pricing


Avoid Chip Shortage Anxiety and Get a Used Toyota Highlander for Under $20,000

The 2021 Toyota Highlander comes in a whopping 13 trims and configurations, ranging in starting price from $34,810 to $48,915. The base model is the LE front-wheel drive, with a 3.5-liter V6 producing 295 hp and 263 lb-ft of torque. In fact, this engine is the only one available. The XSE all-wheel-drive model is one of the mid-range trims, and the Platinum AWD is the top trim.

Every model comes with an automatic transmission and a front-wheel or all-wheel drivetrain. And all have roughly the same fuel economy — around 20 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway.

The 2021 Toyota Highlander probably isn’t the best choice if you routinely need third-row seating for long trips. But it’s a good choice if you regularly transport passengers in the front and second rows. Plus, it’s one of the safest SUVs. And if you’re using your SUV to cart kids around, safety is probably a priority.