It’s hard to find a vehicle that remains reliable through years of tweaks and redesigns. Most new cars are built to last, but the same models from the early 2000s can reveal tons of expensive problems. The Toyota Highlander is not one of these cars.
Consumer Reports gives the ‘CR Recommended’ badge to each Highlander model since its release in 2000. This award is only given to cars that consistently get high scores in terms of reliability, owner satisfaction, safety, and real-world driving. How has the Toyota Highlander managed to stay so successful throughout its lifespan?
The history of the Toyota Highlander
The Toyota Highlander was a Consumer Reports favorite from the beginning, impressing testers with its quiet drive and leisurely handling. It was introduced with two engine options (a four-cylinder and V6), but another V6 was added for 2004. A third-row seat was also added for the 2004 model year and the Highlander Hybrid debuted a few years later.
The Toyota Highlander was completely redesigned for the 2008 model year, now with a rounded body style and an upgraded interior. As Consumer Reports points out, an extensive redesign can often make a vehicle more unreliable. The Highlander’s reliability didn’t change, despite having more tech features like a backup camera.
The next Highlander redesign dropped for the 2014 model year, with another facelift and more engaging handling compared to previous years. However, reviewers for the site felt that the interior redesign was somewhat of a downgrade, and the ride became noisier. Testers did like the addition of the eight-speed automatic transmission in 2017, as well as all the new standard safety tech.
The redesigned 2020 Toyota Highlander is arguably the most well-balanced generation of the bunch. The interior is quiet and upscale, with a powerful V6 engine under the hood that delivers a smooth, fun drive. These Highlanders also come with more standard safety and convenience tech, plus a bigger cargo hold.
Why does Consumer Reports love the Toyota Highlander so much?
Behind the wheel, the Highlander’s 295-hp V6 serves up ample power and doesn’t generate too much noise in the cabin. It’s paired with the same eight-speed automatic gearbox released in 2017. Testers reported that the Highlander has responsive handling, but still struggles to round corners in an emergency.
Still, the brakes are easy to modulate and the suspension does a good job at absorbing rough pavement imperfections. The engine gets an estimated 22 mpg combined city/highway, but the hybrid model delivers an even more impressive 35 mpg combined. The Highlander Hybrid has the same great ride quality, though interior noise is pronounced thanks to the CVT.
Both the Toyota Highlander and Highlander Hybrid have great interiors, with Limited and Platinum models bordering on luxury territory. The driver has enough space to move around and can enjoy great outward visibility. Consumer Reports testers were also impressed with the second-row seats, which are wide and supportive enough for all passengers.
Besides the window switches, all the physical controls inside the Toyota Highlander are durable and clearly labeled. Despite various upgrades over the years, the Highlander’s infotainment software has stayed consistently user-friendly.
Other rivals don’t compare
A few other three-row midsize SUVs share the Consumer Reports Recommended badge, but only the latest models. The Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade are only in their second year of production. The Mazda CX-9 has been around 2006, but 2021 is the only year it was given CR’s ultimate seal of approval.
A Consumer Reports recommendation is impressive at any age, but repeatedly getting this award is not an easy task. The Toyota Highlander may not be the sportiest SUV, but it definitely sets the standard for reliability and popularity.