The 2018 Toyota Highlander SUV has three rows of seats, accommodating up to seven or eight passengers. (Manufacturer photo)

The 2018 Toyota Highlander SUV has three rows of seats, accommodating up to seven or eight passengers. (Manufacturer photo)

2018 Toyota Highlander continues reputation for excellence

Practicality, powerful performance and a sophisticated ride make this midsize SUV shine.

The Toyota Highlander midsize SUV has a solid reputation for excellence. You’ll see Highlander at or near the top of every current review ratings list for its segment.

For 2018, Highlander is a carryover of the 2017 model, providing a choice among six trim levels: LE, LE Plus, SE, XLE, Limited and Limited Platinum, all available with front-wheel or all-wheel drive.

Base pricing, including the destination charge, starts at $32,315 for a front-drive LE.

My tester was the Limited trim with front-wheel drive. This model transcends the standard features of the lineup’s first four grades with adornments such as a painted chrome grille finish, 19-inch Chromtec alloy wheels, and blue LED ambient interior lighting.

Comfort components added to the Limited grade include heated and ventilated front seats, a four-way power front passenger seat, and memory settings for the driver’s seat and side mirrors. The infotainment system is elevated to an Entune Premium JBL audio system with integrated navigation and app suite.

The Highlander Limited model is available in seven-passenger or eight-passenger configuration, differentiated by captain’s chairs or a bench seat for the second row. My tester had the captain’s chairs, which flip and fold with relative ease to increase cargo capacity to 83.2 cubic feet if third row seats are also folded. The tester’s panoramic moonroof, a standard feature of the Limited, reduces capacity by 0.6 cubic feet but the moonroof is worth every inch of that.

With all seats doing duty as passenger accommodation, cargo space is still a useful 13.8 cubic feet.

Lively propulsion for the Highlander Limited is provided by a V6 engine with 295 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque in partnership with an eight-speed automatic transmission. They’re a perfect pair, excelling at their respective jobs.

If you’re shopping Highlander, take note that there is also a four-cylinder engine, whose performance will be less wonderful and whose fuel economy will suffer from the strain of moving a midsize SUV.

With front-wheel drive, fuel economy ratings for the Limited’s V6 are 21 mpg city, 27 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined. With all-wheel drive the numbers are 20/26/22 mpg.

Highlander handles well on twisty roads with the proviso that it’s a fairly big and heavy SUV. On the highway it absolutely shines. The passenger cabin remains quiet and comfortable at maximum I-5 freeway speeds, even when faced with that thoroughfare’s notorious rough patches.

Stowage bins and cubbies within the cabin are numerous and helpful, including a long tray-like space along the bottom of the dash.

Operation of the Highlander Limited’s infotainment system works like a dream. There are several options available: You can use the touchscreen, the buttons and knobs on the dash and center console, or the auxiliary controls on the steering wheel. All are intuitive and easy to use.

A favorite feature on the tester was a parallel park assist button that changes the backup camera view into a split screen, displaying the curb and guidance lines that direct you right into place. The benefits are threefold: no frustration, no public humiliation, and no ruined wheels.

When my kids were small, I’d have loved the Driver Easy Speak feature of the 2018 Highlander Limited. It amplifies and broadcasts the driver’s voice through the audio system’s rear speakers. My two boys had to live with the less sophisticated Mom’s Loud Psychotic Annoying Shrieks system.

2018 TOYOTA HIGHLANDER LIMITED FWD

Base price, including destination charge: $46,195

Price as driven: $46,419

Mary Lowry is an independent automotive writer who lives in Snohomish County. She is a member of the Motor Press Guild, and a member and past president of the Northwest Automotive Press Association. Vehicles are provided by the manufacturers as a one-week loan for review purposes only. In no way do the manufacturers control the content of the reviews.

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