2018 Toyota Highlander Complete In-depth Review & Buying Guide
Ever since its release in 2001, the Toyota Highlander has been one of the most popular SUV for families seeking a safe, secure, and comfortable 8 seater. And after being redesigned in 2017, the 2018 Toyota Highlander is ready to take on rivals like the Honda Pilot and Nissan Pathfinder. The Highlander is a solid mid-pack choice because of its upscale interior, good V6 engine power, and comfortable ride.
The 2018 Highlander doesn't stand out in any one dimension, but still provides a comfortable overall experience. But some unintuitive features and a lower safety score than some rivals pull the Highlander back from being higher in the SUV hierarchy.
The base model starts at $ 31,030 and houses a 2.7 liter four-cylinder engine that generates 185 hp and 184 lb.-ft. of torque. All other trims have a 3.5 liter V-6 providing 295 hp and 263 lb.-ft. of torque. The top trim costs about $ 43,500. The I-4 is mated to a 6 speed automatic and the V6 is paired to an 8 speed automatic transmission. The 2018 Toyota Highlander is also available as a hybrid, with a 3.5-liter V-6 with three electric motors, a CVT and a nickel metal hydride battery for a total output of 306 hp.
7.1/10 Fuel Economy
2018 Toyota Highlander Features
The 2018 Toyota Highlander is available in 5 trim levels: LE, LE Plus, XLE, SE and Limited. The limited variant is the most expensive and feature filled amongst the trims. For those who strive for a little extra, a ‘Limited Platinum’ level is available over the Limited variant. The Limited Platinum adds panoramic moon roof, a heated steering wheel, heated second-row seats, front parking sensors, and a surround-view camera.
Gas/Electric V-6 3.5 L/211
Gas/Electric V-6 3.5 L/211
Gas/Electric V-6 3.5 L/211
18-inch alloy wheels
All Features of LE :
All features of LE Plus :
All features of XLE :
All features of XLE :
Height-adjustable power liftgate
LED running lights
LED running lights
rear privacy glass
flip-up rear window
sport-themed styling elements and suspension tuning
different 19-inch wheels
automatic high beams
tri-zone automatic climate control
keyless entry and ignition
rear parking sensors
adaptive cruise control
power-adjustable driver seat
blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems
sporty interior trim
rear cargo cover
lane departure intervention
leather-wrapped steering wheel
leather upholstery (first and second rows)
heated and ventilated front seats
forward collision mitigation with
higher-resolution 8-inch touchscreen
simulated leather third-row upholstery
driver-seat memory settings
automatic emergency braking
satellite and HD radio
heated front seats
heated second-row captain’s chairs
power-adjustable passenger seat
12-speaker JBL audio system
rear air conditioning
auto-dimming rearview mirror
height adjustable driver seat
110-volt power outlet
5 USB ports
Driver Easy Speak
Six-speaker sound system with a CD player
For those looking for the best features in a reasonable price, the XLE trim is the trim to go for. It adds more comfort features like navigation, leather, and heated front seats and 8-inch touch screen, tri-zone automatic climate control, satellite radio, HD Radio, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems, and keyless ignition and entry.
If fuel economy and a greener vehicle are your thing, then Highlander’s hybrid versions are your best bet. The hybrid version uses a 3.5 Liter Gas/Electric V6 engine and is available in the LE, XLE, Limited, and Limited Platinum trims. The fuel economy goes as high as 30 / 28 in city / highway, and the V6 engine generates a powerful 306hp at 5800 rpm.
2018 Toyota Highlander Engine
Engine and Transmission
Out of the 6 trim levels available for the 2018 Toyota Highlander, the base LE version is available in a 2.7 Liter Inline 4 engine, which can be upgraded to a 3.5 Liter V6 engine. The V6 is standard in all the other trims. The base engine generates 185 BHP and 184 pound-feet of torque. The bigger V6 engine is able to generate 295 BHP and 263 pound-feet of torque.
Regular Unleaded V-6 3.5 L/211
Regular Unleaded V-6 3.5 L/212
Regular Unleaded V-6 4.0 L/241
Regular Unleaded V-6 3.5 L/213
295 @ 6600
280 @ 6000
270 @ 5600
290 @ 6500
263 @ 4700
262 @ 4700
278 @ 4400
255 @ 4000
As one would expect, the base inline engine struggles to keep up when the vehicle is weighed down by passengers and/or cargo. The V6 also picks up slowly in the start, but flies smoothly thereon after.
The 2018 Highlander is on the cheaper side when it comes to mid-size SUVs. Its powerful V6 is able to generate more power than most of the competitors. Ford Explorer plays a close second to Highlander, with less power from the engine, but a little more cost than Highlander.
“The base engine’s 185 horses haven’t kept up with the Highlander’s growing dimensions. Trust us, if you carry more than two people, need power for passing and merging or pull a small trailer, the V6 is the engine you’ll want (and need)” – KBB
0 – 60 MPH
The Highlander had set one of the most impressive quarter mile numbers in 2014, and the 2018 Toyota Highlander aims to do even better. The V6 engine of 2018’s Highlander takes a second to rev up after flooring the pedal, but then it picks up fast and reaches the quarter-mile mark in the fastest time in its class.
Honda Pilot does well to go from 0 – 60 MPH, beating Highlander by half a second. But Highlander catches up with Pilot on the quarter mile and both finish at 15.2 seconds.
Handling and Ride
Highlander’s steering is good when you remember the fact that it is a 4,370 pound SUV. The overall driving is not exceptional. There is little feel and some noticeable body lean while taking corners but still provides reassuring feedback.
The total driving experience is comfortable. Highlander glides smoothly over most surfaces, and the cabin is quiet even at high speeds. And with a turning radius of 5.9 m combined with the various driver guidance tools, the Highlander makes parking a piece of cake.
Toyota Highlander comes equipped with a 12.9 inch rotor in the front and 12.2 inch rotor in the rear. The average distance to come at standstill is acceptable.
70 – 0 MPH
Brake Rotor – Front (in)
Brake Rotor – Rear (in)
The brake pedal of the new Highlander could use some tuning, as it feels loose and vague at times. But the pedal’s feel has nothing to do with the brake’s effectiveness. Highlander displays impressive numbers for its class in the brake tests. It has one of the least panics – stop distance and a good fade resistance.
SUVs are capable of towing a good amount of load, but Highlander is not very capable of towing even a decent amount of it. The Highlander can tow 1500lbs of load and it is not as good as its competitors can offer.
1,500 – 5,000 pounds
3,500 – 5,000 pounds
2,000 – 5,000 pounds
2018 Toyota Highlander Fuel Economy
The base I-4 engine of 2018 Toyota Highlander gives 20/24 MPG in city/highway. The highway mileage gets better with the V6 engine, increasing to 27 MPG. Although these numbers are higher than some key competitors, they are about average for this class.
For better fuel economy, Highlander has hybrid versions with AWD. The hybrids can earn almost 29/27 MPG in city/highway. The hybrids are so economic that they make up for their price difference in about 7 years.
2018 Toyota Highlander Interior
Seating and Comfort
The interior of Toyota Highlander is one of its strong points. They are mostly unchanged from the last year’s model, with the addition of more USB ports, better seat upholstery, and a few other upgrades. The dashboard is wide and accommodating for your wallets, smartphones, keys, etc. The center console opens up to provide a huge bin to keep anything too big for the shelf.
Front (Head/Shoulder/Leg) (In.)
Second (Head/Shoulder/Leg) (In.)
Third (Head/Shoulder/Leg) (In.)
The seats are roomy and comfortable. The many options for adjustments and the heated leather front seats provide for a comfortable travel. The front and the second-row seats are roomy, while the third-row seats are best suited for children. The second-row seats feel a bit firmer, but slide and recline to provide tailor-made experience for every individual.
For the little travelers, there are two complete sets of LATCH anchors in the second row. The middle seat of both rear rows offers an upper anchor. The latch system is quite easy to use than most of the competitors.
The Highlander’s cabin is one of the quietest in its class. Even at high speeds and blowing winds, there is barely a sound inside.
“Heated leather front seats are as comfy as furniture and offer tons of adjustment, including extendable thigh support. The second-row seats are firmer, but they slide and recline in a wide range. The third row is merely acceptable; certain competitors do better” – Edmunds
Highlander is filled to the brim with a standard as well as optional features. Some of the standard features include Bluetooth, five USB ports, voice recognition, a rearview camera, a 6.1-inch touch-screen infotainment system, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control.
The optional features include tri-zone automatic climate control, satellite radio, HD Radio, smartphone-linked navigation, an 8-inch touch screen, a moonroof, proximity key entry, push-button start, a 120-volt outlet, Driver Easy Speak, integrated navigation, the Entune app suite, a 12-speaker JBL audio system, a panoramic moonroof, front parking sensors, rear parking sensors, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and a surround-view camera.
The 2018 Toyota Highlander comes standard with a 6.1-inch touch-screen infotainment system. This can be upgraded to an 8-inch screen. Although the system is up-to-date in almost all aspects, the absence of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto remain to be a deal breaker for many people.
The learning curve for Highlander’s infotainment system may prove to be a bit steep for some, and the knobs and buttons also feel a little out of reach while driving. Another problem is the absence of a ‘Nav’ button for direct opening of the navigation app.
The entertainment isn’t limited to the front seats. The rear seats get a Blu-Ray Disc entertainment system with a 9-inch display screen which comes with RCA jacks, remote, and two wireless headphones.
The numbers for Highlander’s cargo capacity align perfectly with the expected numbers for this class. There is an option of a power liftgate and a window on the cargo hatch that can open separately from the rest of the tailgate.
Cargo Volume to seats 1 (ft.3)
Cargo Volume to seats 2 (ft.3)
Cargo Volume to seats 3 (ft.3)
The Ford Explorer does better in the cargo aspect. It provides more space behind the third row. Otherwise, the 2018 Toyota Highlander provides decent cargo space.
2018 Toyota Highlander Exterior
Dimension & Weight
One of the distinctive features of Highlander is the dynamic front grille and expressive headlights. This gives Highlander’s front fascia a solid and bold impression. The grille is tailored for each trim, which provides for a custom look to match your style.
Curb Weight (lbs.)
Ground Clearance (in)
Track Width – F/R (in)
64.4 / 64.2
66.3 / 66.3
63.2 / 63.2
67 / 67
The SE grade of Highlander has a distinctive gloss-black grille and headlights with black housings. And if that wasn’t enough, SE is equipped with 19 inch multi spoke alloy wheels to emphasize on the sporty look.
The lights are another feature that adds to Highlander’s expressive looks. They now feature integrated Daytime Running Lights (DRL). The SE trim comes with dark black headlights, and the Limited Platinum trim has a chrome headlight housing.
Another exciting feature are the alloys in SE and Limited Platinum. SE sports 19 inch multi spoke wheels with a machined finish, while Limited Platinum adds 5 spoke Dark Chromtec alloy wheels.
“Highlander’s grille is huge, following the big-grille trend that’s been stylish for the past few years. Yet it emphasizes the already blunt nose of this midsize SUV, with different models getting different trims, seeming to shrink the headlights in the process. The rest of the Highlander isn’t as dramatic, although the sporty Highlander SE features a blackout trim package that tones down the grille and ultimately looks pretty good” – KBB
2018 Toyota Highlander Safety
Although some rivals surpass Highlander’s score in safety, Toyota remains as an industry leader when it comes to providing driver’s assistance techs. Highlander gets many such features, like the forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and pedestrian detection, rearview camera, lane-departure warning, lane keep assist, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control.
Some optional features include front and rear parking sensors, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and a surround-view monitor. Other safety features include.
Passenger Air Bag
Front Head Air Bag
Driver Side Airbag
Rear Head Air Bag
Front Side Air Bag
4-Wheel Disc Brakes
Daytime Running Lights
Child Safety Locks
Lane Keeping Assist
Electronic Stability Control
Lane Departure Warning
Integrated Turn Signal Mirrors
Overall Frontal Crash Rating
Frontal Crash Rating Driver Side
Frontal Crash Rating Passenger Side
Overall Side Crash Rating
Combined Side Barrier and Pole Rating Front Seat
Combined Side Barrier and Pole Rating Front Seat Rear Seat
Side barrier Driver
Side barrier Rear Passenger
Overall Side Pole Star Rating
Small overlap front driver side
Small overlap front passenger side
Head restraints & seats
Crash Avoidance & Mitigation
Front Crash Prevention
2018 Toyota Highlander Competition
Toyota Highlander vs Toyota 4Runner
Another strong performer in Toyota’s arsenal is the 4Runner. It is similar to Highlander in size but weighs almost 300 pounds more. The V6 is the standard engine for 4Runner.
Toyota 4Runner is predominantly an off-roader. It provides exceptional handling and control on uneven terrains, and the Highlander cannot beat it once the road ends. But in the city and highway, Highlander is clearly better. Highlander provides a better fuel economy along with a better-styled cabin. It also has Driver Easy Speak that enables the driver to better communicate with the passengers, which the 4Runner lacks.
Toyota Highlander vs Honda Pilot
Honda’s Pilot is one of Highlander’s toughest competitors. It surpasses Highlander in many aspects, with a spacious third-row seat, better safety scores, and a powerful V6 standard engine. The pilot also has a better handling and on-road control.
The only downside to all this is that these features come at a cost. Honda Pilot is reasonably more expensive than Highlander, and you would have to further spend some dough to add features like a touch-screen system and some additional safety features, which are standard for Highlander.
Toyota Highlander vs Ford Explorer
Ford’s Explorer is one of those competitors that are easily thwarted by Highlander. Although Explorer is a decent SUV with good performance, its shines less brightly when Highlander’s aura engulfs it. Explorer feels unimpressive inside, and the material feels cheap as compared to Highlander’s premium finishes.
Explorer has a wider range of engines to choose from, 3 to be precise. These engines range from being fuel efficient to powerful, but still, don’t match Highlander’s performance. Explorer is also large, which makes maneuvering a bit tougher.
2018 Toyota Highlander Final Verdict
The 2018 Toyota Highlander is a well-rounded SUV that does well in almost all aspects. It has a comfortable, high-end interior with many features as standard, which is available in other SUVs as optional. It is capable and powerful, as long as you don’t opt for the base inline 4 engine, which frankly, we don’t see the point too.
If you have certain criteria which act as a deal breaker for you, then you should probably take a look at other manufacturers, too. For example, if you are looking for a huge towing capacity, competitors like the Dodge Durango and Jeep Grand Cherokee do pretty well as compared to the standard 5,000 pound limit of Highlander. If your main aim is to take your car off-road, then Toyota’s 4Runner proves much better on the uneven terrain. If cargo space is your priority, then Honda’s Pilot might just be the car for you.
Although there are competitors that surpass Highlander in one feature or two, the Highlander is a great all-rounder that provides comfort and luxury with power and utility. It displays a good balance absorbent ride, responsive handling, and generous interior space.