Highlander Offers Solid SUV Value

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CHATHAM, Mass. – A common corporate maxim proclaimed: “no one ever got fired for buying IBM [business equipment].” The reasoning was simple: IBM equipment was well built, reliable and got the job done. All the same can be said for the 2022 Toyota Highlander, a three-row medium-sized sport-utility vehicle (SUV).

The Japanese manufacturer offers 11 variants of the Highlander (when factoring in hybrid versions), with the XSE all-wheel-drive (AWD) – like the one in which we spent a pleasurable week – a very well-equipped, sporty example of the family.

Engineering leans to the more aggressive side

The XSE trim made its debut last year, bringing a specially tuned suspension underneath some unique interior and exterior styling touches.

Motivation comes from a 295-horsepower 3.5-liter, 24-valve V6 engine which also produces 263 pounds-feet of torque. This power flowed through an eight-speed automatic transmission en route to the – Toyota’s words – Dynamic Torque Vectoring All-Wheel Drive system.

Specifically, “In addition to being able to send up to 50 percent of torque to the rear wheels, this advanced available AWD system can control the left/right torque distribution to the rear wheels for a more engaging driving experience. In addition, the Multi-Terrain Select feature, controlled by a dial on the center console, allows the driver to adjust drivetrain responses to prevailing road and weather conditions.”

I was lucky to not have a any weather issues during my time behind the Highlander’s steering  wheel, so I could not adequately test this capability, but past Highlander’s acquitted themselves very well in wet and snowy conditions.

In addition, the chassis tuning has provided a sure-footed base for the seven-passenger  machine. The ride was comfortable, not stiff or jiggly, which can often be the result of tuning for handling, not the, but not this vehicle.

The pieces involved include higher-rate springs and rear stabilizer bar, while the shock absorbers have been re-tuned for lower friction. The electric power steering is calibrated for a more sporting feel.

Bringing the Highlander to a halt are power-assisted, anti-lock (ABS) equipped brakes with13.3-inch discs (ventilated in the front, solid in the rear). These discs live within 20-inch, black-accented machined alloy wheels wearing all-season P235/55R20 tires.

Latest ADAS part of Highlander package

The 2022 Highlander range comes with Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ (TSS 2.5+), the company’s suite of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS). The features include:

  • Pre-collision system (PCS) with pedestrian detection enhanced for 2022 with intersection support. At intersections, the system is designed to detect an oncoming vehicle or pedestrian when performing a left-hand turn and may provide audio/visual alerts and automatic braking in certain conditions. Additional PCS function includes emergency steering assist, which is designed to stabilize the driver’s emergency steering maneuvers within their lane while avoiding a preceding pedestrian.
  • Road-sign assist
  • Dynamic radar cruise control
  • Lane-keeping technology
  • Automatic high beams
  • Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert

Also included is the Start Safety System which brings: Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA), Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) and Smart Stop Technology (SST).


Quiet, comfortable for up to seven, the Highlander offers an interior equally ready for a trip to the school soccer pitch for the family as well as heading along the freeways to the mountains.

The front seats are comfortable, electrically adjustable and heated. Second-row captains’ chairs allow their occupants to find a comfortable perch. Controls for the dedicated rear climate system reside at the rear of the center console.

Controls for the overall three-zone climate-control system are integrated into the infotainment system’s controls, which has an eight-inch color touchscreen at its heart.

The review SUV had the optional ($1,680) Premium Audio with Navigation package which brought an 11-speaker JBL audio system with subwoofer and amplifier to project the sound from the various audio sources (like satellite radio and Bluetooth streaming). Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility are provided, as well.

The systems, including the navigation, are easily commanded by the voice-activation system which supplements controls on the dash, steering wheel and touch screen.

Other features which make the Highlander so livable include 14 cupholders; five USB ports (one USB-A media port and four USB-C charge ports); second-row window shades, and a console-mounted wireless mobile-device charger.

Living with the Highlander

There might not be any single unique aspect to the Toyota Highlander XSE AWD, but the sum of its parts equals a terrific, well-conceived SUV which offers great value, especially when factoring in Toyota’s well-earned reputation for quality and reliability.

Fuel economy is good for a gasoline-powered vehicle of its size: 26.1 miles per gallon during my time; the federal Environmental Protection Agency rates it at 23 mpg overall (20 urban, 27 highway).

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The 11-version Highlander range begins at $35,855 for the front-wheel-drive L model, with the uber-loaded Hybrid Platinum AWD version coming in at $49,510. The XSE AWD like I sampled had a base price of $43,950 and an as reviewed price of $47,163 thanks to options ($1,998) and delivery/processing/handling fee ($1,215).

The price puts the Toyota Highlander XSE AWD in the heart of the mid-size SUV segment – a solid representative of this group.

Next week TBR Drives the 2023 Kia Sportage.

Mike Geylin
Mike Geylin

Mike Geylin is the Editor-in-Chief at Hagman Media. Geylin has been in automotive communications for five decades working in all aspects of the industry from OEM to supplier to motorsports as well as reporting for both newspapers and magazines on the industry.