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2022 Toyota Highlander Evaluation: A Particularly Unique Minivan

Image Source: Renovacio / Shutterstock

The 2022 Toyota Highlander achieves minivan accomplishments of practicality, without performing the minivan routine. The Highlander convinces families with its three rows of seating and its highly efficient Hybrid model. It’s spacious yet user-friendly, oddly sporty in appearance, adaptable for passengers and cargo, and a worthwhile choice in the mid-range trims. Competitors include the VW Atlas, Honda Pilot, and Kia Telluride. Not much has changed for the 2022 Highlander, except for the addition of a bronze trim package and a power-adjustable passenger seat on XLE Highlanders and higher variants.

In this iteration, the Highlander moves past its outdated history and opts for the digital French curve in the designer’s virtual toolbox. The front end transitions from simpler base models to a more aggressive “Predator”-style appearance on the XSE trim. The wheel arches appear less exaggerated and are seamlessly integrated into the door panels. The roofline smoothly slopes down to the rear without much flair. These elements come together to create a disjointed yet dynamic look that strays far from the typical minivan shapes of its past.

More agile than ever, the Highlander also excels in efficiency as a Hybrid. The Highlander understands its role in the crossover-SUV category. It’s essentially a minivan in everything but name, and that’s a sincere compliment. Modern minivans boast good handling and acceleration, and the Highlander delivers on those fronts as well, even in an XSE model with firmer suspension tuning and weightier steering.

The robust V-6 engine provides impressive acceleration. The 295-hp 3.5-liter V-6 is paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission and offers front- or all-wheel drive, resulting in 0-60 mph times in the seven-second range. Despite weighing between about 4,100 to over 4,400 pounds in higher-spec models, the Highlander can swiftly accelerate, make quick passing maneuvers, and tow a trailer weighing up to 5,000 pounds.

Equipped with an independent suspension and tires ranging from 18 to 20 inches, the Highlander steers and rides smoothly. It effortlessly absorbs road imperfections and bumps, with the smaller wheels on XLE trims and below providing a more forgiving ride on poorly maintained roads; Hybrids further enhance the ride comfort due to their battery weight. The necessity of the 20-inch wheels or the sport tuning on the XSE trim is questioned; any Highlander has the capability to squeal its tires, an unusual yet exhilarating feature in a large three-row family vehicle.

There are three different versions of all-wheel drive to replace the standard front-wheel drive. The lower-tier model features a basic setup that distributes up to 50 percent of power to the rear wheels when slippage is detected. Higher-spec non-hybrid models offer a more advanced system with rear-axle torque-vectoring, capable of distributing power front-to-back and then side-to-side across the rear wheels, providing even more effective traction.

The Hybrid model incorporates the third system. Its 243-hp 2.5-liter inline-4 engine combined with an electric motor, supported by a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack, can collaborate with a motor on the rear wheels to provide through-the-road all-wheel drive. This means that the motor powers the rear wheels only when slippage occurs on the front wheels.

Highlander Hybrids lead the gas-mileage rankings in the three-row segment. The Hybrid variants deliver exceptional fuel efficiency for their size, while other models offer acceptable ratings. An all-wheel drive V-6 achieves EPA ratings of 20 mpg city, 27 highway, 23 combined. With front-wheel drive, the V-6 returns 21/29/24 mpg. Opting for the Hybrid maximizes fuel economy, with front-wheel drive configurations earning EPA ratings of 36/35/36 mpg, and all-wheel drive variants scoring 35/35/35 mpg, except for Limited and Platinum models at 35/34/35 mpg due to additional features and weight.

Although crash-test scores are mostly favorable, there is one lower rating from the NHTSA. The Highlander receives high marks from safety agencies and comes equipped with standard automatic emergency braking. The IIHS rates the Highlander as “Good” in all crash tests, with headlight ratings varying from “Good” on Platinum models to “Acceptable” on other trims. Despite this, the Highlander racks up enough points to earn a Top Safety Pick+ award. The NHTSA awards the Highlander five stars overall but assigns a four-star rating for front-impact protection.

All Highlander models feature automatic emergency braking, active lane control, and adaptive cruise control. Blind-spot monitors are included on all trims except the base version, and many models offer the option of a surround-view camera system and parking sensors, which prove helpful as the Highlander’s rear visibility is hindered by thick roof pillars.

The interior showcases a tiered dash that softens the initial impression produced by the exterior design. It boasts ample small-item storage, controls positioned towards the driver, and a touchscreen display. Base models come with an 8.0-inch screen, while the larger 12.3-inch touchscreen dominates the dashboard without overpowering the tasteful trim selections flanking it.

The Highlander accommodates up to eight passengers and provides sufficient cargo space. With up to eight seats and a generously sized cargo area, the Highlander aims for three-row SUV supremacy. It excels in front- and rear-seat comfort, cargo capacity, and the ease of transporting five adults without causing any disputes.

Measuring 194.4 inches in length, with a wheelbase of 112.2 inches, the Highlander aligns closely with the Honda Pilot and Nissan Pathfinder in terms of dimensions. The broad front seats offer excellent comfort for various body types and offer extensive adjustment options. The driver’s seat features power adjustments in all models, while passengers on XLE and higher trims also benefit from power adjustments. The base cloth upholstery can be upgraded to synthetic leather on most trims, with the majority of versions also offering heated front seats and optional cooling, along with second-row heating.

The second row boasts 41.1 inches of legroom and ergonomically shaped cushions, ensuring the Highlander is accommodating for most passengers. The bench seat can be exchanged for captain’s chairs, and in both configurations, the seats can be adjusted forward to facilitate easier access to the third row.

The third row is best suited for smaller passengers, with just 27.7 inches of legroom. Although the second-row seats can be adjusted to free up more space, the third-row seating lacks sufficient shoulder room for larger individuals. With the third row in use, the Highlander offers 16.0 cubic feet of cargo space, expanding to 48.4 cubic feet when the third row is stowed. The total cargo capacity behind the front seats measures 84.3 cubic feet.

The base Highlander L, priced at $36,380, includes a comprehensive range of standard features such as 18-inch wheels, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen featuring Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. Opting for all-wheel drive incurs an additional cost of $1,600. All Highlanders come with an average 3-year/36,000-mile warranty. For a more luxurious experience, consider the $41,580 Highlander XLE, available in hybrid or non-hybrid variants. This model includes heated front seats, a power-adjustable front passenger seat, a power liftgate, and a panoramic sunroof.

The Highlander XSE boasts a sport-tuned suspension which may not necessarily justify the added expense, but enthusiasts may appreciate the new Bronze edition hybrid for its vibrant wheels and accents. At $52,135, the Highlander Platinum competes closely with offerings from Lexus, showcasing premium audio, 20-inch wheels, heated and ventilated front seats, leather upholstery, heated second-row seats, a 12.3-inch touchscreen, a head-up display, and a surround-view camera system.

The large segment of three-row crossovers currently represents a fiercely contested arena with strong contenders from various manufacturers. Fortunately, the 2022 Toyota Highlander stands out as one of the best. With its spacious and inviting cabin, contemporary design, and exceptional fuel efficiency, the Highlander makes a lasting impression. The introduction of the Bronze Edition for 2022 enhances the Highlander’s appeal further with its attractive styling and great overall value.

Image Source: Renovacio / Shutterstock

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