My assignment was to select a car for a seven-day travel writers’ trip to Springfield and Branson, Missouri, with a side trip to Bentonville, Arkansas. My mission was to write about the trip, and of course, focus on the car.
The hardest part was choosing what to drive. After careful study, I chose the Toyota Highlander for the thousand-mile trip and was not once disappointed.
The 2018 Toyota Highlander’s bold look and adventurous attitude, not to mention the large variety of trim options to choose from, made the driving experience all the more fun and practical.
The Highlander offers eight trims. The top-tier trim, and my choice to test drive, was the Hybrid Limited Premium Platinum V6 AWD-i. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price was $48,280.
When the Highlander was delivered, it did not disappoint. The sleek design has a handsome front grille and is flanked by smart, stylish headlights that have smoked-chrome accents featured around the headlight housing.
The five-spoke Dark Chromtec alloy wheels add to the good looks of the vehicle, and the puddle lights help to illuminate the entrance as you approach. An illuminating “HIGHLANDER” logo is projected onto the ground below the side mirrors.
The dark-black-accented headlamps make for an attractive appearance along with resourceful features that include LED daytime running lights with auto on/off feature, integrated fog lights, Chromtec roof rails, an adjustable power lift gate with a flip-up rear window, and a panoramic moonroof with sunshade.
This seven-passenger Highlander is equipped with the Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive system that produces a net 306 horsepower regulated through electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT). A 3,500-pound towing capacity, electronic on-demand AWD with intelligence (AWD-i), and hill start assist control provide plenty of power and hauling capability.
The hilly and winding mountain roads between Conway, Arkansas, and Branson, Missouri, did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm and spirit of the Toyota Highlander as we ate away the miles to our destination.
The Highlander Hybrid AWD-i achieves 29 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway for 28 mpg combined. Even though the Ozark Mountains were steep—and breathtakingly beautiful—we managed just under 32 mpg for the entire trip.
The extra mileage was aided by the Eco mode, which modifies throttle response for optimal fuel economy, whether you are slowly accelerating on low-traction surfaces or traveling steep mountain grades.
The Toyota Highlander is packed with technology. The standard backup camera, bird’s-eye view camera (perimeter scan and overhead 360-degree view), and rear cross-traffic alert are important aids to help the driver forecast any possible dangers.
The Highlander also has Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P), which safeguards occupants beyond human reaction time. This system includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, and dynamic radar cruise control. All these features are standard, working together to keep you safe. They also allow the driver to focus on the trip and what needs to be done to get there.
The Star Safety System is also standard and features an advanced ensemble of safety technologies that include enhanced vehicle stability control, vehicle dynamics integrated management, traction control, electronically controlled braking, ABS, brake assist, and smart stop technology.
As soon as you get into the Highlander, the fun begins. Everything imaginable that is needed for family travel is present. With comfort, roominess, and quality, the occupants possess all the factors required for peace of mind. The 12-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar and thigh support, second-row captain’s chairs with side tables, and 60/40 split fold-flat third-row seats offer plenty of comfortable space, whether it is for gear or passengers or both.
The 8-inch high-resolution touchscreen provides the stage for navigation, AM/FM, HD Radio, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, CD, MP3, and USB+AUX input. The Bluetooth connection, a suite of popular apps, and total of five USB ports (three front, two rear) cover all your communication and entertainment needs.
Inside, the 24.5-liter soft-touch roll-top center console, with a removable utility tray, holds large items for front-seat folks, while a small ledge tray just below the climate controls is made for items like keys, sunglasses, phones, etc.
The journey to Branson was a wonderful experience. Although it rained all the way from Dallas, Texas, the 2018 Toyota Highlander held on nicely around the slippery curves—even when the high elevation trapped pockets of fog and the mountain roads contained hidden rock slides.
The Highlander easily mastered the mountain passes, and while we saw temporarily abandoned road equipment resting along stretches near Clinton, Arkansas, our vehicle remained frisky and alert, never missing a step.
The Toyota Highlander, a strong and bold vehicle—with wide seats made for full-figured older gentlemen like myself—was definitely the right choice.
Durhl Caussey writes a car column read around the world. He may be reached at this newspaper or at [email protected]