2015 Toyota Highlander XLE Road Test

The segment leader ups its game for the new model year.

What It Is
A refined three-row midsize SUV.
Best Thing
Comfortable ride and plenty of technology.
Worst Thing
The glare on the infotainment screen is horrible.
Snap Judgment
The 2015 Toyota Highlander continues to be a top contender in the three-row SUV segment.


The Toyota Highlander was redesigned for the 2014 model year, and while in its third generation, it has become one of the top vehicles in the midsize SUV segment. With three rows and the latest safety and connectivity features, the 2015 Toyota Highlander offers a comfortable, quiet ride, a refined interior, and attractive styling. While this may be a vehicle to get most drivers from point A to point B, we wanted to get behind the wheel and see what has attracted so many consumers.

With five distinct trim levels for every budget and need, there's much to like about the new Highlander. We had a chance to get behind the wheel of the 2015 Toyota Highlander XLE and our time was well-spent. Read on to learn what we thought of the 2015 Toyota Highlander.

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What We Drove

We drove the 2015 Toyota Highlander XLE AWD powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, which costs $37,700 before any additions and destination charges. Our model, however, was slightly more expensive at a cool $40,395, thanks to the Rear-Seat BluRay DVD Entertainment system, which added on $1,810.

Standard features included SmokdChrome auto headlights and foglights, a UV windshield, power liftgate, seating for eight, leather seating, heated front seats, integrated second row side window shades, backup camera, and much more. In government crash tests, the 2015 Highlander earned a 5-Star Overall Vehicle score, and while the 2015 model has yet to be tested by the IIHS, the 2014 model earned a Top Safety Pick+ rating. Safety features included eight airbags, brake assist, smart stop technology, and whiplash injury lessening front seats.

The Commute

When you're stuck in bumper to bumper traffic early in the morning while sitting in a very comfortable seat, it's easy to nod off. And while that makes for a great road trip feature for passengers, it isn't the same for the driver. We enjoyed the comfort and quality of the redesigned 2015 Toyota Highlander, but there were a few things that could have been better.

The infotainment system was very easy to use, and featured an attractive touch interface instead of an exorbitant amount of buttons and knobs. It was easy to sync our phones and stream music, but when the sunlight would splash across the screen, the glare was horrible and made it impossible to use.

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The Grocery Run

With three-row seating, those grocery runs can either be a dream or difficult to manage. If you're taking the whole family, there's a limited 13.8 cubic feet of cargo room behind that third row. Fold those down flat, and that number jumps to 42.3 cubic feet, which is plenty for a few weeks' worth of groceries. Even the second row seats fold flat to accommodate larger cargo items like golf clubs or surf boards.

We wouldn't recommend anyone but smaller kids trying to sit in that third row as legroom is extremely limited. The second row seats may move forward, but it isn't enough to make that ride more comfortable for larger passengers. With available second-row captain's chairs, the ride is that much more enjoyable.

The Weekend Fun

The new Highlander is the ideal road trip car, as it has plenty of room for both passengers and cargo, but how is it on the open road? We didn't find many complaints when commuting to and from the office, but we couldn't test out much else until the weekend came around and the roads cleared up. The first thing we noticed is that while this model feels heavier and larger on the road, its acceleration is still quick. Braking is immediate, which we liked, but we would have liked the steering to be a bit stiffer.

During our time behind the wheel, the navigation system was generally easy to use. But when the sun hit the screen, the glare made it impossible to read the directions or see when a turn was coming up. Many of the Toyota Highlander's competitors have found ways to reduce glare, and we're surprised that the Japanese automaker hasn't done anything about it, as it has been a common complaint.

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Summary

The 2015 Toyota Highlander is one of those vehicles that does everything well, but doesn't go above and beyond in any aspect. And perhaps that's why it's one of the top-selling SUVs. With class-average fuel economy, a competitive price point for each model, and the brand recognition and reliability, we'd recommend this model to those looking for a larger SUV that can seat up to eight passengers. The XLE model comes pretty well equipped, and as a midrange model, we feel it gives both plenty of amenities while still keeping the price relatively affordable. Those on a budget may want to check out the LE or LE Plus with the V-6 engine, as it is not only hundreds of dollars cheaper, but it also features just enough amenities to keep the driver and passengers comfortable, safe, and connected to the road.

Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $40,395
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 18
EPA Highway: 24
EPA Combined: 20
Estimated Combined Range: 384 miles
Cargo Space: 13.8 cubic feet with third row seats up/42.3 cubic feet with third row seats folded
Child Seat Fitment, Second Row: Excellent
Child Seat Fitment, Third Row: Poor
IntelliChoice Cost of Ownership: N/A

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3 comments
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