What A Bit Of Restraint Can Do: The 2017 Toyota Highlander SE

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Toyota Highlander SE
The 2017 Toyota Highlander SE.
It has been a little more than a year since our last review of a Toyota Highlander.  That one was a loaded Limited Platinum that nudged the as-tested price perilously close to the $50,000 mark.  For a vehicle that TireKicker has always been somewhat lukewarm about since its last redesign---and don't get us started on the dubious value proposition of the Highlander Hybrid---that was a bit much.

Some good news: Toyota has freshened the look of the 2017 Highlander.  The chrome strip behind the Toyota badge on the grille has been banished, and a body-color strip at what would be the bumper line has been moved up and thinned out.  That breaks up what had been a bottom-heavy and, to our eyes, awkward-looking grille.  It's a definite improvement.

Rear 3/4 view of 2017 Toyota Highlander SE
2017 Toyota Highlander SE.
Fuel economy is improved, as well.  The Highlander now benefits from an eight-speed automatic transmission mated to the tried-and-true 3.5-liter V6.   The EPA fuel economy estimate in a front-wheel drive model like the one we tested is now 21 city/27 highway.

Better yet, to illustrate that the Highlander in well-equipped form can be an excellent value, the vehicle we were given for a week was the SE model.   It is the next-to-top-of-the-line of the five Highlander models, and at a base price of $39,690, it carries a lot of very nice equipment as standard, such as projector-beam dark accent halogen headlamps with LED running lights, integrated fog lights, color-keyed heated outside power mirrors with turn and blind spot indicators, a power moonroof with sunshade and jam protection, 19-inch black finish multi-spoke machined alloy wheels, a flip-up rear hatch window and dark-painted roof rails.

Interior view of 2017 Toyota Highlander SE
2017 Toyota Highlander SE interior.
With all that, the test vehicle had only one option, the rear-seat entertainment system---a Blu-Ray DVD player with nine-inch display, RCA jacks, remote and two wireless headphones.  That added $1,810 to the price.  With $940 delivery processing and handling fee, the as-tested price came to a reasonable, refreshing and thoroughly competitive $42,440.  In fact, for nicely-equipped SUVs in this size class, that's a bargain.

We have wanted to like the current-generation Highlander a lot more than we have.  The changes made for 2017 go a long way toward that.