With three rows of seats, a comfortably functional interior and pleasant looks, Toyota's 2013 Highlander is a right-sized, no-fuss vehicle for families.
There's even a removable center section in the Highlander's second-row seats that simplifies the effort to get to the third row bench seat even when two child safety seats occupy the second row.
The Highlander also has a strong record for reliability and is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports, where predicted reliability for the 2013 model is much better than average.
2013 Toyota Highlander V-6 4WD
- Base price: $29,020 for base FWD model with four-cylinder engine; $31,845 for base, FWD model with V-6
- Price as tested: $33,757
- Type: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, seven-passenger, mid-size sport utility vehicle
- Engine: 3.5-liter, double overhead cam, V-6 with Dual VVT-i
- Mileage: 17 mpg (city), 22 mpg (highway)
- Length: 188.4 inches
- Wheelbase: 109.8 inches
- Curb weight: 4,045 pounds
- Built at: Princeton, Ind.
- Options: Running boards $649; carpeted cargo mats $280; cold-weather package (includes heated outside mirrors and windshield wiper de-icer) $60; cargo net $49; first-aid kit $29
- Destination charge: $845
The smooth-riding, 2013 Highlander Hybrid is rated at a combined 28 miles per gallon in city and highway driving and ranks third best among gasoline-electric hybrid SUVs.
Still, the Highlander, which is positioned between the smaller Toyota RAV4 and larger 4Runner, does not come with a bargain price.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $29,865 for a base, front-wheel drive, 2013 Highlander with 187-horsepower, four-cylinder engine. The lowest starting retail price for a 2013 Highlander with 270-horsepower V-6 is $32,750. All 2013 Highlanders come with automatic transmission, and all V-6-powered Highlanders come standard with four-wheel drive.
The Highlander has plenty of competitors in the mid-size, crossover SUV segment.
Crossover SUVs are vehicles that have SUV styling on the outside, seat passengers higher above the pavement than they would be in a car and use an underlying structure based on cars to provide a car-like, rather than truckish, ride.
The 2013 Kia Sorento, which offers four- and six-cylinder engines, has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $26,150 for a base, front-wheel drive model with 191-horsepower four cylinder, automatic transmission and third-row seating. This is $3,715 less than the base 2013 Highlander. The lowest-priced, 2013 Sorento with all-wheel drive and third-row seats starts at $27,950, and includes the four-cylinder engine.
Another competing family crossover SUV is the 2013 Chevrolet Traverse, which has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $31,670. The base Traverse has front-wheel drive, 281-horsepower V-6 and automatic transmission. The Traverse only comes with the V-6.
Now marking 12 years in North America, the Highlander continues with impressive U.S. sales of more than 100,000 annually. Indeed, during calendar 2013, the Highlander is on pace to surpass last year's U.S. sales of 121,055.
Highlander's appeal to families is not just its practicality, such as a cargo area that can grow from 10.3 cubic feet behind the third row to 95.4 cubic feet with second- and third-row seats folded down.
The Highlander is a no-fuss vehicle that's not too big and not too small that's easy for busy families to live with.
There was nothing distracting or odd about the placement, visibility and usability of the gauges and controls inside the test Highlander, which was a base V-6 model. Most drivers will find they can get in, adjust the driver's seat, steering wheel and mirrors, and just drive. In fact, the non-gimmicky interior was a nice, easy change of pace when it was time to change temperature and radio stations in a straightforward and simple manner.
This is not to say the Highlander is low tech.
For 2013, every Highlander has display audio, which provides Bluetooth phone connectivity and music streaming as well as a USB port. An optional tech package can add navigation system and Toyota's Entune multimedia system for use with popular mobile applications and data services. Some features can be controlled via voice commands.
Though nothing seemed complicated or distracting in the Highlander, a standard rear-view camera is sorely needed to help drivers when backing up.
The removable Center Stow seat in the middle of the second row was put up and taken down without consulting the owner's manual.
But the two-person third-row seat sits low to the floor and can feel a bit cramped.
The 270-horsepower V-6 provided strong power for acceleration and got the Highlander up to above-speed-limit city travel quickly, even when the vehicle was carrying four adults and luggage. Power seemed plentiful and the 3.5-liter, double overhead cam V-6 sounded strong and confident. Torque peaked at a healthy 248 foot-pounds at 4,700 rpm.
Several competitors offer a bit more V-6 horsepower and torque. Still, the slightly smaller size and lighter weight of the V-6-powered Highlander meant the engine power was more than adequate.
As an example, the 2013 Traverse stretches 17 feet from bumper to bumper, while the Highlander's overall length is 15.7 feet. The Highlander with V-6 also is some 660 pounds lighter than the Traverse.
The Highlander with V-6 has a maximum towing capacity of 5,000 pounds.
Fuel economy in the non-hybrid Highlanders is lower than that of the hybrid model, of course, and not particularly noteworthy.
The tester with V-6 averaged just over 20 miles per gallon in combined city/highway travel, which was over the federal government's rating of 19 mpg in combined city/highway driving. With a 19.2-gallon gas tank for regular unleaded fuel, the test Highlander's range was 385 miles.
The 2013 Highlander's overall federal government crash test rating is, surprisingly, four out of five stars, with frontal crash tests earning only four out of five stars.
This is the same rating that the 2013 Sorento has. But the 2013 Traverse has five stars.
The 2013 Highlander was the subject of two safety recalls.
In one, Highlanders were recalled because a label on the vehicle did not state the correct load capacity, and regulators wanted to ensure that owners didn't overload the vehicle and risk tire failure.
The other safety recall involved a few Highlanders fitted with accessories that had modified the front seats.
Regulators wanted to be sure the front passenger seat's occupant sensing system still worked, so air bags for this passenger seat would deploy properly in a crash.