My two weeks this spring testing-out the 2015 Toyota Highlander XLE included a wild and woolly jaunt through the Northwestern Quebec forests, on a 5-day trout fishing excursion to Temiscaming.
The 2014 year was a pivotal re-design benchmark for Toyota’s star Crossover Utility, marking the Highlander’s 3rd generation entry with noticeable changes and improvements over previous generations. I was the proud owner of a first generation Highlander (2005 model) but found few seminaries to this modern 2015 offering.
Upon first glance, the new Highlander doesn’t appear a lot different than its Gen 2 predecessor until you analyze the subtleties.
The XLE model, I had the opportunity of piloting for spell, came equipped with such upgrades and creature comforts as a sunroof, all-leather upholstery, upgraded driver display, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, roof rails, retractable second-row sunshades, large 8-inch central touchscreen, navigation system and a voice amplification or Driver Easy Speak system, for communicating with passengers in the back.
Of all add-ons included in the XLE package, the sizable driver display, large touchscreen and solid comfortable leather seating was most appreciated. As far as the Driver Easy Speak goes, I can see it being useful for parents with younger children however I personally had no need for it. On the other-hand, I really enjoyed the SeriusXM Satellite radio.
I found the seating on this new Highlander to be roomier, more snug and form-fitting with improved lumbar support than its predecessors, making a 7 hour road trip into God’s Country seem like a walk in the park.
My first driving impression, from a performance standpoint, was very positive and there’s good reason for that. The Highlander I tested came equipped with a smooth running 6 speed automatic with a 3.5-liter V6, rated at 270 hp with 248 lb-ft of torque. It had plenty of get-up-and-go.
Safety-wise, the 2015 Toyota Highlander boasts a 5-Star Safety Rating based on Government crash tests, and it comes standard with rear-view camera, anti-lock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front seat side airbags, driver knee airbag, front passenger seat-cushion airbag as well as side curtain airbags.
The ride quality of the new Highlander is most impressive; firm and solid with smaller bumps being soaked up in the vehicle’s ample suspension. Hauling a full load of fishing and camping gear was no challenge for this beast, as the vehicle handled no differently with a full compliment of anglers and tackle.
Developers at Toyota have evidently borrowed a page from the Lexus design manual when it comes to quietness and interior noise. The Highlander is extremely quiet with a recorded sound level of a scant 69 dBA at 110 km per hour.
The overall size of the new Highlander was impressive too, compared to my old Gen 1 model, at 191.1 inches in length and wheelbase of 109.8-inches, the 2015 model has stretched by three inches over the prior version.
The XLE Model I tested came with third row seating with room for 8 passenger. The smaller 3rd row is geared more towards smaller passengers.
The Highlander’s braking and traction control system was put to the test early-on, when a surprise wash-out at the foot of a blind hill, forced me to brake hard and swerve to one-side in order to avoid and tremendous pothole. The vehicle held its ground perfectly with no sliding or loss of control. I was relieved.
Designers at Toyota installed a clever built-in shelf on the dash of 2015 Highlander’s interior, which became the perfect catch-all for my cell phone, two way radios, sunglasses, fishing lures and even a small flashlight – a convenient touch, which came in handy on such an adventurous trip, where gadgets tend to run amok. The new shelf takes over where the center console storage and glove box leave off.
The gauge cluster I also found to be straight forward and clean.
As my father, brother-in-law’s and I meandered our way through rustic backwoods trails, over hill and dale, I couldn’t help but feel I was behind the wheel of Toyota’s classic 4 Runner; however, the Highlander’s smooth and quiet ‘unibody ride’ reminded me I was not in a ladder-frame truck-based SUV.
Certainly not touted as a hard-core ‘off-road’ vehicle by any means, the new Highlander still had more than enough ground clearance and sure-footed AWD traction, which made short work of some less than hospitable northern logging roads.
Fuel consumption with this vehicle hovered, on average, between 11.5- 12.5 liters per 100 km’s, which I found good but not what I would describe as fuel sipping by any means. It still ranks near top of the pack in fuel economy compared to others in this class, and greatly improved over its first two generations. The Highlander hybrid actually took top honors this year as most fuel efficient SUV/CUV for 2015.
After having reviewed several SUV’s and CUV’s in this size class over the years, I can honestly say the 2015 Highlander is as comfortable and convenient a ride as any I’ve had the pleasure of driving.
Anyone looking for a roomy 7-8 passenger Crossover with more sporty appeal and utility than your old minivan; combined with some pretty decent ‘off the beaten’ capability to boot, this is the vehicle for you. From front to back and from side to side, the 2015 Highlander exudes class, comfort and above all utility.
I’m not sure the Highlander enabled me to catch more fish, but it certainly made getting to our camping spot a more enjoyable experience.
For more information on the 2015 Toyota Highlander: