Test Drive: 2018 Toyota Highlander Limited Platinum
The 2018 Toyota Highlander Limited Platinum raises an obvious question for every affordable vehicle manufacturer who also owns a luxury brand. If your top-of-the-line versions are so good, why would anyone buy your luxury models?
Toyota owns Lexus, which sells luxury vehicles based in large part on the affordable models sold by its parent company. Although officials from both companies insist the vehicles are so different that comparisions are unfair, they do, in fact, share many components, including platforms and engines. Body panels, suspensions and interiors vary, but the related vehicles are roughly the size and shape, so they fill many of the same needs.
And the high end versions of the affordable versions can be outfitted with just about every luxury feature these days, even though the genuine luxury versions cost thousands more.
A case in point in the 2018 Highlander, Toyota's popular midsize crossover SUV. Although fairly generic looking except for the large front grill, it is still a handsome and practical family hauler that can be ordered with all-wheel-drive, a rich leather interior, and most available automotive infotainment and safety technologies.
Powered by the available 3.5-liter V6 mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, our fully loaded Limited Platinum version was both comfortable and powerful, with a well tuned suspension that soaked up road imperfections and a third row of seats that could accomodate two children for long trips. And even with all of that, the price was under $47,000.
But the Highlander also shares its platform and drivetrain with the Lexus RX series of crossovers, which start at $44,870 for the lowest priced front-wheel-drive version of the 350. Although exact comparisions between all versions of both brand models are tricky, it's safe to say a similary equipped Lexus RX 350 would cost considerably more than our test Highlander, without providing much more in the way of equipment. The same can also be said of the related vehicles sold by Ford and Lincoln, Honda and Acura, and Nissan and Infiniti.
Lexus compensates for this by offering wild exterior and interior designs, as well as serious performance versions. Although some find the Lexus styling over-the-top, there's no denying it attracts attention, especially the massive spindle grills and sharp exterior lines. The handling of the F-Sport versions are also vastly improved, making even their crossover SUVs fun to drive.
But if you don't need all that and want to save some money, the 2018 Toyota Highlander Limited Platinum is hard to beat. It was completely redesigned for 2017 and left unchanged this year for good reason — there's nothing about it that needs to be fixed.
Base Highlanders come with a 2.7-liter inline four cylinder engine that delivers a modest 184 horsepower and front-wheel-drive. The 3.5-liter V6 in our version pumped out a much healthier 295 horsepower that produces a kick off the line. Although we didn't need the optional AWD system during a week of sunny summer driving, we'd recommend it for the wet weather during most of the year. And properly equipped, a Highlander can tow up to 5,000 pounds, which makes it a good choice for those with small boats, trailers and campers.
In addition to the leather interior, our Limited Platimum version included tasteful interior wood trim, a premium JBL and 8-inch touchscreen, and both backup and birdseye systems in addition to a wealth of safety systems — features that were once only available on genuine luxury vehicles.
Midsize crossover SUVs with three rows of seats are among the most popular vehicles these days because of their practicality and versatility. The 2018 Toyota Highlander should be near the top of everyone's shopping list — including the Limited Platinum version for those looking for a luxury model.
2018 Toyota Highlander Limited Platinum
Base price: $31,230
Price as tested: $46,419
Type: Midsize crossover SUV
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (295 hp, 263 ft-lbs)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
EPA estimated mileage: 21/27
Overall length: 193 inches
Curb weight: 4,655 pounds
Final assembly: Princeton, Indiana