According to a recent press release from Toyota, the 2017 Highlander will receive a mid-cycle refresh. Changes will include a (slightly) modified appearance, a new trim level, and some other upgrades and modifications.
From a cosmetic perspective, the 2017 Highlander (and Highlander Hybrid) will get a new, “more elegant” front grille and modified (LED) taillights. The rear bumper of the Limited and Platinum models will also receive a chrome garnish. And there will be three new exterior color options.
Highlander SE trim level
In addition to the cosmetic tweaks on the existing trim levels, Toyota is introducing a new SE trim level. This is being advertised as a “sporty” upgrade with a dark front grille, headlamp housings, and roof rails.
On the inside, the SE will black leather seats with silver stitching, patterned seat inserts, and dark accents in the door panels and dashboard. So, for the most part, we’re talking about stylistic modifications.
Aside from the visual tweaks, however, the Highlander SE will have a specially tuned front and rear suspension to provide tighter handling, so there will be at least nominal performance changes.
The SE will come in both FWD and AWD configurations and, like the earlier versions of the Limited and Platinum, will only offer second-row captains chairs. Thus, it will be a seven-seater — or just a four-seater if you ignore the cramped third row, as we usually do.
New seating options
Speaking of seating configurations, the Limited and Platinum will both finally receive an option for second-row bench seating. This means that you can get an eight-seater at the higher trim levels. Or, as above, a five-seater if you ignore the cramped third row.
This is a pretty big deal, as the lack of a second-row bench in the 2014, 2015, and 2016 models forced many (like me) to look no further than the XLE due to a need for more seating (or better pet containment).
One of the biggest changes for 2017 is the availability of the hybrid powertrain at lower trim levels. Previously, the “Hybrid Synergy Drive” system was only available on the Limited and Platinum trim levels (in the USA; Canadians could get it on lower trim levels).
As of 2017, you will be able to get hybrid versions of the LE and XLE.
Stop & Start engine system
Another substantial change is the addition of the Stop & Start engine system to all non-hybrid V6 Highlander models. This system shuts of the engine when your vehicle comes to a stop, and restarts it when you lift your foot from the brake. It’s supposed to improve mpg and provide a quieter passenger experience.
Honda introduced this feature (dubbed Idle-Stop) on the Pilot in 2016, and many don’t like it. It remains to be seen how Toyota’s implementation compares to the Honda version. While it does (slightly) improve mileage, it also introduces new durability concerns and the “laggy” starts can be hard to get used to.
What about CarPlay?
Finally, I just wanted to point out something that is (once again) missing from the Highlander… CarPlay. Once again, Toyota has decided to keep pushing their Entune infotainment system instead of adding CarPlay or Android Auto support, even at the highest trim levels. This is disappointing, but I’m not terribly surprised.