Toyota Highlander Limited With Second Row Bench Seating?

Several people have recently asked if Toyota has changed their stance on seating configurations in the 2015 Highlander. The issue here relates to the availability (or not) of a 2nd row bench seat vs. captain’s chairs at the top trim level (Limited/Platinum). This is a big deal for many buyers.

Highlander seating options

For background, the 2014 Highlander came with one of two seating configurations. The LE/Plus trim level had a 2nd row bench seat. For the XLE, a 2nd row bench was standard, but you could opt for captain’s chairs. And for the Limited/Platinum, you could only get captain’s chairs.

The obvious issue here is that, by restricting the Limited/Platinum models to captain’s chairs, Toyota effectively reduced the 2014 Highlander from an 8-passenger to a 7-passenger vehicle. That’s a big bummer if you want all the bells and whistles but need the extra capacity.

Well, as with the question of CarPlay support in the 2015 Highlander, the answer appears to be no, Toyota is not offering a 2nd row bench seat for the Limited/Platinum in the 2015 model year.

Sorry, families…

Despite the Highlander being marketed primarily to families (complete with Muppet-centric ad campaigns), this means that the Limited/Platinum trim level remains somewhat family unfriendly. Sure, some buyers might prefer captain’s chairs, even with kids, but others need more seating.

In our case, the lack of a bench seat at the Limited trim level definitely impacted our buying decision. My wife and I discussed the possibility of buying a Limited (and possibly adding on the tech package) but the mandatory captain’s chairs were a non-starter.

Because of this, our interest topped out at the XLE, which offered some nice amenities while still accommodating our people-hauling needs. Sorry, Toyota. We might have paid more if you had been a bit more flexible.

What about pet owners?

Pet owners are the other major category of people who are negatively impacted by Toyota’s decision not to offer an optional bench seat in the Highlander Limited/Platinum. The problem here is that the captain’s chairs leave an open passage from back to front.

Want to lay down the 3rd row seats and contain your dog in the back? Sorry, but if you paid big bucks for a Limited, you can’t do that. At least not without some sort of dog barrier to keep Fido from wandering up front.

Related: Get more info on the WeatherTech Pet Barrier.

The good news is that there are a number of SUV dog barriers on the market. As long as you don’t regularly need to use the 3rd row seats, such barriers provide a reasonable workaround. Here are some examples.

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25 comments… add one
  • Jesse Aug 29, 2014

    Does the bench seating slide forward enough to allow people to get to the rear row if there are child seats installed on the front bench (such that the seat couldn’t be angled forward). I’m with you where I want the bench so I’m stuck at the XLE but would also consider Limited if it had the bench. I wish we could at least upgrade technology and get rear sensors and blindspot monitoring on the XLE.

    • Michael Aug 29, 2014

      I’ll have to look, but I’m pretty sure there isn’t enough room to pass through behind the 2nd row if you just slide them forward with tilting the seatback forward. It is, however, a 60/40 split bench, so you could easily install a single seat on the 40 side or (possibly) two seats on the 60 side to keep the 3rd row accessible.

      Our kids aren’t in safety seats anymore, so I’m not sure about what you can (or can’t) fit where. Perhaps someone else will chime in…

      • Jesse Sep 8, 2014

        Were you able to see if you could access the back without tilting the seatback forward?

        • Michael Sep 10, 2014

          I just checked. When you slide the back (2nd row) seat all the way forward without tilting it, there is about a 9 inch gap between the back of that seat and the rear edge of the door frame. This did, however, require moving the front seat forward a bit so I could move the 2nd row seat all the way forward. I’m tall so I keep the driver’s seat all the way back.

          Also, that gap behind the 2nd row is a bit awkward as it runs up at a bit of an angle due to the angle of the seat back and the door opening. You’d have to be pretty small to get through there. I’ll try to post a picture in a separate article sometime soon.

      • Mike Apr 6, 2016

        Do you have any idea Where to buy tow single seat for the second row I have 2015 HL

  • Peter Kauss Sep 2, 2014

    Here is another (often less costly) solution to the dog restraint/containment issue, and it doesn’t leave the animal loose to sustain possible injury in the event of a sudden stop or crash:

  • Whatabuncha Nov 5, 2014

    Your sentiments regarding the family unfriendliness of the Limited’s seating configuration mirror ours EXACTLY. We would have gladly forked out several thousand more dollars for a Limited, but the lack of 8-passenger seating was a non-starter. I was even prepared to dump my 2014 for a new 2015 had they added the 8 passenger option. Oh well.

  • Nick Nov 13, 2014

    I thought I must have been the only one who had this concern. I’m a bit of a new-tech-enthusiast, but it looks like I’ll be keeping my ’12 Limited (2nd row bench) for quite some time.

  • Martin Jan 7, 2015

    This post also states my primary concern and buying hesitation also. I feel stuck for alternatives. The Honda pilot is ugly and old, the CX9 is dated, the MDX is a bit too pricey… .

    I would love the memory seat function of the limited, and would consider the pano roof, as the interior seems dark, but I probably need the 2nd row bench for 5 often when carrying more luggage which limits me at XLE.

    To those with captains chairs – when you carry 5, are you using one of 3rd row seats, and split folding? Are you moving luggage outside the car to storage boxes?

    • Martin Jan 7, 2015

      Re-reading the comments, I hadn’t even thought that since my two children are still in full child seats/booster seats on the 2nd row, that you then can’t tilt the bench to access the third row.

      I guess that is a vote in favor of the captain chair with pass through 🙂

  • Nancy Apr 21, 2015

    We owned a Highlander but bought a Kia because their Sorento had a bench seat. (Our Dogs don’t do well in buckets!)

  • jack May 6, 2015

    Do the captains chairs in second row of the Highlander fold down flat ?

  • mark Jul 15, 2015

    I have a 2008 Highlander Limited and love it. But I wanted the new technology features (blind spot monitoring, accident avoidance, parking sensors, etc) which were ALL available on the Limited. However when I saw they only provided captains chairs in the second row, that was a huge problem for cargo carrying capacity as well as to bring my dogs along (they travel in the second row (bench) seat). The XLE doesn’t give you the option of all the technology. So either I go to Acura or see if the 2016 brings Toyota to their senses by at least offering the option of a bench second seat.

  • Patrick Sep 14, 2015

    We have a 2014 highlander XLE W/ second row captains chairs. Is there an open to replace the captains chairs with a bench?

  • Kim Thomas Nov 3, 2015

    Does anyone know if the 2016 Highlander Hybrid will offer the 2nd row bench? I have been searching and cannot get an confirmed answer. I really want the hybrid but don’t want the captains chair configuration. You would think it would at least be an upgrade option.

    • Michael Nov 3, 2015

      I haven’t heard definitively one way or the other. If the situation changes and there is a 2nd row bench seating option at higher levels, I will definitely update.

  • Mladick Nov 28, 2015

    I am a highlander hybrid fan but will go to Acura if I can’t get a second row bench seat.

  • Ev Dec 2, 2015

    Is there a way to buy the bench seat between two captains chairs in a Toyota Highlander limited 2012? I can’t seem to find one online.

  • Jose Feb 13, 2016

    Does any one know if the Captain chairs can be switched out for a split-bench. I had a 2012 which I traded to a 2014 platinum model and realized the worse mistake of my life was the captains chairs are not family friendly.

  • Jeff Feb 22, 2016

    No bench seat in limited would not buy

  • Brad May 4, 2016

    Does the 2014/2015/2016 models have a similar setup to the 2013 as shown in this video?

  • Ron Oct 7, 2016

    Fortunately, the XLE was the perfect level of tech for me, but the mandatory Captain’s Chair ‘upgrade’ would have been a definite showstopper. If you need the extra cargo room on a trip (like – anything more than 1 suitcase) and therefore need to fold the 3rd row down, your HL Limited now holds less people than a Prius. This doesn’t make any sense to me. Happy with my ’16 XLE.

  • Carol Moretti Jan 28, 2017

    I recently purchased the Highlander 2016 Limited edition with the 2nd row captain seats. I love this car, but boy those captain seats were a big mistake for me. I have a big dog (golden retriever) and he isn’t very happy riding in a captain seat- not at all. On a longer trip, he cant even lay down. If I lay the captain chairs down, then there is a pretty big gap in the floor between the two seats, and of course he keeps falling into it as he goes back and forth between the two back windows, and its really the only place for him to lay if you have any luggage or stuff in the back. I wish they made a cover you could put down when you have all the seats laid down, to make it a nice solid surface. wish I had realized this problem before purchasing.

    • TJ Miller Feb 23, 2017

      I’m buying a limited with captain chairs now and am also wondering where my golden retriever will travel. I’m thinking about removing one of the captain chairs and putting in a dog bed. Would be a nice space for her. I seldom have passengers but when I do need space for passengers they can use the remaining chair and be able to stretch from the third row. Is this crazy?

  • TJ Miller Feb 23, 2017

    I’m buying a limited with captain chairs now and am also wondering where my golden retriever will travel. I’m thinking about removing one of the captain chairs and putting in a dog bed. Would be a nice space for her. I seldom have passengers but when I do need space for passengers they can use the remaining chair and be able to stretch from the third row. Is this crazy?

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