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.
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.