Well, you know what they say. Sometimes timing is everything. Case in point, I just spent two weeks with the 2019 Toyota Highlander Limited. During which the new redesigned 2020 model made its grand entrance at the New York Auto Show. So, that is to say, this review will likely mention a few references to the new model given that it’s a big update sorely needed for the outgoing third-generation model that is showing its age.
Big picture wise, we’ve long been fans of the 7-seater and Car Pro Show host Jerry Reynolds highly recommends Highlanders to listeners. After spending time behind the wheel I can see why this three-row deserves the accolades thrown its way. It’s roomy, provides an enjoyable ride, and the Limited model is well-equipped with a great interior. All good things for families on the go and all reasons the Highlander has been the best-selling SUV in its segment since 2016.
I took a shine to the Highlander’s exterior in Toasted Walnut Pearl. My model’s Platinum package adds on the 19-inch wheels. But instead of giving a rundown of its exterior attributes, perhaps a better way to convey its looks is to compare it to the new 2020. You can see the front end of the 2020 has been entirely reworked with a new grille design and headlights. (By the way the 2020 lineup gets new LED headlights, while the 2019 has halogen.) The side panels look much more chiseled on the new model. While I liked my test model’s looks, I’d say the 2020 exudes a sophistication the 2019 doesn’t.
The 2019 Highlander rides and drives great, with a smooth highway ride for road trips. It’s also easy to maneuver with pleasant handling. It has plenty of power too with its 3.5-liter V6 engine good for 295-horsepower (the same engine is offered in the 2020.) The engine is mated to an 8-speed automatic. My model also features all-wheel drive. Towing capacity is good at 5,000 lbs. It does come with stop start and it was noticeable at times, although not deal-breakingly so, and there is a button to disable it.
Inside, the front row’s perforated leather heated and ventilated cabin seats look nice and are comfortable, and the driver’s seat is 12-way power adjustable. The Highlander offers a ton of cubby hole space and two large cup holders on the center console. There is carnivorous storage bin as well but I found the sliding open/close functionality hard to use. (That changes too with the 2020 model. Also if you like ambient LED lighting you’ll want to wait for the 2020 as well.) The Platinum Package on my test model nets some goodies that include heated leather 2nd-row outboard seats, an expansive panoramic sunroof with sunshades, a heated steering wheel, a 360-degree camera, rain sensing wipers and front parking sonar.
Here’s where a case for the 2019 Highlander can’t be made in my opinion. And that’s its outdated technology. Not just the 8-inch infotainment screen with a backup camera, which I could rarely see well due to its slant-induced sun glare, but also its outdated graphics and hard to use infotainment system. The fairly old-school tachometer was easy enough to see but it’s tiny digital driver info display could use an upgrade. Toyota heard my thoughts apparently, and presto, you have a completely revamped center stack, infotainment display and full digital tachometer on the upcoming model. Everything is different as you can see in the photos below. When you put the two side by side it really puts things into perspective. No more slanted screen and a digital tachometer that lights up the interior. The design looks cleaner, too. Also, the 2019 doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Both come standard in the 2020 model.
There is a 60/40 split and the rear seats recline. I found it easy to access the third row and also put the third row up and down. Trunk cargo space is good with 42.3 cubic feet of space with the 3rd-row down and you get a power liftgate. Note the 2020 is 2.36 inches longer and grows in cargo space.
The 2019 Highlander offers exceptional safety in its class thanks to standard Toyota Safety Sense. It includes pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams and dynamic radar control. Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert are standard only on some trims.
For comparison’s sake, the 2020 Highlander comes with the second-generation of Toyota Safety Sense (TSS 2.0) which adds new Lane Tracing Assist and Road Sign Assist.
The 2019 Highlander sports 22 combined MPGs and that number doesn’t change in 2020. If fuel economy is your top priority you can always check out the Highlander Hybrid.
What You’ll Pay
The Highlander is a good value, it is a Toyota after all. It comes in five trims (not including the hybrid models) with the base model starting from $31,550. My well-equipped Limited model takes you just over $48K.
The 2019 Toyota Highlander has a lot going for it. But given that the new model is coming out, I’d weigh how important its new looks, technology and other features are to you before deciding which model to purchase. A 2019 would be a good budget decision if timed correctly when the new 2020 comes out in December of 2019. But you’d have to live without Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
2019 Toyota Highlander Limited AWD
What I liked most: The enjoyable drive, easy handling and smooth ride.
What I would change: All the outdated technology.
MSRP: Base price $47,010, total with destination $48,319.