2016 Toyota Highlander XLE AWD – Poised Powertrain and New Lux Cabin

by Tony West and Daryl Payne

The Highlander is a heavy-hitter in Toyota’s SUV lineup, beating out many in its class with its well-balanced powertrain and stylish design. For 2016 the Highlander stunts on itself adding Lexus luxury to its spacious interior. Along with versatility inside and under the hood, the 2016 Highlander offers 4 models, a standard 5,000 lb. tow capacity on V6 models, and a new rear seat Blu-Ray entertainment system on the Highlander XLE.

And though the Highlander is a mid-size SUV, the big-body offers abundant storage space and legroom, a power tailgate and reclining 3rd row seats. It rubs noses in the luxury SUV club with its cabin replete with parchment leather and contrast stitching, brushed metal surfaces and an 8 inch center touch screen.

2016 Toyota Highlander

The 2016 Highlander is available in the base model LE, LE Plus, XLE, XLE Limited, and the most powerful Hybrid with 280 horsepower and an 28 mpg combined EPA. We reviewed the 2016 Toyota Highlander XLE AWD with a 24 mpg highway EPA and a MSRP of $38, 275.


Brawny, Sleek Stylish Design

The 2016 Toyota Highlander manages to step up its already cool big-body design by adding subtle flair. For 2016 the whip adds more muscles to its hood and front fascia. Standard are smoked chrome auto on/off headlights and 18 inch alloy wheels. The Limited adds LED daytime running lights and 19 inch Chromtec alloy wheels.


2016 Toyota Highlander XLE AWD
2016 Toyota Highlander XLE AWD

The grille seems a little smaller, but the dope headlights now have a wraparound look. The design of the LED’s is more intricate adding better visibility maneuvering on windy dark roads thanks to the Automatic High Beam System. And now the lower intake is more prominent, spanning almost the full width of the front fascia.

The Highlander XLE also has a rear roof spoiler, a moonroof, Chromtec roof rails and heated side mirrors with turn signals. For 2016 the Highlander adds a programmable

2016 Toyota Highlander
2016 Toyota Highlander

power liftgate.

The Highlander has an advantage over other less stylish mid-size SUV’s like the Hyundai Santa Fe and the Honda Pilot, who have a more rounded- less muscular design. The Highlander’s interior upgrades knock it out of the park.


Interior Versatile and Spacious with Undeniable Luxury

The major bragging point of the Highlander is its highly functional interior. Toyota stepped it way up adding Lexus luxury and full-size functionality. The 2016 Highlander comes standard with 3 rows and seating for 8. Buyers can opt for the 7 passenger seating with 2nd row captain’s that have a folding cup holder and small table for each.

The Highlander offers 60/40 split fold-flat 3rd row seats with a recline function. Cargo room has been increased to 13.8 cubic feet, and 42.3 cubic feet with the third row folded and 83.7 cubic feet with the 60/40 split fold-flat second row lowered.

2016 Toyota Highlander
2016 Toyota Highlander

Toyota adds another dope new technology to the XLE’s cockpit with standard Driver Easy Speak, that uses a mic in the rear to carry the front occupants voices to the rear and vice versa.

The cabin also offers soft touch fabric seats standard on the LE or perforated heated leather seats standard on XLE. Daryl loved the comfortable leather, contrast stitching, wood and brushed metal trim in the cockpit. The parchment leather with stitching was a great combination with the shoreline blue pearl exterior.

The Highlander XLE also has an 8-way power driver’s seat but has a 4 way manual passenger seat. At least the big-body has sunshades for the 2nd row.

2016 Toyota Highlander XLE AWD
2016 Toyota Highlander XLE AWD interior 2nd row

Daryl is a big fan of the superior comfort of the driver’s seat. The Highlander sits drivers up high with great visibility in the front acoustic-type glass and the rear. The dash is simplistic, but highly functional, with a long shelf with pass though for charging electronics.

He also liked the three-zone climate control with tall vents that cooled the whole cabin quickly and the efficient rain sensing wipers. Smart Key with push button start is standard on the XLE.

Drivers have an optional heated steering wheel with brushed metal and controls for audio, phone, voice command, cruise control, and the standard multi information display. The LE’s driver’s instrument cluster offers a standard 3.5 inch black and white multi info display, or a 4.2 inch TFT MID in the XLE.

The 4.2 inch TFT digital color display in the Highlander XLE shows a host of helpful information. Along with an Eco monitor that flashes during low rev cruising, the MID shows Driving Information, Navigation, Audio, Cruise Control, the Lane Departure status, warnings and other settings.

Driving information that’s scrolled through and selected via the steering wheel toggle, gives driver’s current stats like average fuel economy, average speed, elapsed time, current fuel consumption, and the all-wheel drive controls.

2016 Toyota Highlander
2016 Toyota Highlander

The driver also has controls for the AWD lock, snow mode, and the Vehicle Stability Control at their fingertips.

Daryl really liked the cool center stack in the Highlander and its abundant storage. Storage includes a deep center console with a front and rear door and inside tray. The big-body Highlander XLE also has 8 cup holders with 2 for each passenger in the 1st two rows, 4 bottle holders, three 12 volt outlets and a 120 volt outlet. A cool folding table in the 2nd row makes this whip a versatile family car where kids can eat with ease and less mess.

And along with the Blutooth, the Highlander has an Entune Premium audio system with 8 inch touchscreen, cool navigation, Appsuite, Homelink and reverse camera. The Limited trim includes cool ambient lighting on the shelving and doors.

For an extra $1,800 buyers can add a dope rear entertainment system with Blu-Ray player, 9 inch display, RCA jacks, remote control, and 2 wireless headphones.

The 2016 Highlander’s interior boasts supreme functionality and luxury perks. Why buy an Acura MDX, or Ford Explorer when the Highlander offers more style and luxury for less?


Well-Balanced Performance includes Powerful Hybrid

The 2016 Highlander offers 3 powertrains: A standard 2.7 liter four-cylinder engine featuring Variable-Valve timing with Intelligence (VVT-i), 185 horsepower and a 22 mpg combined EPA ; a 3.5 liter V6 with VVT-i and 270 horsepower; and the hybrid 3.5 liter V6 with a high-torque electric drive motor.

The XLE we reviewed boasts a V6 with 270 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 248 lb-ft of torque at 4,700 rpm. All three engines are matched to a 6 speed automatic transmission with selectable manual sequential shifting. Fuel economy reaches 21 mpg combined with FWD models and 20 mpg combined on AWD models.

2016 Toyota Highlander
2016 Toyota Highlander

The Highlander performs much like a family car with balanced torque delivery, good braking and a smooth turning ratio. The stiff body structure, combined with finely tuned MacPherson strut front suspension and double wishbone rear suspension deliver the most effective ride quality in a Highlander, yet still feels bouncy. Standard electric power steering is both fluid and responsive.

The XLE we reviewed also has Dynamic Torque All-Wheel Drive, that takes data like speed, throttle angle, yaw rate, and steering speed to direct torque to the front or rear in wet conditions, or on rough terrain. Dynamic Torque Control operates in FWD in normal driving conditions but can switch to AWD in a millisecond and direct power 50:50 seamlessly.

A sophisticated, high-speed interactive management system coordinates control of the Dynamic Torque Control AWD, Vehicle Stability Control, and Electric Power Steering systems to enhance performance, handling, and safety.


Safety Technology Fine-Tuned

The 2016 Toyota Highlander XLE features the standard Star Safety System that includes enhanced stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD, Brake Assist and Smart Stop Technology. With 8 airbags, the Highlander carries a 5-star safety rating.

2016 Toyota Highlander
2016 Toyota Highlander

Hill Start and Downhill assist control is also standard on the XLE. Blind Spot Monitor, rear cross traffic alert, rear parking sonar, and available pre-collision system with dynamic radar cruise control is available as is the lane departure alert with automatic high beam headlights.

The 2016 Toyota Highlander is a big force in the mid-size segment, with few worthy competitors at its price point. It has an MSRP of $38k and just $41k fully loaded. While some competitors like the Jeep Cherokee add more functionality on the road, the Highlander’s versatile cockpit – now with abundant lux can compete with big-bodies that cost $10k more.


Check our more photos from our First Drive with the 2016 Toyota Highlander on our Facebook Page!