I have not cheered the recent development of safety technology such as forward collision warning in cars. My thought has always been that those nannies are for people who don’t pay attention. I don’t need a baby sitter behind the wheel. However, one of those electronic nannies in the 2017 Toyota Highlander helped me see the light.
Last week I fired up the Highlander, Toyota’s three-row crossover, placed my trusty Super Big Gulp in the cup holder and started along my merry way. After taking a sip of my soda, I aimed my SBG (as I lovingly call it) at the cup holder, except it got caught on the little lever that allows for multiple sized cups. I looked down as I accelerated, just as the car ahead stopped suddenly.
The forward collision warning light and alarm went off and the Highlander precharged the brakes. I looked up, yelled a string of NSFW expletives and felt the ABS pulsing as I slammed on the brakes, bringing me to a stop millimeters from the lead car’s bumper.
Adrenaline coursed through my veins and I silently thanked Toyota for including its suite of collision prevention technologies in all of its vehicles. That boardroom decision saved me from an embarrassing phone call to my boss.
The Highlander slots in between thecrossover and the more off-road worthy . Depending on your trim choice there is technically room for seven or eight passengers in the Highlander, but that third row is made more for small kids in car seats than any kind of average-sized adult. The Highlander got a pretty heavy refresh for 2017. A sharper front and redesigned LED taillights now grace this midsize crossover, and Toyota added the SE trim with some easy-to-miss sporty elements like 19-inch black finish wheels and dark painted front grille and roof rails.
For 2017, Toyota made its Safety Sense P (TSS-P) package standard across all trim lines of the Highlander, offering what are now becoming must-haves for many consumers: lane-keeping assist to keep the car from drifting out of lane and dynamic radar cruise control, which maintains a set distance from a lead car. Lane-keeping assist works just fine, but the dynamic radar cruise control doesn’t work at speeds below 30 miles per hour, making it useless in stop-and-go traffic. Still, these features plus the career-saving forward collision warning I experienced give Toyota an edge.
Toyota’s Entune infotainment system is adequate, but not my favorite. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not available, and Toyota hasn’t said if it will add the technology. Instead, Toyota uses its own App Suite to bring third-party apps to the Highlander. Simply install the Entune app on your Android or iOS phone, connect it to Entune, and you have access to real-time traffic and weather as well as apps like Pandora, Slacker and Yelp. The integrated navigation was pretty easy to use, but lower trim lines require Scout GPS via the Entune app. The optional 8-inch touchscreen offers quick inputs and the system booted up quickly upon starting the car.
My test model came with an optional rear-seat DVD system with a 9-inch screen, wireless headphones and a remote. It adds $1,810 to the bottom line, and with many kids having their own iPads these days, it’s a tough sell. Five USB ports are now standard in the Highlander; three in the front and two in the second row for the kiddos that need their juice.