Toyota’s 2017 Highlander heads to New York with updated styling, powertrains

The Toyota Highlander is one of those crossovers that makes one wonder why its owner didn’t just buy a minivan. Sure, it’s got a tall ride height and styling that makes it look vaguely like a truck, but that styling isn’t very interesting, and there’s nothing on the spec sheet that hints at the Highlander being fun to drive.

At least Toyota is diligent about updates. Debuting at the 2016 New York Auto Show, the 2017 Toyota Highlander gets a refresh that includes revised styling and some mechanical changes. The updates will likely keep the Highlander selling in droves, but probably won’t make it any less boring.

The biggest news is the addition of an eight-speed automatic transmission and a 3.5-liter direct-injected V6 that Toyota says is new. The company wouldn’t release specifications for this powertrain, but says it will be shared with the 2017 Sienna minivan. The 3.5-liter V6 in the current Highlander makes 270 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque, and is mated to a six-speed automatic.

Base models will continue with a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed auto. Toyota will also continue to offer the Highlander Hybrid, which will use the new V6 in concert with an all-wheel drive version of the Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive system used on all of the company’s hybrid models. Non-hybrid Highlander models still get standard front-wheel drive, and optional all-wheel drive.

Visually, the 2017 Highlander gets a new grille design that is at least a little cleaner than the previous model’s. A new SE model tries to turn up the attitude a little with special 19-inch wheels, tuned suspension, and a black-and-silver leather interior. All Highlander models also get four more USB ports, for a total of five.

The Toyota Safety Sense bundle of electronic driver aids is now standard as well, including forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control. A 360-degree camera system is also standard on the top Highlander Limited Platinum model.

The 2017 Toyota Highlander goes on sale this fall. Pricing will be announced closer to the launch date.

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