2019 Toyota Highlander vs The Competition


The Toyota Highlander has been a great success for the Japanese automaker since it made its United States debut for the 2001 model year. It reached its highest sales numbers in 2018, in the neighborhood of 244,000 units sold. As it rounds out its third generation and heads toward a redesign, the 2019 Highlander is more than holding its own against the competition. These rival midsized SUVs include the Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder, Ford Explorer, Mazda CX-9, Chevrolet Traverse, Subaru Ascent, and Volkswagen Atlas.

This vehicle class has overtaken the minivan set, with families gravitating toward the extra utility of these three-row SUVs (technically, they are crossovers since they are built with unibody construction). All of the above vehicles start their pricing around $30,000, but the Highlander comes in lower than the Ascent, CX-9, and Explorer. We’ll look at some of their other similarities and differences below.





Performance and Fuel Economy

The Highlander is available in a hybrid variant that offers impressive fuel economy, but we’ll just discuss the conventional gas-engine model here. The ’19 Highlander’s base powertrain is a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine making 185 horsepower paired with a six-speed automatic transmission; the default drivetrain is front-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is available. The optional upgraded powertrain is a 3.5-liter 295 hp six-cylinder with an eight-speed transmission; Toyota does not have a turbocharged option. The Ascent, Atlas, and CX-9 also have standard four-cylinder engines, but theirs are turbocharged; the other competitors listed here come with a naturally aspirated V6 as their base engine. The V6 Highlander’s EPA-rated fuel economy of 21 city/27 highway is exceptional among this segment, matching the Ascent’s highest rating.

Passenger Comfort and Amenities

The three-row vehicles compared here offer seating for either seven or eight, depending on whether the second and third rows accommodate two passengers or three. Most of them come standard with a three-person third-row bench seat, with the availability of second-row captain’s chairs, which drops capacity to seven. The Explorer’s third-row seat only fits two occupants. The Highlander boasts the most front legroom in this segment, and it’s the only one that includes one-touch power windows for the first two rows as standard equipment.


Vehicle manufacturers know that safety ratings and advanced driver-assist technology are important to buyers, especially when they’re transporting a full passenger load. All of these rival vehicles come with at least a few standard active safety features on their base model, but the specific technologies that are included vary. Toyota, Honda, and Subaru are the only manufacturers that include collision warning and lane departure warning with active steering assist on their base models. The Highlander joins the Ascent, CX-9, Pathfinder, and Pilot as designees for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick status (the Ascent is actually a Top Safety Pick+, the highest designation).