The Toyota Highlander is a mid-sized crossover SUV introduced by Japanese manufacturer Toyota in 2000 and is currently Nissan’s most well-known and popular vehicle worldwide.
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It became Toyota’s best-selling SUV until the introduction of the Toyota RAV4 in 2006. It has been extremely successful in it’s own right, however, and has experienced four generations of evolution.
The following guide explores each generation to help you figure out which Toyota Highlander years are the best purchases and possible models and versions to avoid.
Check also our overview of all Toyota SUV models.
Best years for Toyota Highlander
Expert ratings have noted the 2022 Toyota Highlander as a crossover SUV that includes comfortable seats, a smooth ride quality, and a powerful V6 engine.
It has exceeds in handling and is ideal for long-distance trips.
The following lists the top 5 best years for Toyota Highlander’s based on the fewest number of consumer – reported issues, overall least serious reported problems, and standard or optional features.
Check also here how long Toyota Highlanders last.
The 2019 Toyota Highlander has a penchant for roominess – with 3 rows and a seating capacity for 8 passengers that shouldn’t come as a surprise at all.
The quality interior is a staple that began after the 2017 model innovated in this area and the 2019 model has nearly perfected. The additional storage space allows for greater cargo capacity.
Power adjustable cushion seats for the driver also make it an extremely comfortable model as well.
The 2018 version of the Toyota Highlander was unmatched in terms of quality and safety amongst competitors of the same year.
While it offered a high-quality interior, the engine and transmission were top notch with automatic emergency braking safety features that would prove very helpful for drivers that found themselves in adverse conditions and situations on the road.
The 2017 Toyota Highlander was the first to create the legendary roominess the model enjoys to this day.
In addition to a spacious eight-passenger seat interior, the SUV has a powerful V6 engine in addition to transformative software technology that creates an entirely new experience for passengers and drivers alike.
One of the more recent models of this popular vehicle is the 2021 model which includes a more complete V6 engine that allows for extremely smooth driving abilities.
The software upgrades in the vehicle are modern and showcase the manufacturer’s willingness to compete in ever-increasing digital industry advancement.
Unlike other models, the 2020 Toyota Highlander features a plethora of new technology upgrades across five trim levels.
The 2020 version also continued the trend of spacious cabins and improved cargo systems.
Toyota upgraded the engine to include a dual-engine system that could hit 295 hp for a smooth and efficient drive across both cities and highways.
Toyota Highlander years to Avoid
Models from 2002 to 2011 of the Toyota Highlander were recalled due to dangerous airbags from Takata that needed to be removed and replaced. The next five models are the worst Highlander years due to the high cost of repairs as well as the high risk of potentially fatal safety concerns.
The air conditioning and heating as well as transmission problems that were persistent in the 2013 model made their way to the 2014 model.
This is typically a rare occurrence as manufacturers are quick to correct issues from year to year. Unfortunately, this did not happen in the 2014 model.
Additionally, this version did not have a properly working entertainment system and an ill-designed interior with drivers and passengers experiencing back pains as a result.
The 2012 version of the Toyota Highlander experienced both excessive oil leaking as well as steering lock issues.
While the oil leaking was not as extreme as it had been in other years, the car being unbalanced led to steering issues that could have potentially been fatal for the driver.
The older models were also more limited in cargo capacity. See the cargo capacity for all Toyota Highlanders here.
Despite proper engine maintenance, many users would still continue to see the engine light going off in the 2008 version of the Toyota Highlander.
After further investigation, this would be found to be a result of a failure in the oxygen sensor component of the car.
While it isn’t necessary for the car to work properly, its failure does point to a significant issue in the engine that could result in it completely misfiring and needing to be replaced, a very expensive undertaking for owners.
In the 2005 model of the Toyota Highlander, excessive oil leakage issues were the main concern.
Owners of this model would have to spend significantly more on getting regular oil changes than other models. This also leads to sludge buildup in the engine that could affect further downstream problems of the transmission.
The 2003 model of the Toyota Highlander is one of the worst SUV models of all time.
Extensive fuel consumption and oil leakage, engine whirring and popping, as well as multiple interior problems with the vehicle were only the tip of the iceberg for this vehicle.
Additional issues like brake failures, coolant problems, and paint problems make this one of the worst Toyota Highlander models of all time.
Visit our article here to see how long SUVs should last.
1st Generation: 2000—2006
The Toyota Highlander, in its first release, utilized a 3.0L engine to hit 0 to 60mph in 8.8 seconds.
By the end of the generation, the Highlander was utilizing a more powerful and larger V6 engine to hit 0-60mph in 7.8 seconds.
Shaving off a full second is a major milestone and signifies a much more powerful engine.
2nd Generation: 2007—2012
The second generation of the Toyota Highlander offered owners a spacious 5-passenger interior in addition to a 4-cylinder six-speed automatic transmission.
It was able to generate 5,800rpm and hit 187lbft of torque.
This generation of the Toyota Highlander became more fuel efficient 24/32mpg city/highway over the previous model that had 19/30mpg city/highway.
3rd Generation: 2013—2018
The next generation of the Toyota Highlander featured an all-new eight-passenger seating with a sliding second row that added 4.3 inches of space for the opening.
It also included more technological features like a lane-departure warning, pre-collision warning, and blind spot monitoring systems that greatly improved the overall safety of the vehicle.
The interior infotainment system also included a 6.1-inch touchscreen compatible with JBL speakers for a surround sound experience perfect for everyone in the vehicle.
The engine was no joke either and was fitted with a 3.5L, six-speed automatic option.
4th Generation: 2019—Present
An increased cargo room presence behind the third passenger row serves to make the current generation of the Toyota Highlander the most spacious of all.
Additionally, the current model has compatibility with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto systems, so owners can connect Bluetooth systems for a more optimal driving experience.
This model comes with five trim levels, with the Platinum level being the highest of the model.
Which Toyota Highlander generation should you buy?
The newer models in the fourth generation have corrected the issues that were seen at the end of the second and third generations.
What year is the most reliable Toyota Highlander?
The most reliable highlander is the 2020 model which corrects for the mistakes of the previous generation while being the middle vehicle of the current and most technically safe generation.
We have a full overview here of how well each Toyota SUV model holds their value.
What are the most common problems with Toyota Highlanders?
First, we have a full list of problems across the Toyota Highlander models here.
Oil leaks and loss of oil pressure
As we have mentioned already, Toyota Highlanders are prone to experiencing excessive oil leakage.
This can be due to oil lines that rupture while driving causing low oil pressure issues. A defective oil line needs to be replaced, which can often be expensive.
An issue with the airbag sensor can lead to the airbag malfunction light being to illuminating.
This can also be a cause for concern for other parts of the vehicle that don’t concern the airbag as well.
Check engine light
After going for repairs, it might be easy to knock off the hose during an air filter replacement.
This can lead to a check engine light turning on which means that a hose is disconnected.
How many miles will a Toyota Highlander last?
A Toyota Highlander will typically last roughly 300,000 miles before needing to be replaced or upgraded.
This is on the higher side of the class and showcases why the Highlander is a force to be reckoned with.
What are the closest competitors to the Toyota Highlander?
- Kia Telluride
- Jeep Grand Cherokee
- Hyundai Palisade
How long do the transmissions normally last on these models?
The Kia Telluride can last 120,000 miles while the Toyota Corolla can hit upwards of 300,000 miles. The Hyundai Elantra is another competitor that can get up to 150,000 to 250,000 miles in total vehicle lifetime mileage.
Go back: Best/Worst years for all Toyota models.
ⓘ The information in this article is based on data from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recall reports, consumer complaints submitted to the NHTSA, reliability ratings from J.D. Power, auto review and rating sites such as Edmunds, specialist forums, etc. We analyzed this data to provide insights into the best and worst years for these vehicle models.