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2013 Toyota Highlander Limited Review: Luxury Amenities without the Luxury Price

While the new 2014 Toyota Highlander is arriving in dealerships around the country, there are still plenty of 2013 Highlander models on lots throughout the US and recently I had a chance to spend time in one of these 2013 models – an experience which left me impressed by the level of luxury offered by this relatively inexpensive SUV.

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The 2014 Toyota Highlander has been launched and we will be driving that new model very soon but in searching local inventories of Toyota dealerships, it appears as though there are quite a few 2013 Highlanders in stock around the country. With the 2014 models rolling into the dealerships, those dealers look to move out the “old” 2013 Highlanders may be more willing to flex on their pricing so while the 2013 Highlander is a great value with the stated MSRP, skilled bargainers might be able to get a 2013 model for an even better price.

My 2013 Toyota Highlander Limited test vehicle was a V6 All Wheel Drive model which carries a base price of $39,250 with the only add-on being the rear seat entertainment system which increases the price by $1,760 so when you tack on the $845 delivery fee, the sticker price of my Toyota test rig was$41,855. Forty grand sounds like a lot of money to many people but when you consider what you get for that price – and the fact that dealerships might be more willing to drop the prices to move 2013 models – the 2013 Toyota Highlander provides plenty of bang for your buck.

The Exterior
The 2013 Toyota Highlander marks the final year of the 2nd generation of this roomy SUV and having been launched in 2008 and refreshed a bit for 2010, the 2013 Highlander is an older model at 6 years of age. For many automakers, a model that is 6 model years old tends to look a bit behind the times but the 2010 refresh and the carried over lines from the years prior to 2010 give the 2013 Highlander a very modern look. In automotive terms, a 6 year old vehicle is in its golden years but you wouldn’t guess that by looking over the 2013 Highlander – especially up front.

Highlander front

A big part of the 2013 Toyota Highlander not looking dated is the front end design that was introduced for the 2010 model year. The high tech looking projection headlights are fitted into angular 3d lenses with lots of interior chrome and these headlights flow into a big, six sided grille. The linear form of the headlight and grille combination gives the Highlander a wider looking stance with the help of the extended front fascia and a set of fog lights that are set into the lower outer corners of the lower fascia area while a chrome strip and some black cladding finish off the subtle-sporty look. The Highlander looked for friendlier before the 2010 refresh but since then, the face of the Highlander is far more aggressive and far sportier. In my opinion, this Highlander is substantially better looking than the pre-2010 look.

highlander side

Along the sides, the 2013 Toyota Highlander Limited has a fairly flat silhouette from front to rear with the only break being the gently sloping windshield. The accentuated wheel openings are filled out by a set of good looking 19 inch alloy wheels that all work with the black greenhouse pillars and the lower cladding to extend the sporty look of the 2013 Highlander. Chrome trimming the windows, the door handles and along the bottom portion of the doors adds a touch of luxury but Toyota didn’t go overboard with the bling.

The back end of the 2013 Highlander has a huge rear hatch for easy loading and unloading of large items with a low profile roof spoiler and black cladding along the bottom edge of the rear “bumper” completing the sporty feel that starts up front and runs through the rear end. Finally, the Limited package adds a large chrome Highlander name plate in the middle of the rear hatch with a chrome strip running across the top of the rear fascia for that final touch of luxury.

highlander rear

Front to back, there are very few things to fault with the 2013 Toyota Highlander. The front end might be in its 4th model year but it looks as high tech and as fresh as many newer competitors in the class but it doesn’t take the sporty feel too far so this is a look that should appeal to a very large audience. The Highlander is a little bit sporty, a little bit luxury and a little bit utility and that combination makes for a good looking SUV.

The Interior
When you open the door of the 2013 Toyota Highlander and climb in, it is hard to believe that this is not a luxury SUV. All of the seats are wrapped in soft perforated leather with heated surfaces and power controls up front and while the back seats are not heated, those seated in the second row have their own control panel for the HVAC system and unlike many vehicles in the segment, the Highlander features a second row bucket seat setup with separate armrests and a center console that folds away for more seating space. There is really no center seat in the second row but that shouldn’t matter because those middle seats are always terrible. Plus, anyone who is small enough to fit in a middle rear seat will comfortably fit into the third row of seats.

highlander front seats

There is a ton of leg, knee, hip, elbow, shoulder and head room for the driver, the front passenger and the folks sitting in the second row of seats so the 2013 Highlander will realistically seat four normal sized adults. Finally, while I wouldn’t put a bigger adult in the third row seats, these seats offer enough room for small kids but I spent most of the time in the Highlander with the third row seats folded away. With that third row folded down, an easy to remove tonneau cover pops into place and allows you to conceal the huge rear cargo area. This cargo area has an interesting panel that pops up to help keep your groceries from sliding around the large cargo area and if you are hauling something very large, the second row seats quickly and easily fold down to create a massive cargo area. This extended cargo area offers as much space as some pickups and the high roofline of the Highlander allows for very tall cargo or very tall passengers.

highlander cargo area

In terms of gadgetry, the 2013 Toyota Highlander shines with a variety of features that are standard with the Limited package. This begins with the infotainment system mounted high on the dash with a touch screen giving the driver and passenger easy access to all of the controls for the sound system, the navigation program and a long list of available applications like Pandora radio, weather information, traffic maps and many more. The sound system pumps up the jams through a 9 speaker JBL system that sounds great with AM/FM/Satellite, MP3, USB, and CD capabilities in addition to apps like Pandora and IHeartRadio. Those drivers who aren’t too keen on touch screen systems can rely on an array of buttons mounted on the steering wheel to control the interior temperature, the sound system, the hands-free phone system and the cruise control. Also, surrounding the touch screen is a collection of buttons and knobs to control the infotainment system and above this touch screen is a small vehicle information center that displays all sorts of information from time and temperature to fuel economy figures. Finally, the Highlander has a push button start system that has become common in many vehicles but it still adds that special something in a segment where technology like this doesn’t always come standard.

highlander dash

The climate control system of the 2013 Toyota Highlander doesn’t look all that fancy but this three zone system allows for easy individual control of each area and with the push of a button – you can adjust all of the zones together with one big knob located on the driver’s side of the center stack. Below the HVAC controls are a pair of knobs that allow the driver subtle adjustments of the heated front seats so this seats can keep your rump warm without cooking you…where other models have an “on” or “off” that might get your rear warmer than you like.

highlander rear seats

Last but certainly not least is the 2013 Highlander’s rear seat DVD system. This system houses a DVD slot, the controls and a 9 inch LCD screen into a very tidy console mounted on the ceiling with the sound from that DVD being broadcast to a pair of wireless headphones. This system can be controlled via the buttons on the console housing or by using the wireless remote so kids who cannot reach the buttons on the ceiling while buckled in can use the remote to fast forward or rewind their favorite program. This system is very nice and very user friendly but for $1,760 I wouldn’t get enough use out of it to justify the cost. However, those families who do a lot of traveling with little ones in the backseat will certainly love this rear seat entertainment setup when keeping the kids occupied during a long drive.

highlander sunroof and console

The 2013 Toyota Highlander has plush leather seats, tons of passenger space, a gigantic cargo area, a great sound system, an easy to use navigation system and an available rear seat entertainment setup that all work together to give this roomy SUV a luxury feel. The only features that I could ask for would be cooled seats but beyond that option, it is hard to find fault with any aspect of the 2013 Highlander cabin.

The Drive
The 2013 Toyota Highlander Limited V6 AWD is powered by a 3.5L V6 that sends 270 horsepower and 248lb-ft of torque to all four wheels by means of a 5-speed automatic transmission. This V6 doesn’t pack the big power of some competitors but it offers plenty of power to allow the Highlander to offer enough acceleration for the vast majority of buyers in this segment. If you want the fastest SUV in this size class, you might want to consider other models but if that isn’t a big concern – the Highlander is a great drive. This V6 offers plenty of power to merge into fast moving traffic on the highway or to speed around slower moving traffic so while you aren’t going to tear up the local street racing scene, the Highlander doesn’t feel underpowered.

One of the few downfalls to this drivetrain is that the combination of the V6 engine, the full time all wheel drive system and the 5-speed automatic transmission is lesser fuel economy than some of the competitors and the EPA expects this Highlander to deliver 17mpg around town, 22 on the highway and a combined figure of 19 miles per gallon. In my time behind the wheel of the Highlander, I found that these numbers are very realistic and I averaged just a touch under that 19mpg figure with a bit more city driving than highway cruising.

Highlander drive

In terms of handling, the 2013 Toyota Highlander offers a smooth ride on the highway so unlike some SUVs that offer a ride that seems to be a touch firmer than you need, the Highlander doesn’t beat you up on a long highway drive. The ride was smooth and quiet even at highway speeds with very little noise from the road coming through the suspension or steering system but Toyota achieved this calm, quiet ride without killing handling capabilities. Thanks to the four wheel independent suspension setup, the Highlander offers impressive handling whether you are soaring along the highway, zigging and zagging through a back road or maneuvering carefully through a crowded urban area and in many cases, the Highlander “feels smaller” than it is. The steering doesn’t offer quite the level of connectedness that you get with some competitors but that has little impact on the drive quality of the Highlander.

The 2013 Toyota Highlander isnt the most powerful, best performing or most efficient SUV in the class but it is a great mix of economy, ride quality and fun to drive factor so it can provide a luxurious ride for the passengers while allowing the driver to get through traffic confidently in a hurry.

The Final Word
The 2013 Toyota Highlander might not be a vehicle that comes to mind quickly when a shopper is looking for luxury amenities without the luxury price but it absolutely should be. While the Highlander doesn’t have as much power as some competitors (especially in the luxury segment), this roomy Toyota SUV leaves you wanting for very little. There is plenty of passenger space for the front seats and the second row seats with an incredible amount of cargo space – or a slightly cramped third row if you need to squeeze in a couple smaller passengers. Like most new vehicles, the 2013 Highlander has a high tech infotainment system complete with navigation and a bunch of available applications that can be customized to the owner’s preferences along with a great, easy to use rear seat entertainment system. Whether you are a family man taking the kids to hockey practice or a single guy driving his buddies out for a night on the town – the Highlander is as plush and comfortable as many far more expensive luxury SUVs.

Toyota Highlander driving

If you want luxury amenities in a roomy, comfortable SUV but you don’t want to pay big money for a luxury name – the 2013 Toyota Highlander Limited might be the vehicle for you. It leaves very little to ask for but it packs all of this content for a price just over $40k. Based on the quality of the 2013 Highlander, I am really looking forward to driving the next generation Highlander later this month!

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Rich (not verified)    August 4, 2014 - 8:11AM

We bought a low mile 2013 HL Limited vs the new 2014 due to better seats and visibility on the older model. The 2013 is a sophisticated outside/inside design. Unlike other reviewers we found the 2013's wheat color plastics to be attractive while the Ride of the Bridgestone 245/55/19 Bridgestone tires to be harsh. New 245/55/19 Brigestone Ecopia tires changed the handling characteristics similar to a HL with 235/60/18. Lower noise and much softer ride. Ecopias made the vehicle seem like a different car.