The original Toyota Highlander had it right. When Toyota first got into the mid-size crossover segment, it styled the then-new Highlander like a Subaru--frugal-looking, relentlessly boxy, and honest about its intentions. We don't think today's Highlander is as successful in its plainness, though the interior seems well built.
Unlike the five-seat Venza crossover, there's almost no drama in the Highlander's shape. Even if it weren't up against silhouettes like that, or like the Explorer's, or even the Honda Pilot's, the Highlander would look anonymous. Versus the first-generation Highlander, the current ute looks bigger, even bloated from some angles, and drab. Toyota's rarely stood out for styling, but the Highlander seems exceptionally parched for inspiration.
Call it unexciting--and you'd be right--but the Highlander's well-built, well-equipped cabin puts all the controls where they need to be. It's not particularly stylish, which seems to be just fine with hundreds of thousands of Highlander buyers. A simple binnacle covers the primary gauges, which are tucked into cut tubes of plastic, and Toyota's traditionally large buttons and knobs drive the climate and audio controls. A band of metallic plastic trim changes to woodgrain on the Limited version, which also dons leather for its seats, which warms up the interior immensely. A small LCD screen houses the rearview camera on some trim versions; a bigger LCD on models with navigation dominates the center stack, giving some relief to the Highlander's thick dash.