2013 Toyota Highlander Review and Prices

Last Updated: Mar 26, 2013

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2013 Toyota Highlander Buying Advice

The 2013 Toyota Highlander is the best crossover SUV for you if you want a wagon that’s earned a strong following for its minivan-like practicality and SUV-style attitude.

The 2013 Toyota Highlander closes out the second generation of this midsize crossover utility vehicle. The revamped 2014 Highlander will have revised styling but won’t be dramatically different in appearance, size, or market focus. The 2013 Highlander slots in a Highlander Plus model above the Base version and shuffles some equipment groups. It otherwise continues as a seven-seat wagon available with gas or hybrid power and front- or all-wheel-drive. Even though the least expensive Highlander has a four-cylinder engine, base prices begin on par with those of six-cylinder rivals, for a range of $29,865-$40,245 for gas-powered Highlanders. No direct competitor offers a hybrid.

Should you buy a 2013 Toyota Highlander or wait for the 2014 Toyota Highlander? Wait for the 2014 Highlander if you don’t need to purchase or replace a crossover SUV immediately. The redesign won’t be radical, but Toyota probably will introduce a host of appealing incremental improvements. Buying a 2013 Highlander will weaken resale value come trade-in time because it’s the last edition of an outgoing design. But while its styling will look a bit stale once the 2014 replacement rolls out, the 2013 Highlander is still a fine family crossover and should be available with close-out savings.

2013 Toyota Highlander Changes back to top

Styling: No automaker has a broader SUV range than Toyota and Highlander belongs to the crossover side of its roster. It’s larger than the compact RAV4 and complements the sportier five-seat Venza. And it appeals to a different crowd than the Toyota Sienna minivan.

The 2013 Toyota Highlander is a styling repeat of the 2012 Highlander. It retains its SUV-flavor profile but its lengthy body delivers minivan-like interior volume. Absent sliding side doors, however, it’s clearly no minivan. And with no pretension of off-road ability, it lacks serious-SUV credentials.

The 2013 Highlander nonetheless bridges these diverse genres. It looks more muscular than a minivan and drives with a bit more precision, too. Highlander is relatively easy to garage and maneuver because it’s no larger than the typical five-seat midsize crossover. Toyota, however, squeezes in a third-row seat that, while less spacious than a minivan’s, is still handy. And Highlander’s first- and second-row accommodations are as roomy as any midsize SUV’s.

Highlander is a crossover because its body and frame are a single unibody structure similar to that of a car’s. Unibody designs benefit fuel economy, ride, and handling because they’re lighter than the truck-like, separate-body-and-frame construction typical of old-school SUVs, such as the Toyota 4Runner and Sequoia. Highlander’s all-wheel-drive copes with deep snow and rutted backroads but Toyota leaves serious off-roading to its true SUVs.

The 2013 Highlander’s model lineup again begins with Base model but adds the Highlander Plus by creating a version that comes with ome features previously optional on the Base grade. SE and top-line Limited models again complete the lineup. 

The 2013 Highlander Hybrid returns in Base and Limited form. The Hybrid’s grille and front bumper differ slightly from those of gas-powered Highlanders. It carries “Hybrid” badges, and its headlamp and taillamp covers are tinted blue. The Hybrid’s instrumentation includes a display that animates in real time the powertrain’s distribution of gas and electric power.

All 2013 Highlanders come with front bucket seats and a second-row bench that slides fore and aft and folds flat. The second-row is split 40/20/40 with the center section removable to create, in effect, dual buckets with a storage console between. Also standard is a 50/50 split/folding third-row seat and rear climate controls.

Cargo volume is good, but slightly less than more truck-like crossovers that have higher rooflines. There’s 10.6 cubic feet with all seats in place, 42.4 cubic feet with the third row folded, and 95.4 with the second and third rows folded.

All 2013 Highlanders have alloy wheels, 17-inch diameter on Base, Plus, and SE models, 19s on Limiteds. All have darkened rear side glass and a rear spoiler. The Plus, SE, and Limiteds are distinguished from Base versions by body-colored mirrors, standard roof cargo rails, and fog lamps.

Chrome door handles and roof rails further dress up Highland Limited models, which also have standard leather upholstery and plastic woodgrain interior trim instead of cloth seats and silver cabin accents.

A power liftgate controlled via key fob or a driver’s-side button is standard on SE and Limited models but is no longer available on other Highlanders.

Mechanical: The 2013 Toyota Highlander again offers a choice of four- and six-cylinder gasoline engines and a gas-electric hybrid powertrain.

The four-cylinder is a 2.7-liter with 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque (consider torque the force that generates movement, horsepower the energy that sustains momentum). The four-cylinder is standard on Highlander Base and Plus models and is available only with front-wheel drive. It mates with a six-speed automatic transmission and provides adequate performance provides you don’t regularly carry a full load of passengers or cargo.

Better suited to a vehicle this size is Highlander’s V-6. A 3.5-liter with 270 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque, it’s optional on the Base and Plus models and standard on SE and Limited.

V-6 Highlanders are available with front-drive or all-wheel drive (AWD.) Highlanders with the V-6 have a five-speed automatic transmission, a slight demerit in a class where six-speed automatics are the norm. With either engine, Highlanders have a dashboard-mounted transmission shift lever that includes a conveniently accessed separate gate for manual-type gear control.  

The 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is an AWD crossover that teams a 3.5-liter gasoline V-6 with an electric motor at each axle. The front motor assists the gas engine and can propel the Highlander on electric power alone. The rear motor kicks automatically in to provide AWD in degrees, as needed for best traction.

Net horsepower is 280; Toyota doesn’t specify a torque rating for the Highlander Hybrid, which uses the automaker’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system. The system can drive the Highlander Hybrid on electric power alone, with the engine alone, or via a combination of the two as determined by sensors programmed to balance fuel economy and acceleration. Plug-in charging is not part of the system. Recharging is through energy recaptured during braking and coasting and from the engine.

The Highlander Hybrid uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT). CVTs play the role of an automatic transmission but with a rheostat-like delivery of power. A button on the Highland Hybrid’s console enables the driver to extend the electric-only range at low speeds, battery charge permitting. An “Econ-mode” switch maximizes fuel economy by modulating throttle response during acceleration.

In front-wheel-drive Highlanders, the weight of the engine and transmission is over the tires that also provide propulsion, for good overall traction. AWD Highlanders furnish an extra measure of all-weather traction by automatically shuffling power from the front wheels to the rears to minimize tire slip.

The optional trailering package allows V-6 Highlanders to tow trailers weighing up to 5,000 pounds. Four-cylinder Highlanders and the Hybrid can pull 3,500 pounds.

Features: Highlander comes nicely equipped, befitting a target audience that favors crossover style above less-sexy minivan volume and versatility.

Even the Base Highlander includes front and rear air conditioning, power locks and windows with driver’s auto-up/down, manual tilt and telescopic steering wheel, cruise control; keyless entry, and a full-size spare tire. Toyota’s Display Audio system is standard on Base, Plus, and SE Highlanders. It features a 6.1-inch audio-display screen, a USB port, and hands-free phone capability and music streaming via Bluetooth wireless technology. In the Highlander Plus and SE grades, the system includes a back-up camera that displays on the audio screen.

The new-for-2013 Highlander Plus replaces the former Base-model’s Tech Package option.  In addition to the Display Audio, it adds to the dashboard a 3.5-inch Multi-Information Display that includes a clock, outside temperature, warning messages, and cruise information such as average fuel economy, average speed, distance to empty, current fuel economy, and trip timer.

The Plus also includes an engine immobilizer. Its front and second-row seats get easy-clean fabric, and the driver’s seat adds power lumbar adjustment. Second-row reading lamps and metallic accents on the steering wheel and door handles are other interior perks. So are a cargo-area cover and one-touch fold-flat levers for the second-row seat

Optional on 2013 Highlander SE models and standard on Limiteds is Toyota’s Display Audio with Navigation, Entune, and JBL multimedia system. Entune is a collection of popular mobile applications and data services, with three years of complimentary access. Once a smart phone is connected to the vehicle using Bluetooth wireless technology or a USB cable, Entune’s features are operated using Highlanders’s controls or, for some services, by voice recognition. Entune offers mobile apps for Bing, iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable, and Pandora. Entune data services include a fuel price guide, sports scores, stocks, traffic and weather.

Options for the Base Highlander include heated side mirrors and a windshield wiper de-icer A DVD rear-seat entertainment system remains an option on Limiteds.

On the 2013 Highlander Hybrid, Display Audio with Navigation and Entune is newly standard on the base trim. To that, the Highlander Hybrid Limited grade adds the JBL premium audio system, rear automatic climate control, and perforated leather seating surfaces.

For 2013, a Leather Premium Package replaces the previous Leather Package for the base grade Highlander Hybrid. The new package includes a power tilt/slide moonroof, leather upholstery, multi-stage heated front seats, HomeLink universal transceiver, auto-dimming rear-view mirror; metallic interior trim, and an engine immobilizer on top of security system.

2013 Toyota Highlander Prices back to top

Base-price range for the 2013 Toyota Highlander is $29,865-$40,245 for gas models and $41,015-$47,215 for the Hybrids. (Base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s mandated destination fee; Toyota’s fee for the 2013 Highlander is $845. Note that the destination fee for Toyotas sold in some Southeast and Gulf states may vary.)

With the four-cylinder engine, the 2013 Highlander Base model is priced from $29,865 and the Base Plus from $31,320. These models are front-drive only.

The 2013 Toyota Highlander Base model equipped with the V-6 starts at $31,240 with front-wheel drive and at $32,690 with all-wheel drive. The 2013 Highlander V-6 Plus is priced at $32,695 and $34,145 with front- and all-wheel drive, respectively.

The 2013 Highlander V-6 SE model starts at $35,405 with front-drive and at $36,855 with AWD.

The top-line Highlander Limited V-6 has a base price of $36,795 with front-drive and $40,245 with AWD.

The 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Base model is priced from $41,015 in Base form and from $47,215 in Limited-model trim.  

Among key 2013 Highlander options, the heated mirrors and windshield-wiper de-icer for the Base model is  $60. The Display Audio with Navigation, Entune, and JBL adds $1,015 to the SE model. And the rear DVD entertainment system adds $1,819 to the Limited. The Leather Premium Package for the Base Hybrid retails for $2,280.

2013 Toyota Highlander Fuel Economy back to top

EPA fuel-economy ratings for the 2013 Toyota Highlander are unchanged, sustaining the gas models among the higher mileage three-row crossover SUVs. The 2013 Highlander Hybrid is one of the most fuel-efficient three-row vehicles of any description.

The 2013 Toyota Highlander Base and Base Plus models with the four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive rate 20/25/22 mpg city/highway/combined.

With the V-6 engine, front-wheel-drive Highlanders rate 18/24/20 mpg city/highway/combined and AWD versions 17/22/19 mpg.

The 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid rates 28/28/28 mpg city/highway/combined.

All Highlanders use regular-octane fuel.

2013 Toyota Highlander Release Date back to top

The 2013 Toyota Highlander went on sale in autumn 2012.

Note that in addition to Toyota’s 36-month/36,000 mile basic new-vehicle warranty, the Highlander Hybrid’s hybrid-related components, including the battery, are covered for 8 years/100,000 miles. Gas models carry 5/60,000 powertrain coverage.

What's next for the 2013 Toyota Highlander back to top

Based on the lifecycle of the 2008-2012 second-generation Highlander we can anticipate that the third-generation would receive a midcycle freshening for model-year 2016 and be replaced by a four-generation design for model year 2019. That’s conjecture, of course: only Toyota knows such details for sure, and even the best laid automotive plans can be disrupted by shifting economic currents and as the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami showed, even by natural disasters.

In fact, some sources say Toyota won’t introduce the third-generation Highlander until model-year 2014, not 2013. We’re placing our bets with a model-year 2013 changeover, based partly on the model-year 2012 introduction of a redesigned Camry, on which any coming Highlander will be based.

No matter the precise cadence, expect the redesigned Highlander you see for model-year 2013 (or 2014) to be the basic vehicle that’ll be around until the fourth-generation bows. The midcycle freshening would likely tweak styling details and perhaps revise some interior trim and materials. But it wouldn’t alter this crossover’s general shape or dimensions.

Expect Toyota to roll into the next-gen Highlander various waves of new onboard telematics and infotainment systems, though given its conservative corporation nature, perhaps with a bit less early-adopter eagerness than you’d find in some rival SUVs.

As for powertrains, the trend is toward turbocharged four-cylinder engines to do the work of V-6s but with four-cylinder fuel economy. Ford is leading this charge with such powerplants in its seven-passenger Explorer crossover. Toyota hasn’t shown much enthusiasm for turbocharged engines in its mainstream models, but that could change as it finds ways to satisfy ever-more-stringent federal fuel-economy standards.

2013 Toyota Highlander Competition back to top

Chevrolet Traverse: With a basic design dating from model-year 2009, Traverse is among the older crossovers in Highlander’s competitive set. Chevy updates it for model-year 2013, however, and fits it with one of the first front-center airbags available in any vehicle. The new airbag deploys between the driver and front passenger for added protection in side impacts. Freshened styling includes a new nose inspired by that on the 2013 Chevy Impala. The interior is revised and includes upgraded materials. The sole drivetrain remains a V-6 with 281 horsepower, a six-speed automatic transmission, and front- or all-wheel drive. Traverse is substantially longer than the midsize-crossover norm, which means more cargo room with all three seating rows occupied, though not really much more usable passenger space. The downside is a vehicle more challenging to maneuver and park in tight spots. Base-price range for the 2013 Traverse is $31,370-$43,435.     

Honda Pilot: The two Japanese-brand giants go nose-to-nose in most every model category but in terms of three-row crossover SUVs, Honda veers away from Highlander-sleek to Pilot-blocky. This squared-off wagon mimics the look of a traditional truck-based SUV but enjoys unibody-crossover interior room, driving manners, and fuel economy. The 2013 Pilot has a basic design that dates from model-year 2009 with an all-new version due for model-year 2014. That makes the 2013 a lame duck, but one worth considering for its solid build and competitive fuel economy. The only engine is a 250-horsepower V-6 linked to a five-speed automatic transmission. Base-price range for the 2013 Honda Pilot is $30,250-$42,000.

Nissan Pathfinder: One of the last body-on-frame SUV designs gives way to unibody crossover engineering for model-year 2013 with the launch of the all-new Pathfinder. In contrast to the rugged, truck-based Pathfinders of the past, the 2013 edition puts aerodynamic sheetmetal over a car-type chassis. Instead of six- and eight-cylinder engines, it comes only with a 260-horsepower V-6 linked to a CVT. Rear-wheel drive and true four-wheel drive with low-range gearing are replaced by crossover-conventional front- and all-wheel drive. Off-roaders and those who want to tow up to 7,000 pounds may be disappointed, but the new-age Pathfinder is roomier, quieter, better-riding, and more fuel-efficient. It has comfortable seating for seven, tows up to 5,000 pounds, and is the basis for the upscale Infiniti JX35 from Nissan’s premium division. Base-price range for the 2013 Pathfinder is $29,495-$41,995.

2013 Toyota Highlander Next Steps