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It is hard to deny the appeal of a roomy, mid-size SUV. In fact, it seems that the market is becoming saturated with them. It is even doing so to the point that some automobile manufacturers are eliminating some of their sedans and focusing more predominantly on their SUV line-ups.
While Toyota surely will not be getting rid of the Camry or Prius anytime soon, they seem to understand that more people are making the switch to SUVs. And the mid-sized Highlander is the one that larger families are really taking a vested interest in. With its abundance of state-of-the-art standard safety features, better-than-average fuel economy from the powerful V6 engine, and engaging ride quality, the Highlander makes for one attractive investment.
Of course, the Highlander might not be for everyone. Those who need spacious third-row seating will have to look elsewhere as the Highlander just does not have that much room in the rear. Also, for some odd reason, smartphone app integration via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is not available on any Toyota Highlander trim level. As this has come to be a highly desired standard feature (or at least an optional one) on most new vehicles, its absence makes little sense.
With five trim levels (three of which offer hybrid variants) to choose from, how are you supposed to know which 2019 Toyota Highlander will best fit your family's unique needs? Is there one trim level that stands out above the rest? Let's get down to the nitty-gritty and compare the specs found on each trim level.
Compare the 2019 Toyota Highlander LE vs LE Plus - What is the difference?
For being a base trim, the 2019 Toyota Highlander LE has a good amount of customization. First of all, if you are looking for something more powerful than the standard 2.7-L 4-cylinder engine (which gets paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission), then you can upgrade to the 3.5-L V6. The V6 is matched up with an 8-speed automatic transmission. And, unlike the 2.7-L engine, the V6 can be equipped with front-wheel or all-wheel drive.
The LE comes relatively well-stocked with standard safety features. Toyota's Safety Sense suite of active driver aids can be found on each trim level. This means that features like forward collision warning with automatic braking and adaptive cruise control are included in the price of the vehicle, whereas some competitors have made these features optional or left them off of their base trims entirely.
The rest of the LE's standard equipment is also pretty reasonable. The vehicle comes with a rear-view camera, heated mirrors, air conditioning for the rear seats, a 6.1-inch infotainment touchscreen display, and a grand total of five USB ports (two of which can be located in the rear seats).
Despite the fact that the LE offers an acceptable amount of power from its standard 4-cylinder engine, the V6 is the better bet. And if it's the V6 you want, you might wish to consider upgrading to a higher trim level since the 3.5-L V6 engine comes standard on those. The LE Plus has a starting MSRP that is about $5,000 higher than the LE, so you would think that the LE Plus has quite a bit more to it than the LE trim. The truth is that it only really adds the absolute essentials.
In addition to the standard V6 engine, the LE Plus includes integrated fog lights, a blind spot monitoring system, an 8-inch touchscreen display panel, and upgraded trims and upholstery for the cabin. The fabric upholstery is combined with SofTex, a type of synthetic leather used by Toyota for their seats. The driver's seat is power-adjustable ten different ways as opposed to the six-way adjustable driver's seat on the LE trim.
The creature comfort upgrades do not stop there. In addition to the synthetic leather found in the seats, there is a chic-looking leather-clad tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel. The wheel itself has multiple controls mounted on it, including those for multimedia settings, voice command, and Bluetooth. The LE Plus also has tri-zone automatic climate control with individual temperature settings for the driver, front seat passenger, and passengers in the rear seats.
Compare the 2019 Highlander LE Plus vs XLE Trims. What is the difference?
Moving on up in the line, the 2019 Toyota Highlander's next trim level is the XLE. This mid-range trim takes a lot of the features found standard on the LE Plus and adds more features to give the vehicle a more luxurious vibe. While it is definitely not the line's top trim, it provides an excellent balance between functionality, luxury, and affordability.
On the XLE, the first and second row of seats are leather-trimmed, and the third row of seating is clad in SofTex. If you prefer captain's chairs, you can swap the second row bench seat for these. The cabin has quite a few other material upgrades, including satin chrome handles for the doors, as opposed to the basic black ones on the lower trim levels.
As far as mechanics on the vehicle go, everything is essentially the same on the XLE as it is with the LE Plus. Most of the safety features are also the same, save for one noteworthy addition. The XLE comes with both an engine immobilizer (as does the LE Plus) and an anti-theft alarm. Other than that, when you upgrade to the XLE, you are mostly paying for aesthetic differences and a few additional or upgraded features. However, it serves as a nice middle ground between the base and line-topping trim levels.
Compare the Highlander XLE vs SE - What is the difference?
Having a sports-oriented variant is crucial for vehicle line-ups in the mid-sized SUV segment. Of course, when you buy a sport vehicle, you should reasonably expect a noticeable boost in performance. That just is not what you get on the Highlander SE, despite Toyota swapping the regular MacPherson strut front suspension system for the sport-tuned version. The SE is powered by the same 3.5-L V6 engine that comes equipped on the XLE and has the same brake system as well.
Given that the mechanics are so strikingly similar, what you are really paying for on the SE are, once again, the aesthetic upgrades. On the exterior, the SE features black sport headlights, LED daytime running lights that are integrated into the headlights, black LED fog lights that are also integrated into the headlights, and 19-inch wheels with a black finish. The interior of the SE also has some noticeable differences. The upper door trim features a unique pattern, and the cabin is lined with blue LED ambient lighting.
Aside from those changes, the SE is basically just a slightly sportier-looking version of the XLE with a higher price tag. Almost all of the safety and technology features that you find on the SE come on the XLE, which provides more dollar-per-dollar value. If you really are having a sports-oriented vehicle, the Highlander SE probably will not be the first choice on your list.
Compare the Highlander XLE vs Limited Trims. What is the difference?
The line-topping Limited trim is where Toyota packs in the greatest amount of change. Again, mechanically, everything remains the same as it does on the XLE. There is, however, the option to equip the Platinum Package on either the FWD or AWD. The Platinum Package is basically a suite of luxury features, including a heated steering wheel, heated second-row seats, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a panoramic moonroof. The Limited sits atop upgraded 19-inch alloy wheels and features wooden accent trims throughout the cabin as opposed to the metallic ones you will find in the XLE.
One major upgrade on the Limited trim is that it comes with the Safety Connect system. Although you will have to pay for an annual subscription after the complimentary first year subscription has expired, you do get a lot of helpful extra features with this suite. Included in Safety Connect are roadside assistance, emergency assistance, and a stolen vehicle locator function. While these features can certainly get you out of a jam when you need them, many drivers might feel like they are wasting their money and making an already-expensive trim even pricier.
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Which One Should You Choose?
Let's be honest; the 2019 Toyota Highlander is not the most mechanically-diverse line-up that you can find. In fact, it is pretty far from earning that title. The differences between the trim levels are predominantly aesthetic. Even the sport variant, the SE, bears little difference to the other mid-level trims, save for some black finished parts.
If you are dead-set on getting a Highlander, hone your focus in on the XLE. Overall, it seems to provide the most bang for your buck. It has the same powerful engine as the line-topping Limited trim and comes with plenty of standard features. Of course, the entire line-up is lacking several key features, most notable among the missing being smartphone app integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. That alone might be enough to deter some tech-savvy buyers.
• Compare the 2019 Toyota Highlander Trim Levels