The latest recipient of this slow-and-steady R&D strategy is the 2017 Highlander crossover SUV, which is only just now receiving a direct-injected engine, a high-gear-count automatic transmission, stop/start and advanced active safety tech. Set to debut at next week's New York Auto Show, the Highlander also gains a freshened appearance to wrap around all that new hardware, as well as a sport-minded SE model and an expanded range of Hybrid trims.
Impressively, the entire three-row SUV range will receive Toyota Highlander Safety Sense, an umbrella of technologies that include pre-collision warning with auto braking, radar-based cruise control, lane departure alert, auto high-beam headlamps, and even pedestrian pre-collision protection. The fact that these advanced driver-assistance safety systems will come standard on all models speaks to how important they're becoming to the industry.
Toyota has yet to outline much in the way of powertrain specifics, other than to say that the Highlander's 3.5-liter V-6 will "generate significantly more horsepower, provide enhanced fuel efficiency and deliver a more direct driving feel by expanding the lock up range."
For comparison's sake, the 2016 Toyota Highlander presently extracts 270 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque from its same-size V-6, netting middling EPA ratings of 19 miles per gallon city and 25 mpg on the highway. With the addition of direct injection, two more forward speeds in the transmission and other refinements, it should be possible for the new model to achieve meaningful increases in both power and efficiency.
The new six-cylinder powerplant and automatic transmission will also feature in the 2017 Toyota Sienna minivan.
As before, the Highlander's base engine will continue to be Toyota's 2.7-liter four-cylinder matched to a six-speed automatic.
The Highlander's new SE sports model (shown here) is mostly an appearance play, with trim-specific 19-inch alloy wheels and dark trim for the headlamps, grille and roof rail, but it does incorporate a specially tuned suspension for a more athletic ride.
Pricing has not yet been released, but the Indiana-built 2017 Highlander range will arrive in dealerships this fall. It will do battle in a growing and rapidly evolving segment, mixing it up with established models such as the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot and Nissan Pathfinder, as well as all-new competitors including the Mazda CX-9 and GMC Acadia.