The Toyota Highlander was first introduced in 2001 as Toyota launched another SUV into the market. Being the mega-brand that it is, it created an amazing car with a lot of great features, quality, and safety, which is unparalleled by its competition.
However, it is to be known that Toyota is not the perfect brand we think it is and has made some rather questionable mistakes regarding the vehicles it makes.
In this article, I will be talking about the best and worst years for Toyota Highlander so make sure to read the entire article.
Best years for Toyota Highlander:
Worst years for Toyota Highlander:
So now you know the models, right? Let’s start the list in more details without any delay!
List Of The Best Years For The Toyota Highlander: What Years To Buy
#1 Best Year: 2007 Toyota Highlander
Despite nearing a decade since its debut as the last model of the first generation, the 2007 Toyota Highlander is regarded as one of the best Highlander models on the market.
This is because of various factors, including the fact that it had seen the errors of its previous models and had improved upon them.
The seven-seat capacity was well received along with the available AWD and hybrid model. The car came in 3 different trims and featured the choice between a V6 or a 4-cylinder engine.
What truly sets this model of the Highlander aside is the fact that it as it one of the best family cars of its time, coming with a huge amount of cargo space, 2 cup holders on each rear door, and an optional touch screen navigation system which is both easy to use and understand.
#2 Best Year: 2006 Toyota Highlander
Before the success of the 2007 Highlander, the previous model, the 2006 Toyota Highlander, was also making waves in the SUV industry.
This model of the Highlander came with slight design changes to the license plate garnish, grille, and a new integrated bumper. Its offering laid the foundation of the 2007 model by also offering three trims with hybrid models and available AWD.
Other notable features included the V6 and 4-cylinder options. This was all packaged into a five-passenger capacity vehicle with a decent amount of cargo space for its seating capacity.
It is easy to drive, comfortable to ride in, and handles like a beauty making it one of the top cars on this list.
#3 Best Year: 2001 Toyota Highlander
If you are looking for something vintage or don’t have any problems buying older models?
The 2001 Toyota Highlander, despite being the first model of the line-up, was also held in high regard. This model only came in 2 trims and was a basic five-seat capacity SUV.
This model tried to sell itself as an SUV, minivan, and passenger car hybrid. It managed to deliver the positives of all cars without falling into any major problems or issues.
The mileage of the car is great, and the engine can push out 220 horsepower with ease. Customers have happily labeled it the most reliable car out there.
#4 Best Year: 2021 Toyota Highlander
Unlike the previous model on my list, if you are looking for something modern and want the latest and advanced, then the 2021 Toyota Highlander is a perfect fit for you.
Being fairly new on the market, it has not faced major criticism. It has provided many upgrades over its predecessors, such as an additional seat which has made the passenger count rise to 8.
This is complemented by the car’s smooth V6 engine, high-quality interior and massive cargo storage capacity, making it an overall great model for the Highlander.
The technology used in the car is also up to date and completely advanced, which is a great plus.
#5 Best Year: 2020 Toyota Highlander
The 2020 Toyota Highlander started the 4th and latest generation of the line-up and knocked its debut right out of the park.
This model flaunts a new array of technology and quality unmatched by its competitors. The model’s new design featured five trims and, across them, used high-end technologies.
The car also featured a luxurious cabin which could easily rival its competitors on the market. This 4th generation also featured an overhaul of the cargo system, which was complained about in previous models and improved upon it quite a bit.
The powerful dual-engine pushes 295 horsepower and provides the car with smooth and sufficient revving power.
#6 Best Year: 2017 Toyota Highlander
The 2017 Toyota Highlander debuted in the middle of the 3rd generation of the lineup, and it established the remaining generation, with future models following the trend this model would set up.
This is yet another eight-seater SUV with amazing handling and respectable gas mileage, which is all possible due to the V6 engine being used by the car.
The interior of the product is what truly makes this product shine. The cabin quality of the car is out of this world and stays consistent in the first and second rows of the car.
The dashboard also features a lot of quality, and with the device tray, there is also a huge storage space between the front seats.
#7 Best Year: 2019 Toyota Highlander
The 2019 Toyota Highlander is another great 3 row SUV that has a seating capacity of 8 passengers.
As I mentioned above, the models after 2017 would follow a similar trend. That holds with the 2019 Highlander, which features another great quality interior that stays consistent throughout the first and second rows of the car.
This model also features enhanced storage space between the first two seats and has great cargo storage overall. The interior allows for comfortability since the vehicle features a powered, length adjustable cushion seat for the driver, which is a positive.
#8 Best Year: 2018 Toyota Highlander
While it would not surpass the 2019 model or its predecessor, the 2018 Toyota Highlander was still a great car in its own right, especially when compared to its competitors.
Despite no major changes from the previous model, the car is still worthy of being on this list and features unmatched quality and safety.
It offers the same quality interior as the models before and after and features the powered, length adjusting cushion for the driver seat.
The driving and handling is also top tier as the product features automatic emergency braking systems, which are sure to keep you protected and secure in case of sudden brakes.
List Of The Worst Years For The Toyota Highlander: What Years To Avoid
#1 Worst Year: 2003 Toyota Highlander
The 2003 Toyota Highlander holds the record for having the most number of problems out of all the models that have ever been released. There were problems with pretty much every aspect of the vehicle.
Users faced major engine and interior problems. Some reports even state that the engine light came on within a week of purchasing the car.
There were problems like extensive fuel consumption oil leakage, and the engine also made a lot of noise while driving. Other than that, there were a ton of interior problems with the vehicle.
Add together the brake failures, cooling system problems, air conditioning problems, transmission problems, and even paint problems, and you get the abomination that was the 2003 model of the Toyota Highlander.
This is a model which I will personally recommend that you avoid, like the plague itself.
#2 Worst Year: 2005 Toyota Highlander
Although the 2005 model of the Toyota Highlander was a step up from the 2003 model, it still had a lot of issues that were left unaddressed.
Things like excessive fuel consumption were addressed, which was a step up. However, there were still some major problems in the vehicle.
This model still faced oil leakage problems. This means that the money you would have to spend on regular oil changes was still too high.
Due to this frequent oil change, this model also faced the problem of sludge buildup in the car’s engine. This was another thing that you had to spend money on getting fixed.
#3 Worst Year: 2008 Toyota Highlander
After a few years of producing some good models, Toyota dropped the ball again with 2008’s model of the Toyota Highlander. Although the number of problems was fewer than the previous models, the model did receive quite a high number of complaints.
Most of these were related to the engine light going off despite properly maintaining the engine. This problem was because of the car’s oxygen sensor component failing.
This component does not necessarily need to be replaced as it does not pose any major threat. However, it may hide a potential major problem in the engine.
This problem could also, in some cases, cause the engine to misfire. Along with that, it was also a rather expensive piece of equipment to replace in your vehicle.
#4 Worst Year: 2010 Toyota Highlander
Ever heard the saying “there is nothing new under the sun”? The 2010 model of the Toyota Highlander is perfectly analogous to this phrase when it comes to the kind of problems it had.
Mostly because the problem this model showed was already there in some of the previous models. This model had some serious oil leakage problems.
This led to the loss of oil pressure requiring much more frequent oil change sessions than you would normally expect from a vehicle of this size. That, in turn, led to sludge buildup in the engine.
Other than that, the ignition coil would usually fail at around 100,000 miles of usage. Again, adding another problem to the list of repairs you were looking at.
#5 Worst Year: 2012 Toyota Highlander
The 2012 model of the Toyota Highlander was a step forward from some of the previous models in terms of problems. However, some remained, along with some new ones seen in this vehicle for the first time in a long time.
This model had similar oil leaking issues as its predecessors. However, they were not as extreme as them. The one new problem faced by users of the 2012 model was the problem with steering the vehicle.
Some reported that the car was unbalanced since they bought it. This added serious steering problems and suspension problems to the vehicle as well.
Since getting your car repaired right after you bought it is not something people look forward to, these problems are left and usually end up causing more problems in the future.
#6 Worst Year: 2013 Toyota Highlander
2013’s model of the Toyota Highlander and a few years following were met with heavy criticism because of the large number of problems they faced. The vehicle faced a large number of complaints due to these problems.
One of the major ones was the problem with the vehicle’s body and paint. Most of the complaints about this problem were about bubbling in the paint. This problem is usually caused by using low-quality paint.
Along with that, the model also faced problems with the air conditioning and heating. Also, there have been several complaints regarding the transmission of this Highlander’s model year, which can cost a lot to get repaired or replaced.
#7 Worst Year: 2014 Toyota Highlander
The Toyota Highlander model released in 2014 faced more problems than its predecessor. The vehicle felt like a step down from the 2013 model.
This is because not only did the problems from that model carry over, but this model brought even more problems with it. Along with the air conditioning/heating and the transmission problems, this model had several problems with its interior.
The vehicle’s entertainment system did not work properly and had poor reception on the radio. The seats were not well designed and were made with poor material, which made them uncomfortable.
After a long usage time, the driver or other passengers have reported having experienced back pains because of these seats.
#8 Worst Year: 2015 Toyota Highlander
The 2015 model of the Toyota Highlander is known for being the model that received the largest number of complaints.
Most of these complaints were about the same issues from previous years, and users were growing frustrated with major problems not being looked into.
This model had much the same problems with the vehicle’s interior, which included the uncomfortably designed seats. It also had similar paint bubbling and flaking problems as the 2013 model and the air conditioning and heating problems as the 2014 model.
In a sense, this model took the worst from its predecessors and did not fix them as it should have, which explains the high number of complaints that this model received.
What Are The Most Common Problems With The Toyota Highlander?
1. Defective Airbags
This is probably one of the most dangerous problems for Toyota Highlander. The problem was most prevalent among the older 2013 to 2016 models.
The airbags in these vehicles would not deploy upon collision. They did not deploy even during the testing of the models, so it’s a surprise that this vehicle even made it to the market with such a serious issue.
This significantly increased risk of the occupants receiving some serious injuries. Among these older models, no recalls were made for this problem.
However, when this issue did show up in one of the latest 2020 models, Toyota recalled over 3000 vehicles to fix this very issue.
2. Interior Problems
This is a problem that was quite common among the third generation of this vehicle.
One of the major things that caused this problem was the poor design of the vehicle’s seats. These seats were not shaped ergonomically and caused back pains for riders after long journeys in the vehicle.
Along with this, the vehicle’s entertainment system was a mess in these years. The reception on the radio was extremely poor and inconsistent. Some reports are stating that the radio changed channels on its own.
Lastly, the panic alarm featured in these vehicles would randomly go off even without any need to do so.
3. Oil Leaks And Loss Of Oil Pressure
The Toyota Highlander has been notorious for its oil leaking problems since the very start. In recent models, this problem has been somewhat properly begun to be addressed.
This problem was caused specifically by poor engineering. The variable valves timing-intelligent gear, more commonly known as the VVT-i gear, in these vehicles was mostly faulty. This led to the loss of oil pressure and leakage.
There have been reports of puddles of oil under the vehicle or even the smell of oil inside the vehicle. The constant oil change also caused sludging in the engine of the vehicle.
4. Head Gasket And Oxygen Sensor Failure
In most of the models among the second and the third generation of the Toyota Highlander, there were problems with the oxygen sensor and head gasket failures.
These in and of themselves were not that serious of problems as the vehicle can work fine for years without them. However, they are important components for monitoring the state of the engine.
First of all, whenever one of these things is malfunctioning, the engine light is on. This can hide some other problems that might be more serious than them. Other than that, these components are quite expensive to replace.
Related: Why Won’t My Toyota Highlander Start?
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. Which Is More Reliable: Honda Pilot Or Toyota Highlander?
Both the Honda Pilot and the Toyota Highlander are very similar vehicles in terms of size and capacity. They both provide three rows for seating.
In terms of drive options, both vehicles provide options for only front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. And both vehicles allow for a 5000-pound towing capacity.
However, this is where the major differences come into play. The Highlander offers two engines with varying horsepower, whereas the Pilot only offers one.
The cruise control is also a standard safety feature with the Highlander but optional in the Pilot. These two points give Highlander more reliability.
Q2. How Many Miles Will A Toyota Highlander Last?
The Toyota Highlander is the most long-lasting mini-SUV available on the market right now. The currently tested distance traveled by any Highlander is a little around 300,000 miles. This is over 15 years of usage.
This makes this vehicle quite a reliable one. However, with the sort of problems that this vehicle faces, you will need to have a good maintenance schedule if you want your Highlander to last this long.
Related: How Long Do Toyota Highlanders Last?
Q3. What Is The Difference Between Highlander LE And XLE?
Any model of the Toyota Highlander comes in two variants, the LE and XLE variants.
In short, the XLE is a more premium variant than the LE one. The LE model features an integrated backup camera with a projected path and a 4.2-inch LCD with a multi-information display.
The XLE has premium audio which comes with integrated navigation and an app suite, all with leather-trimmed seats to give you further comfort. The XLE is a more comfortable variant of the LE.
Q4. What Is The Difference Between Highlander XLE And Limited?
The difference between the Toyota HIghlander’s XLE and Limited is minimal and always comes down to feature preference, so you should know what you are getting into.
The limited features offer more features than the XLE, such as a 10-way power adjustable driver seat equipped with Android Auto, Apple Car play, a 12.3-inch screen that has touch capabilities, and a surround-view parking camera.
If you think you can live without these features, then go for the XLE and save yourself a few bucks. If you want more comfort, then the Limited is for you.
Q5. Is Toyota Highlander Good In Snow?
Toyota is a brand committed to giving quality and safety to its users.
This is in all types of weather and terrain and holds for the Highlander brand, which features great performance in snow and during winters, all thanks to the Star safety system in place, which features a lot of safety protocols that keep the car stable in the snow.
These features include traction control and electronic brake distribution, letting you drive the car confidently.
Toyota has proven multiple times that it can create quality vehicles that are safe for its users and comfortable, and the Highlander is a vehicle lineup that is nothing less.
It is a great choice for an SUV and worth purchasing, especially the 2007 model if you want a quality experience. However, avoid the models mentioned in the worst years part of this list, especially the 2003 model.
Other than that, I hope you were able to find out the best and worst years for Toyota Highlander.
Hi there! I am Tahir Azam, and this is my blog. WVDOT Automotive is a website dedicated to creating high-quality content for car enthusiasts. I am also an avid car driver. I own and drive a Porsche for my daily tasks. It is the perfect vehicle for my family. I am a proud father of two boys. I spend my mornings and evenings catering to clients at my very own software hub. After getting home, I dedicate a few hours of my time to creating an article every day. Well, this is a short introduction about me and I am also a publisher on Amazon. I hope you enjoy reading through my articles, and I also hope that I may have helped you choose an upgrade for your vehicle.