Best & Worst Toyota Highlander Years

Avoid the costly mistake of buying a Toyota Highlander from one of its worst years. This analysis shows you exactly which Toyota Highlander years to avoid.

The Toyota Highlander has proven itself a formidable contender in the midsize crossover SUV market.

It offers great reliability, comfort, and well-rounded features, but has seen years of highs and lows.

This manual aims to analyze the highest and lowest Toyota Highlander years, offering a comprehensive assessment for potential purchasers.

Let’s jump right into it.

Table of ContentsShow

Toyota Highlander Generations

GenerationYears
Toyota Highlander (XU20, 1st generation)2001-2007
Toyota Highlander (XU40, 2nd generation)2008-2013
Toyota Highlander (XU50, 3rd generation)2014-2019
Toyota Highlander (XU70, 4th generation)2020-Present

The table above, which shows Toyota Highlander generations, gives you a clear overview of the model’s evolution. Each generation represent key changes in design, functionality, and technology that may greatly influences a buying decision.

“Neutral Years” represent model years that do not significantly deviate from the established norm. These years neither surprise with exceptional features nor disappoint with pronounced issues.

You could call them average years.

Toyota Highlander Best, Neutral, and Worst Years

GenerationBest YearsNeutral YearsWorst Years
1st (2001-2007)2003
2004
2005
2006
20022001
2007
2nd (2008-2013)2009
2011
2012
20132008
2010
3rd (2014-2019)2014
2016
2017
2018
20152019
4th (2020-Present)202020212022
2023

These categorizations are are a result from a dozens of hours researcing a variety of factors, such as owner-reported reliability scores, annual maintenance costs, safety ratings, Consumer Reports reliability and owner satisfaction scores, NHTSA recalls, investigations, complaints, and owner ratings from Edmunds, JD Power, Kelley’s Blue Book (KBB), VehicleHistory, and Cars.com.

Some factors can negatively affect these rankings. For instance, a high number of NHTSA recalls can indicate lower reliability, thus bringing down a model year’s score.

Without further ado, here are the combined scores for each Toyota Highlander model year. With this in place, you can get a better overview of which Toyota Highlander years to avoid, and which to go for.

Toyota Highlander Car Smite Score

With the classifications set, we will now explore each generation’s finest and poorest years.

Best & Worst Years For Toyota Highlander 1st Generation (2001-2007)

Toyota Tundra 1st generation 2001 model
The 2001 Toyota Highlander

Toyota launched the first-generation Highlander in 2001, as a comfortable and reliable midsize SUV.

Best Years: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006

These were the peak years of the first generation, displaying exceptional reliability, comfortable ride, and generous cargo space.

Notably, the 3.3-liter V6 engine introduced in 2004 provided a substantial boost in power, enhancing towing capacity while retaining fuel efficiency.

In addition, these years witnessed the implementation of enhanced safety features, including sophisticated airbag systems and optional stability control.

Neutral Year: 2002

The 2002 model offered decent reliability and performance. However, minor issues with the engine, specifically concerning coolant leaks and oxygen sensor failure, kept it from achieving the “best” ranking.

Its strengths, such as ample interior space and a comfortable ride, were counterbalanced by these minor drawbacks.

Worst Years: 2001, 2007

The debut year 2001 model faced several challenges including transmission problems and air conditioning system failures. These issues led to a spike in owner-reported problems, tarnishing its initial reputation.

The 2007 model, as the final year of this generation, was widely criticized for its uninspiring handling and subpar interior quality, a disappointing end to an otherwise strong generation.

Best & Worst Years For Toyota Highlander 2nd Generation (2008-2013)

Toyota Tundra 2nd generation 2008 model
The 2008 Toyota Highlander

The second-generation Highlander was larger and more family-friendly, launched in 2008 with an improved design.

Best Years: 2009, 2011, 2012

The 2009, 2011, and 2012 models boasted high reliability and offered spacious three-row seating, making them ideal for larger families.

The introduction of a more potent 3.5-liter V6 engine in these years provided an excellent balance of power and fuel efficiency. Enhanced safety features like traction control and an improved crash safety rating further boosted their appeal.

Neutral Year: 2013

While the 2013 model was generally reliable and offered a good amount of interior space, it didn’t stand out compared to other years in this generation.

Minor issues with the electric power steering and occasional transmission hiccups were the primary reasons this model year didn’t achieve a higher ranking.

Worst Years: 2008, 2010

The 2008 model, which kickstarted the second generation, suffered from engine issues such as excessive oil consumption.

Also, owners reported problems with the interior electronics, including malfunctioning navigation systems and climate control issues. The 2010 model had similar problems along with reported issues with premature brake wear and body integrity.

Best & Worst Years For Toyota Highlander 3rd Generation (2014-2019)

Toyota Tundra 3rd generation 2014 model
The 2014 Toyota Highlander

The third-generation Highlander, introduced in 2014, offered a more premium feel, increased power, and advanced safety features.

Best Years: 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018

These models excelled in reliability, performance, and boasted upscale interior quality. Fuel economy was improved due to the introduction of a more efficient transmission, and the Highlander’s tech features became more user-friendly.

Safety was another strong point, with Toyota’s Safety Sense package adding pre-collision warning and lane departure warning.

Neutral Year: 2015

The 2015 Highlander didn’t make notable advancements or display substantial issues. It maintained the high standard set by the 2014 model but didn’t surpass it.

Some reported infotainment system glitches and a slightly stiff ride quality detracted from its otherwise solid reputation.

Worst Year: 2019

The 2019 model faced some criticism due to a relatively less engaging driving experience and some reported issues with the transmission, including abrupt shifts and occasional delays in response.

Despite its premium interior and a host of standard safety features, these drawbacks led to a lower ranking.

Best & Worst Years For Toyota Highlander 4th Generation (2020-Present)

Toyota Tundra 4th generation 2020 model
The 2020 Toyota Highlander

The fourth-generation Highlander, introduced in 2020, further refined the design and offered advanced tech features.

Best Year: 2020

The 2020 model set a high standard for the new generation, featuring a comprehensive suite of driver assistance features, a spacious and upscale interior, and robust V6 engine.

The redesign also introduced a more stylish exterior and a quieter cabin, enhancing its overall appeal. However, it is the introduction of the Highlander Hybrid, offering impressive fuel economy, that truly set the 2020 model apart.

Neutral Year: 2021

While the 2021 Highlander remained a strong contender in the midsize SUV market, it didn’t bring substantial improvements over the 2020 model.

Despite its high safety scores and comfortable interior, some complaints about the finicky infotainment system and a relatively high base price made it fall into the neutral category.

Worst Years: 2022, 2023

Despite being recent, these model years have faced some criticism. Owners reported some issues with the infotainment system, including problems with the screen freezing or the system rebooting on its own.

Additionally, minor mechanical issues related to the braking system and transmission were reported, leading to their placement in the “worst” category.

Toyota Highlander Average Resale Values

We also analyzed the average resale value for each Toyota Highlander model year. It gives you a great overview of what you should expect to shell out to get an average Toyota Highlander of that year.

Toyota Highlander List Prices

Conclusion

The Toyota Highlander, throughout its generations, has shown a complex but generally impressive evolution. Knowing the best and worst years of the model can significantly aid your purchasing decisions.

With a focus on reliability, maintenance, safety, and consumer satisfaction, this guide seeks to highlight the most and least favorable years of the Toyota Highlander.

What Toyota Highlander model year do you prefer? Comment your answer below as we’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Jonathan Eckert

Jonathan is an ASE-certified mechanic with over 22 years of hands-on experience in the automotive industry. His expertise spans a wide range of vehicles, but he specializes in diagnosing and repairing Japanese cars. His previous workplace highly commended his meticulous attention to detail, and that's exaclty what he uses at Car Smite to craft the best guides for each purpose.