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2017 Highlander comes with more power and safety tech

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Shopping for a mid-size SUV with three rows of seating is no simple task, as there are so many good offerings to choose from.

The Toyota Highlander is one of my favorite choices in this segment, and it should be on your short list too for its spacious, comfortable and versatile cabin, pleasing ride and solid reputation.

Powertrain upgrades for 2017 include a new 3.5-liter V-6 engine with 25 more horsepower and new fuel-saving start-stop technology and a new eight-speed automatic transmission.

All 2017 Toyota Highlander models now include Toyota Safety Sense-P (TSS-P). TSS-P features collision and pedestrian detection with automatic emergency braking, lane departure alert and assist, adaptive cruise control and automatic high beams.

A sportier SE model joins the mix for 2017, and Highlander now comes in six trims: LE, LE Plus, XLE, SE, Limited and Limited Platinum.

The base Highlander LE ($30,630) is equipped with a 185-horsepower, 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission powering the front wheels.

In my opinion, the four-cylinder is offered to keep Highlander’s price around $30,000. The V-6 is the only way to go for Highlander. The V-6 is optional in LE and comes standard in all other trims.

The new 295-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine also lands you a new, smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission. The V-6 is actually a tad more fuel efficient than the four-cylinder, which has to work harder.

Front wheel drive (FWD) is standard in all models, and all-wheel drive (AWD) is available for models powered by the V-6 engine.

The new V-6 provides plenty of power for accelerating from a stop and for passing. The new eight-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and helps increase Highlander’s level of refinement.

Highlander’s exterior styling has been revised slightly for 2017, but it is not one of its greatest strengths. I find Highlander’s exterior styling to be rather bland.

For me, Highlander’s real beauty becomes evident as soon as you enter its cabin and take it for a spin.

As you might expect, the first- and second-row seats provide plenty of head and leg room, but the third row is tight and best suited for children.

Models with a second-row bench seat (LE, LE Plus, XLE and SE) provide accommodations for eight, while models with the available second-row captain’s chairs (Limited and Limited Platinum) offer seating for seven.

With all seats in use there are 13.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row. That opens up to about 42 cubic feet with the third row folded and about 83 cubic feet with both the second and third rows folded.

There are plenty of standard and available amenities found in Highlander’s sophisticated cabin, but one that merits mention is its large, deep center console. It features a dual roll-top, making it super easy to store and retrieve your items.

On the road, Highlander delivers a smooth, confident, refined ride. There is a little body roll when cornering, but not too much. Maneuverability is decent, too, as Highlander is neither too big nor cumbersome when negotiating crowded parking lots.