Do You Need The Third Row? Traveling In A 2015 Toyota Highlander

Toyota Highlander

The Toyota Highlander comes through after a ski accident.

When you have a family of five, or fewer, you don’t need a seven or eight passenger car at all times. In fact, you may rarely have the need for that extra seating. But we went skiing recently and realized how useful that extra row can be.

My daughter’s friend, Leslie, tore her ACL and had to have it immobilized in a splint. Had we been driving a sedan or small SUV, my daughters would have had Leslie’s leg on top of them, and Leslie would have been in even more pain.

But since we had the luxury of space in the 2015 Toyota Highlander, Leslie was able to stretch her injured leg across the three seats in the second row, and my daughters were in the third row.

Toyota Highlander

Riding relatively pain free in the 2nd row of the Toyota Highlander. Credit: Judy Antell for AGirlsGuidetoCars

Now, this was not ideal for several reasons, not least of which was we spent the day in the ER instead of on the slopes. And the third row offers very limited leg room, so my daughters were cramped.

But we were still able to fit all of our luggage, with one suitcase on the floor in the second row. And the minivan helped us make the best of a bad situation.

Toyota Highlander

AWD helped us on snowy roads and driveways. Credit: Judy Antell for AGirlsGuidetoCars

And that third row capability can come in very handy at other times – when you are chaperoning the soccer team, or showing out of towner’s your city’s highlights. Or even just going out to dinner in a big group. We regularly dine out with three other couples and always have to bring two cars. The Highlander is also great for families that bring skis, surfboards, kayaks or bicycles on their adventures.

Where’s the blind spot monitor?

Toyota Highlander

This little slot was a great place to store a few extra items close at hand. Credit: Judy Antell for AGirlsGuidetoCars

You sit nice and high in the Toyota Highlander and can see everything ahead of you – and behind you with the rear view camera. Changing lanes to the right, though, I felt I had a huge blind spot; a electronic blind spot monitor would be nice (I relied on the human voice – my husband, screaming, NO!!!”)

All wheel drive, perfect for snowy roads

Toyota Highlander

We had room on the floor for a few bags – and crutches. Credit: Judy Antell for AGirlsGuidetoCars

I have to admit, I used to have no idea what all wheel drive was, or why I wanted it, but since weather keeps getting more severe, I have come to expect this tremendous safety feature, which helps you drive on snowy, icy, or rain slicked streets. In New York City, the day after a storm streets are so clear it’s as if it never snowed. bBut in Northampton, our friend’s street looked like it had never been plowed. You simply have to have an AWD car here and we were happy to have it and avoid any further harm.

Finding your way

Toyota Highlander

The deep storage well, accessible by 1st or 2nd row passengers. Credit: Judy Antell for AGirlsGuidetoCars

The navigation system is very easy to use and follow, with a comforting ding right before you turn or exit a highway and timely reminders. There is an alert when a toll booth is imminent.

Toyota Highlander

The storage area can be closed & served as an arm rest, or hide items when you leave the car. Credit: Judy Antell for AGirlsGuidetoCars

You can use voice commands or type in a destination, One quirk, similar to what we have with our after market Garmin navigation system; we can’t get our address to work. We live on 10th Street, which is not recognized – nor is Tenth Street or 10 Street. We had to ‘trick’ the system when we needed directions home, using a nearby named, not numbered street.

Toyota Highlander

Third row seat flat down; you pull the strap to get it back up. Credit: Judy Antell for AGirlsGuidetoCars

The system was also a bit slow to recalculate; when we elected to take a different route, the nav system didn’t ‘find’ us for a few minutes.

I loved the three way split in the eight inch color touchscreen; you could have your map, radio station and local info, including weather, all showing at once. The map even had icons for chain stores like Radio Shack and Dunkin Donuts displayed.

Let the sunshine in

Toyota Highlander

The view from the third row. The headrest folds down. Credit: Judy Antell for AGirlsGuidetoCars

The car has a huge sunroof with sunshade and the rear windows have built in sunshades, a very thoughtful touch. The sunshade is opened by hand; nice if you are sitting in the car catching up on work and waiting for your kids. You don’t have to turn the car back on to get more light and really, how hard is it to push the shade open with one finger?

Creature comforts

There are eight cup holders throughout the car, four outlets, a fold down console in the second row if you have only one or two passengers back there, and a deep storage area in the front, between the driver and passenger seats. Our ubiquitous giant snack bag fit into that storage well, and the second row passengers could access it.

Toyota Highlander

Not a whole lot of leg room in the 3rd row. Credit: Judy Antell for AGirlsGuidetoCars


There was also a cool little slot under the touchscreen, where you could stash a phone, wallet – even a banana.

Auto headlights are great, as are heated side view mirrors that fold in.

Good for the environment?

I was a bit disappointed that we couldn’t get the hybrid model for our trip, but my friend, who has a two or three year old hybrid Toyota Highlander said we actually got better fuel economy than she does. Apparently, her car gets better mileage in the city, when the car is regenerating in traffic, than on the highway. So although the 24 miles per gallon we got wasn’t stellar, think of it this way: had we not had a three row car, Leslie’s parents would have had to drive six hours to pick her up. So we saved all that gas.

What We Loved

  • Eight passenger seating with plenty of leg room and head room in the first two rows
  • Three way split touchscreen
  • Huge sun roof
  • Easy to use tech

Toyota HighlanderWhat You Need to Know

  • Base price, about $42,000
  • Price of the model we tested: $47,573
  • Uses regular gas
  • Rated 18 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway; we got a solid 24 on mostly highway driving
  • Three year, 36,000 mile warranty
  • The car is not yet rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Disclosure: Toyota loaned me the Highlander for my review; opinions reflected here are purely my own. 

Judy Antell, who is's Free in 50 States editor, lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with her husband and... More about Judy Antell