While 2017 was the best year ever in terms of sales for the Toyota Highlander, it will do even better this year, especially since the 2019 version has been occupying showrooms for months.

In the national SUV buying craze, this mid-size sport utility crossover has top safety ratings, interior space and comfort, reliability and plenty of performance.

Configured to seat seven or eight, its pricing is competitive with similarly equipped rivals.

Changes for 2019 were cosmetic with our test drive SE V6 all-wheel-drive trim getting the most dramatic new exterior look with sporty looking blacked-out headlights, taillights, 19-inch black alloy wheels and fog lamps.

With a pair of captain chairs in the second row separated by a fold-up table and a third-row bench seat, our passengers enjoyed an optional $1,810 rear-seat entertainment system with a pair of wireless headphones. It adds to the lure for families with three to four children, although the third row remains tight for adults.

Highlander trims range from base LE, LE Plus, SE, XLE, Limited and a plush Platinum level with some trims offering hybrid powertrain for better mileage. Our SE V6 averaged just under 26-mpg during a 1,200 trip, primarily using Interstates.

Behind the wheel, the Highlander was pure pleasure. Precise handling occurred with responsive acceleration using a smooth 8-speed automatic transmission.

A nice straight ahead bias recovery occurred with mild steering assist after detecting a lane departure. It’s part of Toyota’s highly touted Safety Sense that also includes dynamic cruise control, pedestrian detection and pre-collision warning.

The comfortably cushioned ride sits atop a front strut and rear double wishbone suspension system.

Ground clearance is 8 inches, but the SE V6 feels more a highway warrior than off-road wanderer. Towing is standard with hauling up to 5,000 pounds.

Minor road noise was smothered with Toyota’s Premium Entune Audio system using the 8-inch dashboard touchscreen that also handles voice-recognition navigation, rear view camera and other functions.

A stylish interior design with leather trimmed seats includes a lengthy storage shelf below the dashboard, a deep center console with two-stage sliding cover, a small coin tray and Driver Speak amplifying sound to rear seats but not from them.

A temporary spare tire, CD player, extendable visors, first aid kit, flip-up window in the automatic tailgate, puddle lamps and rear overhang spoiler add appeal.

Competitors include Hyundai Santa Fe, Honda Pilot and Chevrolet Traverse.

LIKES: Handling, power, comfort, cabin design.

DISLIKES: Third row seats tight, some wind noise.

BOTTOM LINE: Highlander remains a top SUV for family with three to four kids.

FACT FILE

TOYOTA HIGHLANDER SE V6 AWD

Base price w/destination fee: $42,945 (45,019 as tested)

Curb weight: 4,310 lbs.

Wheelbase: 109.8 inches

Length: 192.5 inches

Width: 75.8 inches

Engine specs: 3.5-liter, V-6, DOHC, 24-valve

Horsepower: 295 hp at 6,600 rpm

Torque: 263 lbs.-ft. at 4,700 rpm

Transmission: 8-speed automatic, manual shift

EPA rating: 20 mpg city/26 mpg hwy

Range: 19.2-gallon tank, regular

Performance: 0-60 in 7 seconds

Tom Crosby is a former journalist and communications director for AAA Carolinas. He has been reviewing cars since 1996, and has been active in traffic safety issues for more than 30 years.