This Car Seat Check was originally published in October 2011 on MotherProof.com.
The 2011 Toyota Highlander is a three-row SUV that appeals to many parents because of its ingenious flexible seating in the second row and its standard third row. The second row has a three-seat bench with a removable center seat that can be stowed in the bottom of the center console. Removing the middle seat creates two captain's chairs and a walkway to the third row. A center console can be easily installed between the captain's chairs. The Highlander seats eight.
For the Car Seat Check, we use a Graco SnugRide 30 rear-facing infant-safety seat, a Britax Roundabout convertible child-safety seat and Graco high-back TurboBooster seat.
The front seats are adjusted to a comfortable position for a 6-foot driver and a 5-foot-8 passenger. The three child seats are installed in the second row. The booster seat sits behind the driver's seat, and the infant seat and convertible seats are installed behind the passenger seat. We also install the infant seat in the second row's middle seat with the booster and convertible in the outboard seats to see if three car seats will fit. If there's a third row, we install the booster seat and a forward-facing convertible.
Here's how the 2011 Highlander did in Cars.com's Car Seat Check:
Latch system: This three-row SUV has only two sets of lower Latch anchors in the second row's outboard seats. The anchors are easy to reach because the seat cushions move out of the way easily. There are three tether anchors in the second row. However, there aren't any tether anchors in the third row, so only booster seats — not forward-facing convertibles — can be used back there.
Booster seat: Our high-back booster fit well in both the second and third rows (photo above). In the second row, the reclining seatback made it easy to get a good fit, but the outboard seat belt buckles are recessed in the bottom seat cushion, making it difficult for kids to use independently. The middle seat's buckle is floppy, which also is tough for young kids to use. In the third row, the seat belt buckles are on stable bases.
Convertible seat: The second row's reclining seatbacks came in handy with our convertible car seat. We used this feature to help get a better fit when installing the car seat in both the forward- and rear-facing directions. Both seats fit well in the second row.
Infant-safety seat: The Highlander's wide, flat seat cushions in the second row also made it easy to install an infant car seat in it. We had plenty of room for this rear-facing car seat.
Third-row access: The Highlander's second row is split 40/20/40, and the middle seat is removable for easy third-row access. With the second row's middle seat in place, the second-row seats can slide forward to create a narrow pathway. If a child-safety seat is installed in the outboard position, it could be difficult for a child to easily get to the third row.
Editor's note: For three car seats — infant-safety seat, convertible and booster seats — to fit in a car, our criterion is that a child sitting in the booster seat must be able to reach the seat belt buckle. Parents should also remember that they can use the Latch system or a seat belt to install a car seat.