SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide
SPECIFICATIONS Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price $ 26,495 Price As Tested $ 33,765 Engine Type DOHC 24-valve 3.0 Liter V6 w/SMFI* Engine Size 183 cid/2995 cc Horsepower 220 @ 5800 RPM Torque (lb-ft) 222 @ 4400 RPM Wheelbase/Width/Length 106.9"/71.9"/184.4" Transmission Four-speed automatic Curb Weight 4055 pounds Fuel Capacity 19.8 gallons Tires (F/R) P225/70R16 radials Brakes (F/R) Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS) Drive Train Front-engine/four-wheel-drive Vehicle Type Five-passenger/five-door Domestic Content N/A Coefficient of Drag (Cd.) N/A PERFORMANCE EPA Economy, miles per gallon city/highway/average 18/22/20 0-60 MPH 8.5 seconds Maximum payload capacity 1150 pounds Maximum towing capacity 3500 pounds * Sequential multi-port fuel injection
Larger than Toyota's RAV4 and smaller (barely) than the truck-based 4Runner, the Toyota Highlander's hushed ride and creature comforts represent where the SUV market is and should be heading.
OUTSIDE - Highlander's two-box shape isn't radical. Its nose has round headlights set behind clear plastic lenses. The grille pushes forward past the headlights while two horizontal grille slats meet in the center at the Toyota logo. A pair of larger, round fog lights are recessed into the front bumper cap, which itself tucks aerodynamically below and under the front end. Highlander sits lower than many of the current crop of mid-sized SUV's, a benefit that comes in handy in tight garages. Short creases run across the hood and down the sides at waist-level, while optional integrated mud flaps are painted body color. Everything else is painted as well, save for the black trim surrounding the windows and the optional modular roof rack. Our Highlander came fitted with a Limited options package that added a rear spoiler, fog lamps, 16-inch alloy wheels, the roof rack and mudguards.
INSIDE - Toyota has carefully melded a rugged 4x4 exterior look with the comfortable interior of a car. And, thanks to its Camry platform, the floorpan is so low, there is virtually no step-up to get inside. The front bucket seats are wide and soft, but could use a bit of extra lateral support. The interior layout is somewhat distinct in that the shifter is placed in a short console that is attached to the base of the dashboard. Between the front seats is open - a handy absence that makes for a good deal of extra space. Cargo room is excellent with a rear bench seat that folds forward to form a flat load floor. Up to 81 cubic feet of cargo space is available and when the front buckets are folded flat with the headrests removed, there is enough space to haul eight-foot boards. Space in back is ok for three, with ample head and legroom, while those in back can recline their seats in three positions.
ON THE ROAD - There are two engines available on the Highlander. A 2.4-liter four cylinder produces 155 horsepower and 163 lb-ft of torque, though most will be fitted with a 220-horse 3.0-liter V6. This engine uses dual overhead camshafts, 24 valves and Toyota's variable valve timing system. This type of system is commonplace now and it works flawlessly to provide good power across all rpm ranges. Its 222 lb-ft of torque gives it sprightly performance off the line, and the ability to tow up to 3500 pounds when properly equipped. Many Highlanders have been sold with only front-wheel-drive, but the four wheel-drive version is the one we prefer. At its heart is a viscous center differential that splits engine torque between the front and rear axles. If the system detects wheel slip, it sends power to the wheels with the most grip. No input is required by its driver, as the system is fully automatic.
BEHIND THE WHEEL - The Highlander lacks the traditional body-on- frame construction of many of its competitors. This means that it isn't a go-anywhere, rugged SUV and Toyota doesn't care, as its 4Runner SUV is perfectly suited to handling rough off-road duties. The low-slung, Camry-derived unibody floorpan has 7.3 inches ground clearance for the 4WD, so moderately sized rocks and brush can be easily negotiated. Highlander also uses the same suspension system as the Camry, with independent MacPherson struts and anti-roll bars designed specifically for the on-road and light off-road duties Highlander is expected to perform. Optional traction-enhancing gadgetry includes an electronic stability control system that detects unwanted vehicle behavior and interacts with the traction control and anti-lock braking system to keep it on track. Four-wheel disc brakes are used, as well as a brake assist, a panic-stop aid.
SAFETY - Dual dashboard airbags, ABS and front seat belt pretensioners are standard: stability control, side-impact airbags, traction control and a limited-slip differential are optional.
OPTIONS - Limited Package, $3,495; power moonroof, $815; side airbags, $250; tow package, $450; uplevel JBL-brand stereo, $595; Leather Package, $1,015, carpet/cargo mat set, $170.