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HEELS ON WHEELS: 2011 TOYOTA HIGHLANDER REVIEW


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2011 Toyota Highlander SUV

Relevant Connection: 2011 Toyota Highlander Specs, Prices and Comparisons
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HEELS ON WHEELS
By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel

INTRO TO THE HIGHLANDER VEHICLE I believe this mid-size SUV remains a popular choice for families seeking a 3-row ride for one major reason: Evergreen style. Although the 2011 model sees some revised exterior styling, new interior user technology and a stronger V6 powertrain for the Hybrid version, the Highlander has always possessed a stable presence and never yielded its shape to keep up with trendy looks.

I drove a 2011 Toyota Highlander Limited with the 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine with a 5-speed automatic transmission, full-time 4WD and independent suspension. Available in four trims – Base, SE, Limited and Hybrid – my Limited came standard with 19-inch alloy wheels, power liftgate (with separate lift-up glass hatch), leather interior with wood trim, heated front seats, 10-way power seating for driver, 3-zone climate control, multi-info display and backup screen, and second-row seats that fold over in one touch. Optional packages included: a $2,650 voice-activated touch-screen navigation system with an upgraded 9-speaker audio system and Bluetooth capabilities; a $220 towing package; and a $315 cargo/carpet system. Total vehicle price came to $39,600.

If 19-MPG gas mileage is what freaks you out about owning an SUV like the Highlander, take note Toyota now expanded the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine beyond the base model to the SE trim (in 2WD only) so consumers can get 20-city/25-highway driving MPG. Of course there is always the Hybrid option, which garners 28–MPG, but costs a pretty penny at a starting price of $37,490.

HEELS ON WHEELS REVIEW CRITERIA

Stylish But Comfortable Results: The new standards for SE and Limited (and optional for Base) features a USB port, integrated XM Satellite Radio and Bluetooth. The Base even gets an optional new Leather Package that includes leather-trimmed front seats with front seat heaters, leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob and power moonroof (makes you wonder what the point of a Base is if you can dress it up to be as nice as the next trim up). I actually was a little overwhelmed at how small I felt in the driver’s seat, which was an unexpected feeling. I had preconceived notions I would fall in love with the fit of this model and it just didn’t happen. Third row is cramped and a bit difficult to get to – best for kids.

Reliability & Safety Factor: The 2011 model made the Top Safety pick with The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for having crash ratings of “Good” in all areas. In fact, since 2008 the Highlander has fared extremely well with the IIHS. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the 2011 model 4-stars in frontal and rollover crashes and 5-stars in side impact.

Cost Issues: The Highlander is one of the more higher-priced 3-row SUVs on the market (omitting luxury brands, of course). Even if you go with the Hybrid version at $37,490, you’re still going to come up short: After five years of ownership, despite what you are saving on gas, you still will be in the red with the car because of the price tag.

Activity & Performance Ability: The ride is smooth and effortless under the V6 engine; those 19-inch wheels on my Limited trim really create a refined feel. Acceleration is instant with zero hesitation (I doubt those that live in a mountainous range would sense the same thing under the 4-cylinder). If you are curious about the Hybrid, a new and more powerful 3.5-liter V6 replaces the previous 3.3-liter V6. The 4WD system under the Hybrid generates rear-wheel power with a separate electric motor (MGR) that provides additional drive torque on demand.

The Green Concern: Don’t let the V6’s 19-MPG dissuade you. The 187-horsepower 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine gets an EPA average of 25-highway MPG. And being able to select a Hybrid option, despite its near-$40k cost of ownership, is also a nice alternative. The Hybrid version delivers 28-MPG which is excellent for a 3-row SUV.

FINAL PARTING WORDS
The 2011 Toyota Highlander remains a popular and gas-friendly 3-row SUV if you go with the Hybrid or 4-cylinder option. But at around $40k for a fully loaded Highlander with 4WD, you might want to check out what the competition offers for a comparable ride – but which can end up saving you about $5k.

©2011 Katrina Ramser