Families looking for a car-based SUV that is reliable and comfortable
Comparable models in this class:
Honda Pilot, Hyundai Santa Fe, Isuzu Axiom, Kia Sorento, Mitsubishi Edeavor, Nissan Murano
Since its debut in 2001, the Toyota Highlander has received positive recognition from leading consumer publications, including Consumer Reports 2002 Best Midsized SUV, Car and Drivers 2001 Best Large Sport Utility Vehicle and J.D. Power and Associates 2002 Initial Quality Study award. And, just as Toyota has done with its other, highly acclaimed vehicles (i.e., the Camry), it builds on its success.
Going into its third year, this unibody-based sport utility vehicle comes in a wide range of styles, from an entry-level four-cylinder, front-wheel drive model ($24,080) to its top of the line Limited 4WD V6 ($31,380).
Our thoughts What we liked best about our Highlander test-vehicle was its practicality. Like most mid-size SUVs, the Highlander is made for the urban jungle. True, its equipped with four-wheel drive, but thats more for icystreets and wet freeways rather than pitted dirt roads. With seating for seven, a carlike ride and loads of safety features, the Highlander is at home escorting the kids to little league practice, swimming lessons and trips to grandmas house. At the same time, you can navigate tight parking spaces and garages without the bus-like maneuverability thats found on larger, bulkier SUVs.
On the flip side, its this same domesticated persona that may turn some consumers off, especially if theyre looking for a vehicle with a more rugged, adventurous demeanor. Granted, you can take the Highlander into the backcountry (provided theres paved roads) for a day of kayaking or hiking, and with a combined interior volume of 144.4 cubic feet, you can pack in all of your gear, however, dont plan on towing loads heavier than 2,500 lbs. as the Highlander may huff and puff as it pulls your cargo. (Note: a better choice would be the Toyota Sequoia, which can tow up to 6,500 lbs. or the Toyota 4Runner with its towing capacity of 7,300 lbs.)
New for 2004 You can now pack in an extra two passengers into the Highlander with its newly available third-row seating. Due to the tight quarters, this fold-flat third row is best suited for children (entry and exit can be a snug squeeze for adults) and includes privacy glass, a rear heater system and additional cupholders.
Under the hood, the engine received a boost for 2004 with a larger 3.3-liter V6 engine that produces 230 horses (10 more than last years 3-liter engine). And, on the safety front, the Highlander is now decked out with electronic stability control and tire-pressure warning system as standard features; as well as optional side curtain airbags for the first and second rows.
The little things The Highlanders list of standard features does not necessarily differentiate itself when weighed against comparable vehicles. Theres a defroster-linked air conditioning with a cabin air filter, UV-reduction glass, power windows and door locks, cruise control, tilt steering wheel, variable intermittent windshield wiper and CD/stereo system with six speakers. However, where the Highlander does distinguish itself is in its litany of practical goodies, like multiple interior storage compartments (a nicety in any family mobile) thats great for stashing beverages, keys and toys. Theres also an illuminated entry system and a full-size spare tire that fits snugly beneath the vehicle as opposed to inside; thus, cargo space is maximized.
Should you be one of those consumers who always opts for the finer things, then youll want to upgrade to the Limited model where youll find eight-way power driver and four-way power passenger seats, a leather-trimmed steering wheel with audio controls, 17-inch alloy wheels, burled maple wood-grain trim, door scuff plates and an auto-dimming mirror with integrated electronic compass.
Optional equipment on the Limited includes a navigation system and a JBL audio system with a six-disc CD changer.
Coming soon to a dealer near you Though its still nearly a year away, were looking forward to the 2005 debut of the Highlander Hybrid. Toyota has already been trailblazing eco-friendly vehicles with the huge success of the Toyota Prius, which averages 60 mpg in the city and 51 mpg on the highway, and is now creating a buzz about their new SUV hybrid.
As gas prices continue to soar, the 2005 Highlander Hybrid will be a welcome relief as it can travel up to 600 miles on one tank of gas. And adding icing to this cake you wont have to sacrifice performance for fuel efficiency as the Highlander Hybrid produces 270 hp and can zip from 0-to-60 mph in a respectable 8 seconds. Stay tuned for our test drive later in the year.