It is said that the term "crossover" originated when the Lexus division of Toyota introduced the RX300 as a 1998 model. At first glance, the world saw just another rugged sport utility vehicle added to the crowded menu of SUVs, for which American families were developing an insatiable appetite. But what Lexus had wisely realized was that, few of the drivers buying these rugged off-road style vehicles were actually taking them off the highways and byways and that the people praising them for their space, comfort and utility actually longed for a less truck-like ride and better fuel economy.
The engineers at Toyota had built a vehicle with all the utility and space of a truck-based SUV, but had dared to do it using a passenger car unit-body platform instead of the typical body-on-frame construction. This meant they could offer the comfort and ride quality of a sedan, while retaining all the versatility and command seating position of an SUV. And when Toyota saw how well this formula worked for Lexus, they decided to take the RX300 platform idea and build a more affordable, mainstream crossover for their Toyota brand as well. The result was the 2001 Toyota Highlander, which has become one of the most popular crossover vehicles sold in this country.
Now Toyota is introducing the next generation Highlander for 2008 (I'll call it Highlander 2.0), demonstrating to the world that their design team has not taken the evolution of the Highlander lightly.
Not only did the company take feedback from their many Highlander owners into consideration, they went a step further. They asked people who were thinking about buying a Highlander but ultimately found something they liked better, what had made them decide against the Toyota model.
"Bland styling" was high on the list of some folks' criticisms, while others wanted more power, more safety and more functionality for family activities, and lots more room. Armed with this feedback, the Toyota team worked closely with the Calty Design Studios in Southern California, as together they searched for that special something that would make their chariot stand out from the extremely crowded segment of mid-sized crossovers that had developed since 2001. The result is a bold and innovative solution that they pulled off with typical Toyota flair.
The new Highlander is almost 4 inches longer, more than 3 inches wider and has a 3 inch longer wheelbase. It is also heavier and has a larger engine, but despite all that, fuel economy is actually better than last year.
The new structure for the 2008 Highlander comes from the freshly engineered Camry-Avalon platform. This new package provides a more refined suspension, electric power steering and a new and larger V6 engine among other things.
As with all new Toyota models, the Highlander is significantly quieter, due to things like new sound deadening, seals around the entire hood and foam filler in many body cavities. Noises entering the interior were further controlled by resculpting the outside mirrors for better airflow and making the body more aerodynamic even down to the underbody surfaces.
The interior is more upscale and sophisticated with extra room throughout the cabin. The new instrument panel is more flowing and integrated looking with the typical Toyota understanding of how to arrange controls to minimize confusion and make everything intuitive and easy to use.
Seat comfort in any Toyota product is always top drawer and the Highlander seats are no exception. For the second row, there is no need to decide whether you want a 3 person bench seat or a pair of captain's chairs. With the Highlander there is a center section of that second-row seat that is easily removable and can be stored in a special compartment in the bottom of the console when not needed.
There is extra stretch-out room inside that is made even more so with versatile seat tracks on the second row that can adjust back and forth to allow more room, if needed, for third row passengers.
The third row seat is a two person bench that can easily be folded into the floor with remote levers near the tailgate. Larger people are not going to want to spend a great deal of time riding back there, but it is roomier than last year and is handy in a pinch, or for a growing family.
Toyota was also thoughtful enough to provide parents with a handy pop down conversation mirror in the overhead console so they can have a parent's most important secret weapon, eyes in the back of their heads.
A massive infusion of performance has been achieved for 2008. Just as in the Camry and Avalon, the new 270 horsepower 3.5 liter V6 is as smooth as they come and delivers all the power that most people want. More importantly these days, that new-found power, not to mention the extra weight that the new vehicle carries, does not impact fuel economy at all. In fact, the new Highlander gets better fuel economy than the previous model while adding 55 additional horsepower on tap.
The new engine connects to a smooth electronically controlled 5 speed automatic transmission and your choice of either front-wheel drive or a full-time 4-wheel drive system that has become popular for people living in northern climates.
The power steering now uses an electric motor mounted on the steering column for power assist. This design eliminates all the pumps, hoses, belts and power steering fluid of the old type system and greatly improves reliability.
A rearview camera is now available whether or not you opt for GPS navigation. If you leave the navigation option unchecked, you can still get the rearview camera to display on the smaller screen at the top of the dash. This is the same display that is used for the clock, warning messages and trip computer.
Safety is in the forefront with Toyota's commitment to include their STAR safety system on all SUV-type vehicles. This system includes as standard equipment, features like anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, and for the first time, enhanced vehicle stability control utilizing the electronic power steering. Also included as standard on all models are a total of seven airbags including a drivers knee airbag and roll-sensing side curtain airbags for all three rows in addition to active headrests for the driver and front passenger that include active whiplash protection,
There are 5 separate Highlander models for 2008, including the Base Highlander, which is the price leader starting at ,300, the Sport model, which starts at ,950, and the more upscale Limited at ,700. There will be two hybrid models later this year, the Highlander Hybrid and the Highlander Hybrid Limited. The hybrid models will be available in October. Pricing for the hybrid base 4WD-i model will be ,700 while the well-equipped Hybrid Limited 4WD-i will start at ,950.
The Base model of the 2008 Toyota Highlander has a high level of standard equipment much like a Camry LE, which is the mid-level Camry. For instance, the 3.5 liter V6 is now standard (the 4 cylinder Highlander is no longer available). Also standard on the Base model are alloy wheels wearing 17 inch all-season tires, including a full-size matching spare. plus 7 passenger seating, power windows, door locks and mirrors, cruise control and AC with interior air filtration.
Move up to the Sport model and you get all those "Husband Approved" features (Toyota's term, not mine) like sportier suspension tuning, trip computer, 19 inch wheels and tires, a rear spoiler, front driving lights, 8-way power driver seat with power lumbar support, leather-wrapped steering wheel and an in-dash 6-disc CD changer.
The Limited takes the Highlander more upscale with leather and wood, dual zone automatic climate control, and a host of other luxury features.
Moving on to the Highlander Hybrid, this year there are two models to choose from, the Highlander Hybrid and the Highlander Hybrid Limited. Hybrid Highlanders will be at Toyota showrooms in October 2007 and have the same efficient Hybrid Synergy Drive as the previous model.
Toyota currently produces more hybrid models than anyone. There are 3 models in the Lexus lineup: the RX400h, GS450h and LS600hL. And 3 in the Toyota camp: the Prius, Camry Hybrid and the Highlander Hybrid. The popular Hybrid Highlander has been around since 2005.
In a nutshell, here is how a hybrid system works... There is an electric motor that is connected to the drive wheels in addition to the gasoline motor. There is also a large storage battery somewhere in the vehicle. The electric motor is powered by the battery and, along with the gasoline engine, helps propel the car. When you step on the brake pedal, the system uses that electric motor as a generator to recharge the battery. This process is called regenerative braking and is the reason why hybrids get such good gas mileage (not to mention, extended brake life) . The energy that is captured from slowing down is free energy that is later used to help accelerate the car, thereby saving gas. Because the gasoline engine on a hybrid does not need to do as much work to move the car, less fuel is used. Also, since the electric motor is there for additional power, the engine does not have to be as big and powerful and can be tuned to save even more gas.
(We will do a full road test on the Highlander Hybrid once we get a production model to drive in the near future.)
Styling has always been a great motivator in the decision to purchase one vehicle over another. Even if a person cared nothing about cars, there were designs that individual would not be seen in. Toyota always seemed to take the conservative road when it came to vehicle design, making bland people-moving appliances that did not offend anyone's sensibilities, but didn't light any fires either.
From what I see, their philosophy is changing. The second generation Prius was an unexpectedly wild, futuristic looking car when introduced in 2004 and caught us off-guard. Then, last year they did it again with the aggressively styled new 2007 Camry.
Now, with the new generation Highlander, Toyota has taken more risks with the look The new styling certainly is far from bland, giving the vehicle a muscular, substantial appearance with interesting character lines. The styling verges on polarizing, with one group loving the look and another saying "not for me". I don't think it goes quite that far, but it is nice to see Toyota taking some risk with their bread and butter products. In fact, I think they've struck a good balance with this new Highlander and it should boost their image to new heights.
Standard Equipment (partial list)
270 horsepower 3.6 liter V6 Engine
5 speed automatic transmission
17 alloy wheels with all-season tires
4 wheel disc brakes with ABS
Tire pressure monitoring
Dual front side-mounted airbags
Front, rear and third row head airbags
Driver's knee airbag
7 person total seating capacity
Remote power door locks
Tilt steering column
Air conditioning with interior air filtration
AM/FM in-dash single CD player stereo with 6 speakers
The Sport Model Adds... (partial list)
19 inch alloy wheels withall-season tires
8-way power driver seat
Rear spoiler (sport model only)
Leather-wrapped steering wheel
Audio and cruise controls on steering wheel
Front fog/driving lights
AM/FM in-dash 6 CD player stereo with 6 speakers
The Limited Model Adds... (partial list)
4-way power front passenger seat
Dual zone automatic climate control
Simulated wood trim on dash, doors & Console
Major Available Options (Partial List, depends on model, some options are only available as part of a package, see your Toyota dealer for details)
Leather & Heated Seats
Rear Seat Entertainment
Front Dual Zone air conditioning
Rear air conditioning
JBL Premium Audio with Bluetooth
Power Back Door
Towing Prep. Package
AM/FM in-dash 6 CD player stereo with 6 speakers
For more information on the Toyota Highlander, visit Toyota.com
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