First produced in 2000 as a 2001 model, car enthusiasts didn’t expect much from this car. The mini SUV market was already dominated by Jeep, Ford, Dodge and even Toyota’s own 4Runner, so we waited to see what the Japanese were up to this time. They did not let us down, and as their motto says ‘moving forward’, they did not just move – they ran and overtook everyone!
Costing from $28,240 – $37,195 the 2012 model is no different from the 2011 one, just an insignificant increase in price. In fact was i buying one i would go for the 2011 model, which averaged a 4.8 out of 5 score against the 2012 model at 4.6 on consumer reviews. It is bigger than previous Highlander models, entering into the aggressive world of cars like Jeep Traverse and leaving the lesser folk whining in their cots. It is a smooth ride, very stylish handling and the fuel economy is still something to build on. As for the driving experience, don’t expect much from it. All of the Highlander models tend to lull you into simply setting the cruise control and conversing with passengers; the electric power steering tends to be light, and the optional four-wheel-drive system does give it a chance at slogging through a muddy driveway, deep snow, or rutted trails. The cabin is very quiet, with an agreeable combination of comfort, control and driving quality though driver engagement is quite diminutive. Trailblazing in safety is the 2012 Highlander, being named the best by IIHS and scoring no less than a four-star rating in the tough federal tests. This among other features parlayed it to win as the best family SUV, a slot it might just cling onto for a while. Other highlights include upgraded leather upholstery, keyless entry/ignition, tri-zone climate control, power passenger seat and downhill assist control and hill-start assist on the AWD models. As a matter of fact the Highlander, known as Kluger in Japan and Australia was the best-selling Toyota crossover SUV before being overtaken in 2006 by the smaller RAV4.
Three trim levels are offered for non-Hybrid Toyota Highlander models: base, SE, and Limited. The limited and base models were present when the car was initially introduced, but the sport model was introduced in 2006 with a distinctively furious grille design. In Australia it was available in three guises: CV, CVX, and Grande, while a limited edition CV Sport model was also released in 2006. There was no hybrid model available in Australia, the only engine being the 3.3-liter 3MZ-FE. All have cruise control, power features, and a third-row seat. A 3.5-inch multifunction display, satellite radio and USB port are added in the SE, while the Limited gets leather-trimmed power seats. Base and Limited trims apply to Highlander Hybrid models, with equipment roughly in sync. A power moonroof, a navigation system, sound-system upgrades, and a power tailgate are among the many option possibilities that can potentially drive the bottom-line price up by thousands.
The Toyota Highlander crossover SUV can seat up to seven passengers, as of models beginning 2004. The third-row seat is smaller than what you’ll find in most competitors, and is really only suitable for children, and the boot space is greatly compromised. However, the middle section of the Highlander’s second-row seats folds away into its own receptacle, leaving you with a pair of captain’s chairs — just like in a minivan. Another added bonus is that these seats slide and recline. At the front are little spaces conveniently placed for family use and the guests at the rear have their own climate control, having not to disturb you as you tune your favourite music. The second row is equipped with a removable centre section that creates an alley from the front seats to the third row seats, and it can also move 4.7 inches to and fro depending on where you want extra space.
Available engines include a 2.7-liter 4-cylinder for the front drive SE model and a more powerful V6 is optional on the base and standard on the sport 4WD and Limited trims. The specifications are as follows:
2.7 liter 4-cylinder
187 horsepower @5800 rpm
186 lb.-ft of torque @4100 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy 20/25
3.0 liter V6
270 horsepower @6200 rpm
248 lb.-ft of torque @4700 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy 18/24 (FWD), 17/22 (4WD), 28/28 (Hybrid)
It is not a wonder this car won the best family SUV, it is rather a wonder it has maintained high market preference since its inception, being Toyota’s crossover SUV to ever get close to the Lexus LS 400 legacy. The Honda Pilot is a quick bet on this, though for more power a Dodge Durango would do, but my take is still none other. I think it’s the high time i changed my low regard for Toyota.