The line between sport utility vehicles and cross over vehicles is substantially blurred. It is difficult even for most salespeople to correctly identify which is which. So, it is more than understandable that potential buyers aren’t sure what they are shopping for.
In the case of the Toyota Highlander it really isn’t a concern, because most interested parties are looking to buy a tough looking vehicle that carries the family and will do so in a great deal of situations. Fortunately, the Highlander does just that with little effort.
The redesign incorporates a nearly three-inch increase in length with a slight width increase of ½-inch. The new design is aimed at making the Highlander look more sophisticated and dynamic. Toyota’s words not mine. I call it a softening while increasing the appeal to more families with a less aggressive appearance.
The sleek front end with its trapezoidal grille and new headlight modules help in lowering the wind resistance as does the lower roof line. All of these changes aid in looking to squeeze every mile out of a gallon of gasoline.
Automobile designers have learned a long time ago that adding sculptured side panels and door skins along with adding key highlight lines give a texture to a vehicle that is attractive to the eye. Of course, this only works if done right and there have been many vehicles where the design didn’t quite hit the mark. The Highlander’s design cues lend character to the vehicle and draw your eye through the entire vehicle bringing you to the rear taillights and tailgate.
The tailgates on many of the new mid-sized SUV/CUV vehicles peak my quizzical side with designers, or maybe marketing folks. There is just a side of me that cannot fathom why they feel they must add a separate opening glass to their vehicle tailgates. More often than not these openings are small and make it difficult to access the inside storage area. The curvature of the liftgate and the rear bumper make it less likely any owner will bypass opening the full liftgate for opening the glass to access these small openings.
Built on a car-like platform with more room than the RAV4 and a less rugged ride than the 4Runner, the Highlander continues to be quite popular with suburban families. Offering a variety of seating options including second row captain’s chairs and third row seating, the Highlander can offer seating for up to eight people. Even with occupants utilizing the third row there remains ample room in the rear storage area for plenty of shopping.
Toyota markets the Highlander under four models with each having a increasing level of features as they progress in lettering. Highlander models begin with the LE and move up through the range with LE Plus, XLE ending with the feature laden Limited. Unlike some other vehicle lines, all of the Highlander models will be available in front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD). Additionally, all Highlanders will offer the 3.5-liter V6 gasoline engine. The base LE is the only model available with a 2.7-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine. The Highlander Limited is the only model which is available with the Hybrid powertrain.
Toyota representatives say that the Limited will no doubt be the most attractive to buyers but the XLE will also attract a more budget minded buyer. I am sure that if budget is on the top of anyone’s list of concerns while searching out a Highlander, the base front-wheel drive equipped with the 185 horsepower, 2.7-liter engine will be the model. However, as Toyota points out, the more popular models will be the upper and middle level models.
The 3.5-liter V6 engine generates 270 horsepower and 248 lb-ft. of torque getting its power to the road via a new six speed automatic transmission in either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. My test Highlander was the V-6 all-wheel drive version and proved that the revamped all-wheel drive system is more adapt at moving power to each of the four wheels that have traction. The system even detects a more aggressive driving technique and transfers torque to the appropriate wheels for surer footing on the road.
With the redesign the Highlander gains a bigger footprint on the roadway translating to a quieter cabin, better balance in all driving conditions and more comfort for all occupants. The Highlander offers up a great selection of features and attributes that will assure it remains high on the list of buyers.