Housewives and hipsters: your trips to the mall and to soccer practice are about to get a lot more posh. Toyota has redesigned its mid-size urban assault vehicle, the Highlander. Already quite a competent errand runner and road trip-mobile, this new Highlander has been improved in every way to perform those tasks with even more competence.
Let's start with safety, which, according to Toyota, is one of the most important factors with buyers in this segment. The Highlander will have seven air bags spread among all three rows. In addition to the bags, the SUV boasts antilock brakes, traction control, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, stability control, active head restraints, and a pedestrian-friendly hood and front fenders.
And if you were a pedestrian faced with an oncoming Highlander, you might marvel (just before bouncing off its newly safer hood), "That Hyundai is flying!", a thought that would clearly conflict with the Toyota emblem embossed on your forehead. True, although this new SUV has a certain Hyundai-like appearance, it is in fact a Toyota. If you compare pictures of a RAV4 to this new Highlander, you'll see the family resemblance. Nevertheless, the Highlander has an anonymous look that Hyundai's vehicles are notorious for.
But forget what the outside looks like -- shouldn't be too hard-- because inside, things are really special. Three rows of seating are standard, and all are available in leather. The front seats can be heated, and the second row has multiple configurations for two or three passengers on seats that slide and recline every which way. A reverse camera is standard except for the base model, and navigation is an option. You can also get three-zone climate control, smart start keyless system, and a JBL sound system with cell phone connectivity.
Compared to the outgoing model, this new Highlander has gotten substantially bigger and heavier to accommodate all this safety and comfort equipment. As you'd expect, power has been increased to compensate. The Highlander is equipped with a new V-6 engine displacing 3.5 liters and producing 270 hp. This engine is standard in all models, unless you opt for the hybrid --Toyota's second best-selling hybrid, after the Prius. The hybrid uses a 3.3-liter V-6 that, along with the electric motors, produces 270 hp and fuel economy figures similar to the outgoing model.
Until we drive one ourselves, we won't know for sure how this new Highlander handles itself on the back roads and byways. With all the upgrades and improvements to the outgoing model however, it should be brilliant doing the things it was designed to do: hum along the expressway on family vacations, and zip to and fro around town every day of the week.