Our left-brain loves the Toyota Highlander. It squeezes three rows of seats into a relatively small package (although like so many other crossovers, it has grown over the years). It outflanks competitors with three powertrain offerings–a in-line four-cylinder, a V-6, and a V-6 hybrid that achieves 28 mpg combined. The six-cylinder likely would get better fuel economy if it, like the 2.7-liter four-cylinder, came with a six-speed rather than a five-speed automatic. The interior, largely unchanged after four years on the market, remains a strong point, with large, attractive controls and all the technology buyers in this segment expect. There are also some features that will please former minivan owners, like second-row captain’s chairs that can slide together to become a bench seat. A power liftgate is standard on all but base models. The Highlander’s problem is that it has been overprocessed and overengineered to the point that it hardly registers any emotion. The steering and handling fail to provide any information to the driver. Styling, revised last year, tries to borrow from Toyota’s larger, tougher trucks, but the Highlander mostly looks awkward and bland at the same time. Offerings from GM and Mazda drive and look better. Of course, keep in mind that we are talking about the crossover segment, where the Highlander’s technical prowess is much more important than how it appeals to the emotions.
Drive: Front-wheel, 4-wheel
Trim levels: Highlander, Sport, Limited, Hybrid, Hybrid Limited
Body style: SUV/crossover, 7-passenger
Engines: 2.7L I-4, 187 hp, 186 lb-ft
3.5L V-6, 270 hp, 248 lb-ft
3.5L V-6/electric hybrid, 270 hp, 280 lb-ft
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Passenger volume: 145.7 cu ft
Capacities: Towing 1500-5000 lb; cargo (behind third/middle/front seats) 10.3/42.3-42.4/
94.1-95.4 cu ft
The Highlander carries over unchanged into 2012 after a busy 2011 that saw it receive standard third-row seats, Bluetooth, and USB inputs. The Hybrid received a more powerful gasoline engine and became more efficient overall.
Front, side, side curtain, and driver’s knee air bags; ABS; traction and stability control; a backup camera; and a tire-pressure monitoring system are standard.
All: 17-28 mpg city/22-28 mpg highway
- Lots of powertrain options
- Hybrid fuel economy
- Versatile, user-friendly interior
- Styling compromises visibility
- Bland exterior
- Numb driving experience
Practically perfect mid-size crossover.
- Chevrolet Equinox
- Honda CR-V
- Kia Sportage
- Mazda CX-9