The Highlander has more standard safety features than just about any of its competitors. Toyota bestows all of its SUVs with electronic stability and traction control, anti-lock disc brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, and emergency braking assist. Hybrid models utilize a new, more advanced stability system that operates more transparently.
All seating positions have height-adjustable headrests. In addition to driver and front passenger dual-stage airbags, Highlander offers optional front-side airbags and first- and second-row side-curtain inflatables. Toyota also fits each Highlander with a tire-pressure monitoring system as standard equipment.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Highlander its highest marks (five stars) for front- and side-impact collisions, and the standard stability control system helps mitigate the risk of rollovers.
Toyota powertrains are known for refinement, quietness, and reliability--and the engines in the Highlander are no different. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine isn't offered on Limited models and is rarely found mated to the all-wheel-drive option. The four-cylinder engine almost always necessitates the five-seat package, while the six-cylinder generally comes with seven seats.
Upgrading to the six-cylinder engine is a tempting performance investment if you can afford the upgrade and subsequent operation costs; its pep is appreciated if you have any enthusiastic aspirations whatsoever, though this engine does require 91-octane gasoline.
Non-hybrid Highlanders are packaged with one of two automatic transmissions: A four-speed comes with the four-cylinder, while a five-speed gearbox is attached to the V-6.
The Highlander has undergone only minor changes since its introduction and still drives comfortably, like its papa, the Camry. That means light steering, soft suspension, and no ambition to hurry. The unibody platform shows its virtues on the road, as a lack of road noise and a supple ride set it apart from the truck-based SUVs of the world, such as Toyota's own rugged 4Runner.
The all-wheel-drive model can come in handy in winter-weather regions, although front-wheel drive is sufficient for most climates and lowers both the initial price and fuel costs fairly significantly. The V-6 is quick enough to get you in and out of traffic, and it feels robust on the highway. The four-cylinder requires a bit more planning when making passing maneuvers. The Highlander's brakes and transmissions do their jobs effectively and without drama.