Introduced in 2001, the car-based Highlander became the most popular member of Toyota's five-model sport utility vehicle lineup. Though it is structurally related to the more expensive Lexus RX 330, the Highlander has a different squared-off appearance and fewer standard features.
Both models can be equipped with front- or all-wheel drive, but the Highlander is available with a four-cylinder or V-6. Nearly 2 inches narrower and 4.4 inches shorter than Toyota's truck-based 4Runner, the Highlander promises SUV versatility and carlike ride and handling.
Minor enhancements mark the 2005 models. New standard features include roof rails with crossbars, remote keyless entry and a tonneau cover. Toyota's Star Safety System consists of Vehicle Stability Control, traction control and an antilock braking system with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist.
A DVD-based navigation system is available. An optional third-row flat-folding seat can boost occupant capacity from five to seven people. A Highlander Hybrid with a gasoline/electric powertrain will debut during 2005 as a 2006 model.
Despite styling differences between the Highlander and RX 330, the two models share the same basic design. The Highlander rides a 106.9-inch wheelbase and stretches 184.6 inches long overall.
In addition to prominent fender creases, the Highlander exhibits squared-off styling instead of slanted roof pillars like those on the RX 330. Toyota's four-door SUV has a rear liftgate and measures 71.9 inches wide and approximately 68 inches tall.
Seating for five people includes two front bucket seats and a 60/40-split folding rear bench that holds three. A third-row seat that boosts seating to seven passengers is available. Fitted with a four-step reclining feature, the third-seat option includes privacy glass and a rear heater system. The automatic-transmission lever mounts conveniently high on the center console. Cargo space behind the second row is 37.7 cubic feet and escalates to 80.7 cubic feet when that seat is folded.
Under the Hood
Toyota's 2.4-liter four-cylinder produces 160 horsepower, and the 3.3-liter V-6 generates 230 hp. The four-cylinder teams with a four-speed-automatic transmission, while the V-6 uses a five-speed automatic. The Highlander is available with front- or all-wheel drive, which doesn't have a Low range.
Antilock brakes and Vehicle Stability Control are standard. Seat-mounted side-impact airbags and side curtain-type airbags are optional.
Confident, capable handling and an exceptionally smooth ride are the attributes of the Highlander. Body roll is minimal in fairly tight curves. The Highlander is very easy to drive and has just the right steering feel and good highway balance.
Acceleration from a standstill is strong, but a deeper push of the pedal � which produces some awkwardness or unpleasant noises at times � may be necessary at midrange speeds.