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 — which becomes the RX 350 for 2007 — the Highlander has a different squared-off appearance and comes with fewer standard features. Changes for 2007 include a mild exterior update and some additional standard safety equipment.
Both the Highlander and the 350 can be equipped with front- or all-wheel drive, but the Highlander is available with either 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 combined with carlike ride and handling.
A Highlander Hybrid with a gasoline/electric powertrain debuted for 2006. (Skip to details on the: Highlander Hybrid)
In addition to prominent fender creases, the Highlander exhibits squared-off styling, four doors and a rear liftgate. Toyota's SUV measures 71.9 inches wide, rides a 106.9-inch wheelbase and stretches to 184.6 inches in overall length. Headlamp bezels received minor updates for 2007.
Seating for five people includes two front bucket seats and a 60/40-split, folding rear bench that holds three occupants. A third-row seat that boosts seating to seven passengers is available. Fitted with a four-step reclining feature, the third-row option includes privacy glass and a rear heater system.
The automatic-transmission lever is conveniently located high on the center console. Cargo space behind the second row is 39.7 cubic feet and escalates to 80.6 cubic feet when that seat is folded. A touch-screen DVD-based navigation system is optional for the Limited model.
Under the Hood
Toyota's 2.4-liter four-cylinder produces 155 horsepower and the 3.3-liter V-6 generates 215 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 lacks a Low range.
In several other vehicles — including the Highlander's sibling, the Lexus RX — Toyota has upsized its 3.3-liter V-6 to a 3.5-liter version, which makes close to 270 hp. For now, the only way to achieve that sort of grunt in a Highlander is to pony up to the hybrid variant.
Toyota's Star Safety System consists of an electronic stability system, traction control and antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist. Side-impact airbags for the front seats and side curtain airbags for the first two rows of seats are also standard. The latter include a sensor to maintain inflation for several seconds during a rollover.
Confident, capable handling and an exceptionally smooth ride are the Highlander's principal attributes. 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 on the pedal — which produces some awkwardness or unpleasant noises at times — may be necessary at midrange speeds.
For 2006, Toyota launched a hybrid-powered version of its Highlander SUV that features a new second-generation Hybrid Synergy Drive system. Sporting a minor headlamp update for 2007, the Highlander Hybrid looks nearly identical to the regular Highlander. Aluminum wheels hold 17-inch tires, and Toyota includes an extended hybrid-powertrain warranty.
The Highlander Hybrid achieves an SULEV emissions rating, and front- and all-wheel-drive versions are offered. Lexus, Toyota's luxury division, markets a hybrid SUV named the RX 400h.
The Highlander Hybrid provides standard seating for five and optional seating for seven. Three battery packs sit under the rear seat, which is 20 millimeters higher than the regular Highlander's. A power meter replaces the usual tachometer in the instrument cluster, and the optional navigation system includes energy-monitor and consumption modes.
Combining a 208-hp, 3.3-liter V-6 engine and an electric motor, the Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain generates 268 total hp. A continuously variable transmission sends that output to the wheels. When equipped with all-wheel drive, a separate electric motor drives the rear wheels.
Side-impact airbags and first- and second-row roll-sensing side curtain airbags are installed. A new Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system provides stability enhancement and traction control.
The Highlander Hybrid performs effortlessly. You often can't tell the gasoline engine is running because it's so quiet. That quietness helps make the transition between electric and gasoline propulsion more seamless than some hybrids; you're often unaware of any changes taking place.
This hybrid accelerates as eagerly and smoothly as the company claims, and it's surprisingly agile on curvy mountain roads. It's easy to drive, with appealing steering feel and a generally comfortable ride, but an occasional bump can produce a harsh response. The recessed gauges aren't the easiest to read on a sunny day.
Because Toyota emphasizes performance over economy, the Highlander Hybrid's V-6 doesn't shut off as often — or as readily — as does the four-cylinder engine in the company's Prius passenger car. Back to top
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