2011 Toyota Highlander

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Key Specs
Our Take
Road Test
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Safety & Recalls
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Key Specs

of the 2011 Toyota Highlander. Base trim shown.

Our Take

From the Cars.com Vehicle Test Team

The Good

  • Gas mileage (Highlander Hybrid)
  • Versatile second-row seating
  • Responsive transmissions
  • Comfortable front seats
  • Easy-folding rear seats

The Bad

  • Mushy brakes
  • Lackluster handling
  • Inconsistent cabin materials
  • Cramped third row

Notable Features of the 2011 Toyota Highlander

  • Updated exterior
  • New rear climate controls
  • New split-folding third row
  • FWD or AWD, four-cylinder or V-6
  • Available Highlander Hybrid with stronger drivetrain

2011 Toyota Highlander Road Test

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David Thomas

If you're looking for a three-row crossover, the 2011 Toyota Highlander is as sound a pick as you can get. It's affordable and it has a quiet, comfortable ride with a family-friendly interior.

Even as newcomers like the Ford Explorer and Dodge Durango face off against the Highlander and the Honda Pilot, I still find the Highlander a capable underdog. If you opt for the V-6 engine, it performs as well as the rest, too.

I tested a brand-new 2011 model with just 65 miles on it, but the 2012s are already on sale and are equipped and priced almost identically. See a comparison.

Family-Friendly Interior
While most families would be well-served by nearly any three-row crossover on the market, the Highlander has some notable features that set it apart.

The front seats of my tester were comfortable on a long-haul road trip from Chicago to Wisconsin. The second-row seat has plenty of support, too, and all seats have ample thigh support. The second row can slide forward and back, which is most beneficial for third-row passengers.

A third row is standard even on the base Highlander. With the second row moved all the way back, there is very little room for third-row passengers. Move the second row up even slightly, though — about two notches — and third-row passengers should be as comfortable as I was at 5-foot-10. It's the sliding second row that makes this crossover as practical a choice for carrying seven people as much larger crossovers, like the Chevy Traver...

If you're looking for a three-row crossover, the 2011 Toyota Highlander is as sound a pick as you can get. It's affordable and it has a quiet, comfortable ride with a family-friendly interior.

Even as newcomers like the Ford Explorer and Dodge Durango face off against the Highlander and the Honda Pilot, I still find the Highlander a capable underdog. If you opt for the V-6 engine, it performs as well as the rest, too.

I tested a brand-new 2011 model with just 65 miles on it, but the 2012s are already on sale and are equipped and priced almost identically. See a comparison.

Family-Friendly Interior
While most families would be well-served by nearly any three-row crossover on the market, the Highlander has some notable features that set it apart.

The front seats of my tester were comfortable on a long-haul road trip from Chicago to Wisconsin. The second-row seat has plenty of support, too, and all seats have ample thigh support. The second row can slide forward and back, which is most beneficial for third-row passengers.

A third row is standard even on the base Highlander. With the second row moved all the way back, there is very little room for third-row passengers. Move the second row up even slightly, though — about two notches — and third-row passengers should be as comfortable as I was at 5-foot-10. It's the sliding second row that makes this crossover as practical a choice for carrying seven people as much larger crossovers, like the Chevy Traverse and Ford Explorer. The Honda Pilot is sized similarly to the Highlander and offers seating for three in the third row. That gives it a maximum seating capacity of eight, unlike the rest of the class at seven.

The middle section of the Highlander's second row can be removed completely, turning the bench into two captain's chairs with a pass-through to the third row. The pass-through is a favorite feature of minivan owners, and while other crossovers may offer a choice between a bench or two chairs, only the Highlander gives owners both in the same vehicle.

Overall, I found materials quality to be good, but other editors and a family involved in a comparison test thought the Highlander seemed cheap. However, as equipped, our tester was priced thousands less than much of the competition. Besides some rough finishes on the plastic around the door pockets, I found the interior on par for the price. My wife also liked it, suggesting it's a step up from her 2010 Subaru Outback.

In terms of safety features, a backup camera is standard on the Highlander SE and higher trim levels, or it can be had as part of an optional Tech Package, which was included on my base tester. On models without navigation, there's a small screen at the top of the dashboard that shows trip information while driving, then switches to the rearview display when the transmission is put into Reverse. Navigation-equipped models show the rearward view on their larger touch-screen.

If there was one thing my wife enjoyed about the Highlander, it was the four cupholders in the center console between the passenger and driver, with one more in each of the four doors and four more for second-row passengers. Every other crossover included in our recent comparison test featured just two cupholders in this area.

If you've ever dealt with the sippy cups, water bottles and soda cans a family of just four requires for a Saturday out on the town — which for us involves hitting an indoor play zone with giant inflatable bounce-houses, lunch and either a bookstore or library stop — you realize drinks accumulate.

Cars.com performed its own child-safety seat check in the Highlander. (We don't test for crash safety, just for fit and ease of installation in all our test cars.) Three seats do not fit across the Highlander's second row. All three seat types — infant, convertible and booster — fit well, and the Latch anchors in the second row are easy to reach. There are no Latch anchors in the third row, but two seats can fit there, secured by the seat belts.

I installed my children's convertible car seats, and there was plenty of room for the little kickers. My son found it pretty easy to climb in by himself, which is important for a family with two kids under age 4. Having one be able to get in by himself while you assist the other is a major win.

Performance
For 2012, the Highlander comes standard with a 187-horsepower, 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission, for mileage rated at 20/25 mpg city/highway. The engine is pretty anemic; the version I drove this time had the V-6, but in past tests I've found that the four-cylinder-powered Highlander feels like an underpowered lummox. Four-cylinder models come equipped only with front-wheel drive.

There's a hybrid model with a 3.5-liter V-6 and an electric motor that make a combined 280 hp, good for 28/28 mpg city/highway. The hybrid comes equipped only with all-wheel drive, which makes those mileage figures quite impressive.

My test vehicle — as do the bulk of sales — featured the 270-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 engine teamed with a five-speed automatic transmission, good for 18/24 mpg with front-wheel drive and 17/22 mpg with all-wheel drive.

Mileage is on par with the rest of the segment, with most players rating only 1 mpg above or below the Highlander.

Power was plentiful in my front-wheel-drive Highlander, which scooted from a stop with gusto and passed mightily at highway speeds. Steering was light and a tad vague, as it is in most crossovers. The ride was comfortable, the engine quiet and wind noise almost nil, which made for pleasant driving and the ability to hear every cry, complaint and occasional song from my backseat passengers.

Braking was the real issue I had with the Highlander. Even after a week and hundreds of miles of driving, I had a hard time judging the brake response. I repeatedly jerked my wife forward in her seat when I had to add more pressure than expected near a stop. This is a trait of many Toyota vehicles, and it's one I don't particularly enjoy.

Cargo
There's just 10.3 cubic feet of cargo space when the third row is up. The Honda Pilot has significantly more, at 18.0 cubic feet. The Traverse, with 24.4 cubic feet, is significantly larger.

With the third row down, cargo room expands to 42.3 cubic feet, and for my use that was plenty large enough. I stuffed a 32-gallon trash can in the back — actually two stacked into each other — and those fit lengthwise with the second-row seats just slightly forward. The Pilot is rated at 47.7 cubic feet, so the difference between the two models there is less significant than it is behind the third row. I preferred the Pilot's under-floor storage, though.

Features & Pricing
For 2012, the Highlander starts at $28,090 for the base four-cylinder with front-wheel drive. That doesn't get you much in terms of features, but it does include 17-inch alloy wheels, tinted rear windows, remote entry, cruise control, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and two 12-volt power outlets.

My test car was a base V-6, but I didn't feel like I was missing much in terms of features because it also had the $1,835 Tech Package, which includes a USB port, Bluetooth for phones and music streaming, and a nice trip computer. While I enjoy fancy entertainment systems as much as the next guy, this is the type of feature set that most families will need, for a reasonable as-tested price of $32,845. All-wheel drive is only $1,450 more. In this segment, it generally costs $2,000 to move up to all- or four-wheel drive.

SE models start at $32,695 for four-cylinder, front-drive models, adding a power moonroof, a rear window that opens independent of the liftgate, roof rails, fog lamps and a power liftgate. Heated leather front seats, HomeLink, a leather steering wheel with audio and Bluetooth controls, and all the features in the Tech Package are also included. For a similar price, I'd opt for the V-6 model instead of the SE four-cylinder.

The top-of-the-line, all-wheel-drive Limited V-6 Highlander starts at $37,045 and is loaded: 19-inch wheels, three-zone climate control, keyless ignition and entry, and higher-grade leather seats.

The Highlander Hybrid comes in two trims: a base model for $38,140 and a Limited model for $43,795, with similar equipment offerings as V-6 gas models.

Pricing is similar to the Traverse, Pilot and the rest of the class. Toyota also offers two years of free maintenance with new-car purchases, which none of its competitors in the segment offer.

Safety
The Toyota Highlander is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick; that's the institution's highest award. To earn the rating, cars must receive top scores of Good in front, side and rear crashes, as well as pass roof-strength tests that measure rollover protection.

The Highlander earned a four-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Five stars is the highest rating, which the Chevy Traverse earned.

Highlander in the Market
If it weren't so darn practical with a nice engine, it would be easy to discount the Highlander in a field that contains some splashier new models. But there are just too many things in the Highlander's favor to rule it out of your shopping plans. Because of their smaller footprint in your driveway and garage, the Highlander and Pilot are more accessible for more families.

Send David an email  



2011 Highlander Video

From the 2010 State Fair of Texas, Cars.com's Patrick Olsen takes a look at the new 2011 Toyota Highlander and Highlander Hybrid. It competes with the Honda Pilot and Chevrolet Traverse.

Latest 2011 Highlander Stories

What Drivers Are Saying

Exterior Styling
(4.5)
Performance
(4.6)
Interior Design
(4.5)
Comfort
(4.6)
Reliability
(4.6)
Value For The Money
(4.5)

Latest Reviews

(5.0)

Great car I have enjoyed

by Aprecious2 from Temecula ca on July 8, 2018

Rides smooths Never any problems Good gas mileage for its size Powerful take off I?ve ejoyed the car but no kids to haul around anymore and needed change Read full review

(5.0)

Best Car Ive ever owned

by Suzyq41 from Ormond Beach, FL on June 30, 2018

The Toyota Highlander was one of the best vehicles Ive ever owned. Great size not too big but holds 7, Very smooth ride since on a car chassis . I want to buy another one and will never own anything ... Read full review

Safety & Recalls

Recalls

The 2011 Toyota Highlander currently has 5 recalls

IIHS Crash and Rollover Test Ratings

Based on 2011 Toyota Highlander Base

IIHS rates vehicles good, acceptable, marginal, or poor.

Head Restraints and Seats

Dynamic Rating
good
Overall Rear
good
Seat Head/Restraint Geometry
good

Moderate overlap front

Chest
good
Head/Neck
acceptable
Left Leg/Foot
good
Overall Front
good
Restraints
good
Right Leg/Foot
good
Structure/safety cage
good

Other

Roof Strength
good

Side

Driver Head Protection
good
Driver Head and Neck
good
Driver Pelvis/Leg
good
Driver Torso
good
Overall Side
good
Rear Passenger Head Protection
good
Rear Passenger Head and Neck
good
Rear Passenger Pelvis/Leg
good
Rear Passenger Torso
good
Structure/safety cage
good
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is a nonprofit research and communications organization funded by auto insurers.

Manufacturer Warranty

  • Bumper-to-Bumper

    36 months / 36,000 miles

  • Powertrain

    60 months / 60,000 miles

  • Roadside Assistance

    24 months / 25,000 miles

CPO Program & Warranty

Certified Pre-Owned by Toyota

Program Benefits

24-hour roadside assistance, trip-interruption services, Carfax vehicle history report, travel protection and toll-free assistance line

  • Limited Warranty

    1 year / 12,000 miles

    Comprehensive: 12 months/12,000 miles from date of purchase. Powertrain: 7 years/100,000 miles from original in-service date ($50 deductible) Note: In AL, FL, GA, NC and SC, 7-year/100,000 mile limited warranty coverage begins Jan. 1 of the vehicle's model year and zero (0) odometer miles and expires at the earlier of seven years or 100,000 odometer miles. Hybrid: 8-year/100,000 mile warranty on Factory HV Battery for Toyota Hybrid Vehicles.
  • Eligibility

    Under 6 years / 85,000 miles

    Vehicles receive a 160 point inspection and reconditioning.

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Cars.com Car Seat Check

Certified child passenger safety technicians conduct hands-on tests of a car’s Latch system and check the vehicle’s ability to accommodate different types of car seats. The Highlander received the following grades on a scale of A-F.*
* This score may not apply to all trims, especially for vehicles with multiple body styles that affect the space and design of the seating.

Warranty FAQs

What is a Bumper-to-Bumper warranty?

Often called a basic warranty or new-vehicle warranty, a bumper-to-bumper policy covers components like air conditioning, audio systems, vehicle sensors, fuel systems and major electrical components. Most policies exclude regular maintenance like fluid top offs and oil changes, but a few brands have separate free-maintenance provisions, and those that do offer them is slowly rising. Bumper-to-bumper warranties typically expire faster than powertrain warranties.

What is a Powertrain warranty?

Don't be misled a 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty doesn't promise a decade of free repairs for your car. It typically covers just the engine and transmission, along with any other moving parts that lead to the wheels, like the driveshaft and constant velocity joints. Some automakers also bundle seat belts and airbags into their powertrain warranties. With a few exceptions, powertrain warranties don't cover regular maintenance like engine tuneups and tire rotations.

What is included in Roadside Assistance?

Some automakers include roadside assistance with their bumper-to-bumper or powertrain warranties, while others have separate policies. These programs cover anything from flat-tire changes and locksmith services to jump-starts and towing. Few reimburse incidental costs like motel rooms (if you have to wait for repairs).

What other services could be included in a warranty?

Some automakers include free scheduled maintenance for items such as oil changes, air filters and tire rotations. Some include consumables including brake pads and windshield wipers; others do not. They are typically for the first couple of years of ownership of a new car.

What does CPO mean?

A certified pre-owned or CPO car has been inspected to meet minimum quality standards and typically includes some type of warranty. While dealers and third parties certify cars, the gold standard is an automaker-certified vehicle that provides a factory-backed warranty, often extending the original coverage. Vehicles must be in excellent condition and have low miles and wear to be certified, which is why off-lease vehicles feed many CPO programs.

See also the latest CPO incentives by automaker