The 2008 Toyota Highlander is a seven passenger "affordable" midsized SUV. It was first introduced in 2002, and quickly became Toyota’s best selling SUV, until the Rav4 outsold it in 2006. After seven years, the highlander was in need of makeover. The highlander just looks dated, particularly in the cabin, which was smaller than most current SUV models. In 2008, Toyota decided it was time for a change and introduced a completely redesigned Highlander. The new highlander is built on the same platform as the current Toyota Camry, and is now longer, wider and taller than its previous generation.
This new SUV is offered in several trim levels: base, Sport and Limited, each with front or all-wheel drive. The Hybrid models are base and limited, and both are offered only with all-wheel drive. So, you have plenty of trim options to choose from.
On the outside the new Highlander looks modern, offering a nice design blend, between its main competitors: Honda Pilot and Saturn Outlook . It combines the same smooth design cues of the Saturn Outlook, with the overall style of the Honda Pilot. Nevertheless, the Highlander has a look of its own, mainly inspired by the successful Rav4 design.
Compared to the previous generation, the front of the Highlander is bold and stocky. The hood sits high and is accented by two sporty bulges. The front has larger and sleeker headlights and integrated fog lights. This new fascia is a lot more aggressive than the previous generation which was bland. In the redesign effort, Toyota has finally given Highlander some character.
As you walk along the side, you notice superb 19-inch alloy wheels (a standard on the Limited version). The wheels are highlighted by large flared out wheel arches that extend into the front and rear doors.
From rear, there isn’t much difference from that of the previous generation. However, the new model has a larger rear spoiler with an LED stop light, redesigned taillights, and low mounted reflectors located in the rear bumper. Surprisingly, it does not sport an oversized chrome exhaust pipe. Instead, Toyota opted for a fully hidden exhaust pipe. One nice detail about the rear door is that its window can be opened independently from the rear door, should you want to drop a bag quickly in the trunk or drive around with something sticking out.
Overall, the exterior of the 2008 Highlander looks more modern, is bolder and manages to keep Toyota’s well mannered style.
Inside, the new Highlander is completely new. It now has a two-tone dash that flows evenly through the center console, giving the interior a more modern and sophisticated look. In fact, the new Highlander has one of nicest dashboards we have seen this year. All the interior components are well integrated, making it a comfortable drive.
Atop of the center console is a large on-board computer display. Our test vehicle was equipped with an optional $2,500 LCD navigation screen. This screen is also used for the audio settings and is voice activated. With this option, Toyota has taken a technological step in the right direction. The user interface is very well done too. As expected with any Toyota system, you will be able to learn the controls in no time.
Right under the navigation LCD, the center stacks background changes. The black leaves its place to a ’faux’ wood trim. This is where you will find the climate control system, dominated by two large knobs respectively controlling driver and passenger temperature.
The faux wood stretches around and atop of the gear lever and all the way to the wide central glove box, which also act as central armrest.
The seats provide comfort with descent support. The steering wheel has all the controls you need, such as cruise control and audio settings. Behind the steering, Toyota devoted lots of attention to the instrument cluster. Each dial has its own separate compartment, surrounded by an aluminum brushed ring. If you want to know what is happening in the backseats, the highlander is offering a special panoramic mirror coming down from the headliner, very handy to keep an eye on your kids without turning your back to the road. In the back, the rear seats are leather wrapped. These seats slide, recline and offer great comfort for all. Behind the second row of seats you have the choice a large trunk space or third row seats that are impressively spacious given that they completely fold down into the trunk floor. Once folded, you can’t even tell this is a 7 passenger vehicle.
Overall, the Toyota Highlander offers lots of luxury in a convenient package with all the gadgets and clever storage you can hope for. The only detail missing in our Highlander was the sunroof.
The new highlander is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 gasoline, or a 3.3-liter V6 hybrid producing 270 and 209 horsepower, respectively. The gasoline powered models are matted to a 5-speed electronically controlled automatic overdrive transmission. The hybrid models have something a bit different; they are matted to an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT).
The Highlander features a large windshield that offers a great view of the road. Some drivers might be turned off by the long hood, making the car feel larger than other more slanted nose competitors (such as the Mazda CX7). The drive is smooth and easy. The steering and brakes are light and sharp without being too sensitive. On the other hand, because of its powerful V6 engine the acceleration pedal can be a bit light and you may want to be conscious when you are driving in the city. Lucky for us, our Limited version was equipped with four wheel drive and even the strongest acceleration wouldn’t spin the wheels. The suspensions are comfortable but still manage to keep body roll under control, which is surprising considering the high center of gravity of this vehicle. The Highlander feels very safe.
The newly redesign 2008 Toyota Highlander is a top contender for the best 7 passenger SUV. With the starting price of $27, 500, it is a sure competitor to the Honda Pilot, Saturn Outlook and Mazda CX9. Our limited version reached $34k, but offered all the luxury options you could ever imagine. This vehicle is a bargain when you compare it to its luxurious cousin, the Lexus RX350. The Lexus offers a bit more luxury and a smoother ride. However, the Highlander provides almost the same level of agreement than the best in Class Lexus RX 350 and for $10K less. And because it is a Toyota, it will last and keep a very good resale value. Regrettably, even though the appearance is now sportier, the drive remains a bit subdued. So, the power enthusiast might want to test drive the Mazda CX-9 before making a decision.
Overall, we feel buying the new 2008 Toyota Highlander is, without a doubt, the right thing to do.
All wheel drive handling