When we first received the Toyota Highlander into the Top Speed test fleet we immediately noticed just how big the Salsa Red Pearl crossover from Japan really is. Even our base model Highlander came rather well equipped, and is the perfect new car for a growing family on a budget. The Highlander that Toyota chose for us to drive is representative of the automaker’s high quality economical transportation options.
The CUV came with everything you need to get the job done, like third row seating and plenty of interior space to go along with the comfortable ride, minus a few of the pricey creature comforts that the segment has become synonymous with; keeping the new car’s price well in the affordable range. On the outside, everything about the Highlander is big, like the oversized grill and machined six spoke alloys measuring 17 inches in diameter, giving the crossover a more powerful presence rather than a playful persona, unlike the majority of the CUV field. Meanwhile the interior is spacious and wrapped in cloth continuing the cost effective crossover theme.
Although Toyota offers both V6 and Hybrid equipped Highlanders, under the hood our car came equipped with a rather large 2.7 Liter VVT-i four cylinder engine cranking out 187 HP and a gas sipping six speed automatic transmission that is good for 20 MPG in the city and as much as 27 MPG at highway speeds. The package is more than enough to scoot the nearly two ton crossover around town comfortably, all for under $26,000.
The Toyota Highlander is unlike most cookie cutter crossovers; its combination of curves and creases, round edges and sharp corners make it a fun design that is big enough to pack your whole family and all their gear comfortably. At first glance the Toyota Highlander has the presence of a full size SUV, it was only after parking next to a Chevrolet Suburban that the CUV inside shines through. However despite being a crossover, every part of our Salsa Red Pearl 2010 Toyota Highlander was big; from the bulging fenders to the wide grill, large headlamps and even the oversized mirrors make this compact sport utility vehicle seem much larger than it actually is.
One touch we were particularly fond of was the 17 inch six spoke machined alloys pushed to the far corners of the body, and although Toyota offers a few other wheels in larger diameters, our rollers not only get the job done but they look pretty good at no additional cost. The side glass is big, breaking up the large red body, and tapers slightly towards the rear just above the hindquarter panel adding a sporty touch to the Highlander’s profile. The back glass is equally as big with an oversized sombrero logo on top of a fun looking engraved Highlander emblem hiding the handle for the lift gate. Overall the Highlander is enough to make a few more men feel comfortable in a crossover that is more traditionally suited for a soccer mom.
The interior of our Toyota Highlander is spacious and well laid out. While the Japanese automaker offers the Highlander with optional leather upholstery, our model came with cost effective cloth seats that go along with the economy car theme. Despite the lack of leather, the two tone interior is dressed up with a few well placed chrome touches like on the instrument cluster bezels and cup holder surround. The CUV’s center stack is made up of oversized knobs and large intuitive buttons that make the Highlander as easy to use as it is to make payments on, as well as enough cubbies to make you forget where you put the registration. Meanwhile second row passengers benefit from rear air controls and a very intricate set of cup holders.
One option that our Highlander did come with was the third row seating, a plus for any growing family of more than five and is easily propped up or dropped back down to make a little more room for cargo. The Highlander can safely seat up to seven passengers with its seven standard airbags and while Toyota does offer an optional 9 inch display complete with a pair of wireless headphones that are guaranteed not only to keep the back seat passengers entertained with DVDs, but it will do it in complete silence as well, as long as you are into that sort of thing. After all the Highlander is focused more on getting people to their destination than becoming a rolling entertainment center.
Keeping with the SUV theme you would think that the Highlander has a V8 under the hood because the crossover exhibits quite a bit of get up and go. So after popping the hood we were extremely surprised to see a big four banger with one of the trickest OEM headers bolted to it that we had ever laid eyes upon. Powered by a 2.7 Liter 16 valve four cylinder engine with Toyota’s VVT-i (Variable Valve Timing with intelligence) that makes the 187 HP and 186 lb-ft of torque and thanks to a six speed automatic ECT-i (Electronic Controlled Transmission with intelligence) gearbox with manual shift mode, returns gets an EPA estimated 20 MPG in the city and up to 27 MPG on the highway.
Despite being a 3,800 pound CUV, the plus sized four banger is more than enough to get going in a Highlander. Another visual treat that we found after opening up the hood is the equal length 4-2-1 headers that looks like it could have been lifted from the TRD catalog, the piece is the perfect example of how far the Japanese engineers go to squeeze every last drop of efficiency from their vehicles.
The Highlander’s suspension was soft enough to soak up every bump in the road making it a very comfortable family hauler without feeling too tipsy, perhaps a set of larger diameter wheels would have added an element of harshness to the Highlander’s ride and taken away from one of the best CUV experiences we have ever encountered.
Why to Buy
If you are managing your family on a budget and looking for a practical CUV with plenty of space and third row seating, then you should seriously consider the Highlander. Coming in just shy of $26,000 our red hot Toyota Highlander came equipped with everything you need to get the job done without gouging your wallet with a host of superfluous options making it a great choice for an extended family looking to get around town in comfort without having to break the bank.
Why Not to Buy
If you have something against the Highlander, but are still looking for an affordable plus sized people mover you should look into other crossovers like the Dodge Journey, Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Borrego. All of these CUVs fall into the same price bracket, but the larger V6 engines available in the competition mean that you will be spending more at the pump and you don’t get Toyota’s proven reliability.
Top Speed Final Verdict
At under $26,000 the Toyota Highlander over delivers in every way imaginable, offering everything you need without any of the pricey extras. However the Japanese automaker does have everything from gas/electric Hybrid Synergy Drive modules, 19 inch wheels and leather upholstery. After all the Hybrid’s heavier, your wife will inevitably curb the plus sized rims and your kids will ruin the leather; so we will take our Highlander just the way that Toyota delivered it to us.
At right around $25,000, the 4 cylinder Highlander is reasonably economical, roomy and stylish transport.-Road and Track
The unibody structure is less heavy and cumbersome, which gives the Highlander driving dynamics similar to those of a large car but with a high seating position.-Car and Driver
The Highlander delivers an agreeable combination of comfort and control, though the Highlander ultimately favors ride quality over driver involvement. Drivers looking for a slightly more precise cornering attitude will want to check out the Sport version, which has modestly firmer suspension tuning. Also, while larger than its predecessor, the Highlander is one of the smallest entries among large three-row family crossovers.-Edmunds