If you’re still wondering why crossover utility vehicles have replaced SUVs in your neighbors’ driveways, drive a Toyota Highlander.
The Highlander has the room and flexibility for carrying passengers and cargo that made SUVs so popular a decade ago. But it has none of the truck-like qualities that afflicted SUVs and that can wear thin very quickly.
The Highlander has the ride of a fine passenger car. It is smooth, stable and very quiet. The first and second row seating is also quite comfortable. Adults even fit in the third row if the second-row passengers pull their adjustable seats slightly forward. They won’t like riding back there, but they can do it.
For 2011, Toyota gave the Highlander some mild styling updates. The model lineup was also tweaked with the base, top-of-the-line Limited and gasoline-electric Hybrid returning. The mid-level SE is new, taking the place of the Sport. Apparently, not enough buyers were interested in the Sport’s slightly firmer suspension. Now all the Highlanders feature much the same ride and handling characteristics.
“The base model is popular for its seven-passenger seating. It’s handy for young families,” said Tom Pipoli, general manager at Hartford Toyota Superstore. “They like the ride, handling and space.”
A 2.7-liter inline four-cylinder engine, paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, is standard equipment in the base and SE front-wheel drive Highlanders. Both of these also offer the option of V-6 power, which is standard in the Limited. The V-6 uses a five-speed automatic transmission and is required with all-wheel drive.
The Hybrid, which has been revamped this year to produce better gasoline mileage, also uses a V-6 engine along with a battery-powered electric motor. Either the gasoline engine or the electric motor can propel the Highlander using the continuously variable automatic transmission, or the two power sources can work in tandem for maximum performance. All-wheel drive is standard in the Hybrid. Supplies have been tight in recent months because of the earthquake in Japan, but that situation is improving, Pipoli said.
- Jim MacPherson