Toyota Highlander may be considered a mid-sized crossover or even a Camry wagon on steroids but in my view it's the best choice when compared to its Toyota siblings or competitors which is supported by the fact that the Highlander (39,725) has outsold the Sequoia (5,700), 4Runner (21,953) and Venza (25,196) through the first half of 2010.
The Highlander is the shortest, most fuel efficient (18 city/24 hwy) and least costly going against the Honda Pilot, Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia and Mazda CX-9 though the Dodge Journey is quite a bit cheaper. Exterior beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and interior seating height is also a personal preference, and Highlander fit the bill of combining the space and seat height of a large SUV into a smooth, powerful car-like experience into an aerodynamically-crafted sleek vehicle. The current Highlander is the result of a 2008 redesign which made it larger and more powerful than the original generation which debuted in 2001 and received a horsepower boost in 2004. The "salsa red pearl" Highlander Limited that I was fortunate to test drive was amazingly quiet which is a very important characteristic based on today's market research which ranks wind and outside noise as a top customer complaint.
Highlander comes in either 2 or 4 wheel drive and has three powertrain choices: the standard 187 horsepower 2.7 liter four-cylinder engine, the more popular 270 horsepower 3.5-liter V6 and, of course, the hybrid-powered model. My brother has the smaller previous generation Highlander hybrid which he raves about, especially on the fuel economy.
My wife who still spends time driving a 1996 4Runner, first goes for looks and says the Highlander's sleek exterior styling beats the current model 4Runner (pictured right above) which has a more macho bulky appearance. She also enjoyed the Highlander ride, SUV-like raised seating position and interior styling.
I was impressed with the versatile functionality, specifically the seating options and hauling capability, and the effortless acceleration and smooth handling of the AWD V6 Limited with a sticker of $40,995 that included the $1,780 Rear-Seat DVD Entertainment System and $4,900 Extra Value Package that bundled touch screen nav, bluetooth phone connectivity, upgraded sound system, moonroof, rear air, heated from seats and a power rear tailgate door with remote. The $40,995 sticker included the $800 delivery and handling charge and an Extra Value Package discount of $1,500.
The Highlander starts at $25,855 for the 4-cylinder model which gets 20mpg City/27mpg Highway and runs up to a starting MSRP of $41,220 for the Highlander Hybrid Limited with 27 City/25 Hwy mileage. The mileage of the AWD Limited with the 3.5 liter V6 is 17 City/23 Hwy.
Bottom line: this Highlander was loaded with features including 7 airbags and it drove like a dream for the thousand miles I racked up in a week. A definite BUY.
Toyota provided the vehicle used in this evaluation.