2002 Toyota Highlander

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2001 Toyota Highlander

This 2001 review is representative of model years 2001 to 2007.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 7

Bottom Line:

Roomier, lower-cost alternative to Lexus RX 300 sport-utility vehicle.
Pros:
  • Roomy
  • Strong V6
  • Refined
  • Responsive automatic transmission
Cons:
  • Conventional styling
  • Lazy with 4-cylinder
  • Mushy brake pedal

As usual, Toyota is keeping all bases covered with its new Highlander sport-utility vehicle.

From a marketing standpoint, the Highlander fits between Toyota's RAV4 entry sport ute, which started the move toward car-based sport utilities, and the more rugged 4Runner sport ute —although the midsize Highlander actually is larger than the 4Runner. Topping the Toyota sport-utility chart are the bigger new full-size Sequoia and the large, venerable Land Cruiser.

The Highlander has attractive but mostly nondescript styling, and is based on the platform of the smooth Toyota Camry, which has been the top-selling car in this country for years.

The in-house sharing never seems to end with the Highlander—a strategy that holds down its prices. For instance, it has the strong 220-horspower V6, automatic transmission and other components used by the RX 300 sport ute from Toyota's upscale Lexus division.

Very Car-Like
The car-like Highlander comes with front-drive or all-wheel drive without low-range gearing because this mostly is an on-road vehicle. Toyota compares the Highlander to a sedan such as the Camry; the automaker says it's "for buyers demanding the image and versatility of an SUV but who prioritize a sedan's ride, handling and comfort."

Note that Toyota indicates that the Highlander has a more sporting image than a minivan, which some consider to be nerdy.

The Highlander generally is pleasant to drive. Steering is quick, but the brake pedal is mushy and calls for lots of pedal pressure to stop this new sport ute. Still, stopping distances are acceptable with 4-wheel disc brakes hooked to a standard anti-lock system.

An independent rear suspension helps provide car-like ride and handling, along with generous cargo room, because it doesn't cause the floor to be raised to clear the axle. The rear bench seatback easily flips forward to allow a more spacious cargo area.

Besides the sophisticated V6, an advanced but noisier 2.4-liter 155-horsepower 4-cylinder is offered with either drive system. Both DOHC engines are hooked to a responsive 4-speed automatic transmission, which works best with the V6.

It can be argued that the $23,515-$26,495 Highlander is a better deal than the RX 300 because it costs approximately $10,000 less and has more room.

Larger Than RX 300
The extra space isn't gained with mirrors—the Highlander has a 3.9-inch longer wheelbase and is 4.1 inches longer overall than the RX 300.

Most of the Highlander's additional space is used for a noticeably larger cargo area because both sport utes have roomy back seats. Four tall adults easily fit in the quiet, nicely designed interior. They sit high, although the Highlander's low floor makes it pretty easy to get in and out.

The automatic transmission lever juts from a small console in the lower center of the dashboard, as in the RX 300. That allows a minivan-style walk-through aisle between the front seats but puts front cupholders in an awkward location that may lead to spills.

Pretty Well Equipped
Although Toyota is known for offering options that considerably raise base prices, even the base Highlander front-drive 4-cylinder model is fairly well equipped. Standard items include air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and door locks, AM/FM/CD/cassette with six speakers, tilt steering wheel, and digital quartz clock.

There also are plenty of cupholders, bottle holders, auxiliary power outlets, grocery bag hooks, and large map pockets in all doors.

Watch Those Options
However, options still can significantly raise Highlander prices. For example, there are an $815 power sunroof, $1,015 leather interior, $595 premium audio system with in-dash CD changer and eight speakers, $390 power driver's seat, $250 side-impact airbags, $850 skid-control system, and $320 remote keyless entry system.

And some Highlander buyers may be sorely tempted to order the pricey $3,495 Limited Package that contains items such as automatic climate control, chestnut grain interior trim and aluminum wheels.

For sure, the RX 300 looks sharper than the Highlander. And an RX 300 owner enjoys such things as a more luxurious interior and the prestige of the Lexus nameplate. But Toyota is betting that many on fairly tight vehicle budgets won't consider those to be major drawbacks of buying the cheaper, more practical Highlander.

No Hot Rod
The smooth 3.0-liter V6 provides decent 65-75 mph passing times on highways and relaxed highway cruising is no problem with that engine. But the Highlander V6 is no hot-rod sport ute because the V6 is rather small and a Highlander V6 is no lightweight at 3,660 pounds with front-drive and 3,880 pounds with all-wheel drive.

The 4-cylinder Highlander is lighter, but not that much lighter—at 3,485 pounds with front drive and 3,715 pounds when equipped with all-wheel drive.

Marginal 4-Cylinder
Bottom line? Avoid the Highlander 4-cylinder model unless it'll mostly be for in-town use. The "four" is just too small to provide anything but lazy performance at highway—or fast freeway—speeds, especially if it has all-wheel drive.

However, the 4-cylinder delivers better fuel economy and can run on cheaper 87-octane gasoline. (So can the V6, although Toyota recommends 91-octane fuel for the best performance and for heavier duty work such as towing with that engine.)

Generally Low Economy
The Highlander 4-cylinder delivers an estimated 22 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway with front-drive and 19 and 24 with all-wheel drive. Numbers for the V6 version are 19 and 23 with front-drive and 18 and 22 with all-wheel drive.

At least the Highlander has a fairly large (19.8-gallon) fuel tank to help cut down on gas station stops.

The Highlander has Toyota's typically solid construction and is a solid buy, especially with the V6.

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BB06 - 4/17/2014 10:55:20 PM