2002 Toyota Highlander

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2004 Toyota Highlander

This 2004 review is representative of model years 2001 to 2007.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 9

Bottom Line:

Toyota makes its popular Highlander more accommodating for families with the new offering of a third row seat. This crossover SUV doesn't grow any longer or wider, though, so space in the rearmost seat isn't generous. Other changes, such as power improvements, and interior and exterior updates, are mild. Why mess too much with success?
Pros:
  • New third-row seating
  • Even more refined ride
  • Engines have bit more power
Cons:
  • No bargain in price
  • Plain styling
  • Still lags competitors in power

It didn't take long for the Toyota Highlander to win the hearts of consumers, especially women, when it debuted in the 2001 model year.

Based on a Camry platform and patterned after the successful Lexus RX 300, the Highlander crossover offered a non-truckish ride and quiet, five-passenger interior compared with truck-based SUVs. Its fuel economy was better, too, and soon, the Highlander became Toyota's top-selling SUV as well as the best-selling car-based SUV in the midsize market.

Now, midway through its model cycle, the Highlander gets a number of improvements for 2004 that are sure to expand its appeal.

More seats for kids
More families are likely to be drawn to the Highlander, now that it offers a third-row seat for the first time.

The seat is designed to hold two people for a total passenger count of seven.

Toyota didn't lengthen or restyle the Highlander to fit in this new seat. There were only some changes in the floorpan and suspension, and the spare tire had to be moved from inside the Highlander to outside under the cargo area.

Small adults and children are best suited for the Highlander's third row. At 5 feet 4, I found my knees were close to the second-row seatback as I sat there—legroom is 30.2 inches—and headroom of 36.3 inches can feel confining.

The larger Honda Pilot has 38.9 inches of headroom in its third row, but the same 30.2 inches of third-row legroom. The Pilot's back seat is set up to accommodate three people.

When not needed, the Highlander's third row seat folds flat into the floor to allow for increased cargo space.

More V6 power
Other big news is the Highlander's new V6, which is expected to be in 80 percent of the models sold.

It has 3.3 liters of displacement, instead of last year's 3.0 liters. It's also used in Toyota's 2004 Sienna minivan and 2004 Solara coupe.

Mated to a new, 5-speed automatic transmission, this engine delivers power easily, not in some crazy, uncontrolled way but in a steady, confident fashion that helps a driver move into traffic easily.

Horsepower is 230 in the new engine and compares with 220 horses in the former Highlander V6. Torque is up to 242 lb-ft at 3600 rpm vs. 222 at 4400 rpm last year.

The engine improvements were needed, since major competitors, such as the Honda Pilot and Nissan Murano have more power. Specifically, the Murano's V6 provides 245 horses and 246 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm while the Pilot's V6 generates 240 horsepower and 242 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm.

Still, fuel economy in the Highlander with V6 is improved a bit over last year's model. The rated highway mileage for a V6, two-wheel-drive Highlander now is 25 miles a gallon, up from 23 last year. In a four-wheel-drive, V6-powered Highlander, highway fuel economy is up to 24 mpg in 2004 compared with 22 mpg in a 2003 Highlander.

The 2004 Highlander's base, 2.4-liter four cylinder also gets a bit more power, going from 155 horses a year ago to 160 and from 163 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm to 165 lb-ft at 4000 rpm. Fuel economy ratings are increased only in the four-wheel-drive Highlander with four cylinder.

More refined ride
Highlander's appeal has always revolved around its car-like ride, maneuverable size, elevated ride height and easy entry. Indeed, the Highlander already had a pretty quiet, jostle-free ride that set it apart from SUVs that use truck-based platforms.

New refinements to the 2004 Highlander's suspension, such as revised bushings, stiffer anti-roll bars and new asymmetrical coil springs, make the vehicle even smoother riding.

In the test vehicle, for example, the ride was so free from bothers and jolts, I scarcely noticed when we passed over manhole covers on the streets. Even recently patched areas of pavement brought only mild vibrations inside.

The power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering has a mainstream feel, and the view out of the Highlander is quite good. I sat up enough that I could see over and around cars, but large SUVs and trucks blocked my view.

Other 2004 changes
Styling is updated front and rear, but the changes are so mild, most consumers aren't likely to notice.

For example, the grille up front is a bit bolder, and taillights in back contain a clear section. But the overall look remains plain.

Inside, Toyota officials sought to give the Highlander a richer look than before. There's a new, satin metallic finish across the dashboard and new colors.

Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) with traction control is standard for the first time on all Highlanders.

Designed to electronically reduce engine power and, if necessary, also brake an appropriate wheel when the system detects a potential skid, VSC adds to the safety of the Highlander.

Also new for 2004: Optional side airbags for front-seat passengers include curtain airbags that provide head protection for first- and second-row passengers. The curtain bags do not, however, extend to passengers in the new third-row seat.

Pricing
The Highlander has never been a bargain basement kind of SUV, and it doesn't get any cheaper in 2004.

At introduction, the base manufacturer's suggested retail price for a four-cylinder model with two-wheel drive was just over $24,000, up from $23,880 for the 2003 model.

A V6-powered, 2004 Highlander with four-wheel drive starts at more than $27,000, and a top-of-the-line 2004 Highlander Limited with such options as leather-trimmed seats, moonroof, and floor and cargo mats can reach a lofty MSRP of around $34,000.

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BB05 - 8/22/2014 4:56:37 AM