2007 Toyota Highlander

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2002 Toyota Highlander

This 2002 review is representative of model years 2001 to 2007.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 7

Bottom Line:

Polished Highlander sport-ute offers lots of utility, but little excitement.
Pros:
  • Roomy
  • Refined
  • Carlike personality
Cons:
  • Average 4-cylinder performance
  • Soft brake pedal
  • No third-row seat

The Toyota Highlander looks like a tough sport-utility vehicle, but is a smooth, roomy family hauler.

Introduced for the 2001 model year, the Highlander is based on the Toyota Camry sedan and Toyota's upscale Lexus RX 300 sport ute to give it a family-friendly personality and to hold down costs.

The RX 300 is a so-called crossover sport ute because it is based on an auto platform. The Highlander can be called the same thing, but is larger than the RX 300. And, while the RX 300 resembles a high station wagon, the Highlander looks like a genuine sport ute. Both, however, come with front- or all-wheel drive.

Strong V6
The Highlander and RX 300 are offered with the same 220-horsepower version of Toyota's butter-smooth 3.0-liter V6, which provides lively acceleration. It's sophisticated with such items as dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder.

The 2002 Highlander also is available with a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that generates 155 horsepower and considerably less torque. It's also sophisticated, but is best put in Highlanders that spend most of their life in town because it doesn't provide the rather heavy Highlander enough punch for such things as quick passing on highways.

However, the 4-cylinder is more fuel thrifty than the V6, delivering an estimated 19-22 mpg in the city and 24-27 on highways, with front-wheel-drive versions getting the higher numbers. Figures with the V6 are 18-19 in the city and 22-23 on the open road.

Although smooth, the V6 works hard because it is not especially large and V6 Highlanders are heavier than the 4-cylinder ones, weighing 3,660-3,880 pounds—compared with 3,485-3,715 pounds for the 4-cylinder versions.

Responsive Transmission
Both engines work with a responsive 4-speed automatic transmission with a snow mode, although a more modern 5-speed unit would be more welcome.

The power steering is a little stiff, but is sufficiently quick. The brake pedal is too soft, but stopping distances are short. Anti-lock all-disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution and a brake assist feature are standard.

Carlike Ride and Handling
An all-independent suspension helps provide car-like ride and handling, as does the unit construction, which lowers the ride height and center of gravity. Also helping provide car-like manners is the unit body construction, which avoids the stiff-legged handling and other drawbacks of more truck-like sport utes with body-on-frame construction.

Forget tough off-road driving with the Highlander because it's mainly designed to be an on-road vehicle. For instance, the all-wheel-drive system lacks low-range gearing for rugged off-road trips.

While the Highlander doesn't do anything appreciably better than an all-wheel-drive minivan, it's a smarter buy than a truck-based sport utility for many comfort-minded families. However, there are no sliding doors, which can be found in minivans

The Highlander has base prices ranging from $23,880 to $30,795. It comes in one basic four-door hatchback configuration.

A new top-line Limited trim with front or all-wheel drive has features such as automatic climate control, premium sound system, remote keyless entry and cosmetic items including chrome inside door handles and leather-wrapped shifter and steering wheel.

Well Equipped
The regular front- and all-wheel-drive Highlander is well-equipped, with items including air conditioning, an AM/FM/CD/cassette, cruise control and a tilt steering wheel.

A fair amount of options, which can considerably raise the price, include a power driver's seat and sunroof.

A new standard center console with dual adjustable cupholders provides more storage area and there are a new rear-seat armrest and interior air filter.

Safety features include front seats that lessen whiplash injury. Side-impact airbags up front and an anti-skid system with traction control are optional.

No Third-Row Seat
There is room for four tall adults, or for two adults up front and three children in the rear. One drawback is that no third-row seat is offered.

The Highlander's low floor makes it easy to get in and out, although occupants sit high for a good view of surroundings. The quiet interior has an accommodating design, and Limited trims can be had with a $1,070 leather upholstery option. But even the leather doesn't give the interior more than a middle-market appearance.

The big, supportive seats and controls are conveniently placed high. But it is difficult to read the gauges because they are in fairly deep coves—an unusual fault in such a practical vehicle.

Roomy Cargo Area
The rear seats have a 60/40 split design and can recline or flip forward with the pull of a lever. The cargo area is roomy even with the rear seatbacks in their normal position. A large rear hatch facilitates loading.

The automatic transmission lever juts from a small console in the middle of the dashboard, like the shifter in a race/rally car.

The Highlander is one of those vehicles that families seem to keep forever, but should have good resale value with its solid construction, high quality and trusted Toyota nameplate.

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BB03 - 8/21/2014 9:24:17 PM