A pioneering vehicle in many ways, the Toyota Highlander was one of the first midsize crossover sport-utilities to be sold in America when it debuted in 2001. With its carlike unibody design, the original Highlander provided a variety of benefits over Toyota's more traditional SUVs, such as better handling, less cabin noise, improved crashworthiness and easier entry and exit for passengers.
Since then, the Highlander has gone on to become one of the most popular crossovers available, appealing to shoppers who want a vehicle with SUV styling, plenty of cargo-carrying versatility and carlike driving characteristics. The second-generation Highlander is larger and roomier than the older model, but a Highlander of any vintage will be one of the better values out there for those who need a comfortable, easy-to-drive vehicle that can carry a fair amount of cargo, handle occasional snow and ice during the winter months and still turn in adequate fuel economy.
Current Toyota Highlander
The Toyota Highlander crossover SUV can seat up to seven passengers. The third-row seat is smaller than what you'll find in most competitors, and is really only suitable for children. However, the middle section of the Highlander's 40/20/40 second-row seats folds away into its own receptacle, leaving you with a pair of captain's chairs -- just like in a minivan. Another added bonus is that these seats slide and recline.
The Highlander is available with front-wheel or all-wheel drive. Base front-drive models come with a standard 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. It's connected to a six-speed automatic transmission. All other Highlanders have an impressively efficient 3.5-liter V6 good for 270 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic is standard with the V6. There is also a hybrid-powered Highlander that delivers considerably better fuel economy.
Toyota Highlander shoppers can choose among four trim levels: base, Plus, SE and Limited. Base models have an impressive array of standard features that will satisfy many consumers, while stepping up to the Plus adds a rearview camera, a lift-up rear window and some minor conveniences. The SE nets a sunroof, a power tailgate, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, a power driver seat and heated front seats. Highlights of the Highlander Limited include 19-inch wheels, upgraded leather upholstery, tri-zone automatic climate control, keyless ignition/entry, a power passenger seat, a navigation system, an upgraded audio system and Toyota's Entune suite of smartphone app-based services.
On the road, our editors have found that the Highlander delivers an agreeable combination of comfort and control, though the Highlander ultimately favors ride quality over driver involvement. Also, while larger than its predecessor, the Highlander is one of the smallest entries among large three-row family crossovers.
Used Toyota Highlander Models
The present Toyota Highlander represents the second-generation model, which was introduced for 2008. It's significantly bigger than the previous model in nearly every way, adding shoulder room, hiproom and legroom all around as well as additional cargo capacity. It also has a more powerful V6 engine and other new features.
From 2008 through 2010, the third-row seat was a less versatile one-piece bench design rather than the current model's 50/50-split seat. Highlander models from these years were also available in an additional Sport trim level that had a more firmly tuned suspension. For 2011, Toyota mildly updated the Highlander's exterior styling. The Plus trim debuted in 2013 along with a few minor feature changes.
The first-generation Toyota Highlander was produced from 2001-'07. It was powered by either a 155-hp four-cylinder engine or a 220-hp 3.0-liter V6. A four-speed automatic transmission was standard. In 2004 the V6 was bumped up to 3.3 liters and 230 hp, and models so equipped received a five-speed automatic transmission, while four-cylinder models soldiered on with the four-speed unit (and 5 extra hp). Available trim levels were base, Sport and Limited.
Base models came equipped with a respectable amount of equipment, including air-conditioning, power accessories, cruise control and a CD player. The Sport trim spiced things up with 17-inch alloys, a sport-tuned suspension, foglights, a power driver seat and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter. The Limited added heated outside mirrors, power front seats, a fold-flat third-row seat (as of 2004) and an upgraded JBL sound system. Popular options included leather seating, an in-dash CD changer, a towing package and -- on the Limited model only -- a navigation system.
Shoppers interested in a used Toyota Highlander might want to confine their search to 2004 models and newer, not just because of the power increase, but also because a third-row seat and rear DVD entertainment system were newly available, enabling the Highlander to remain competitive with the strengthening crop of midsize crossover SUVs. Other significant changes for '04 included the addition of stability control and a tire-pressure warning system as standard equipment, as well as newly optional side curtain airbags for the first and second rows, which became standard on '07 models.
Read the most recent 2013 Toyota Highlander review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Toyota Highlander page.