Full 2006 Toyota Highlander Review
What's New for 2006
A Sport trim level debuts and revised SAE testing procedures have resulted in reductions in the stated horsepower and torque ratings, though actual output is unchanged.
The Toyota Highlander SUV debuted in 2001. It was one of the first midsize "crossover" SUVs to appear, and Toyota designed it to complement the more rugged and trucklike 4Runner. The Highlander has a carlike unibody design which leads to better handling, less cabin noise, improved crashworthiness and easier entry and exit for passengers.
The Toyota Highlander is meant for people who like the image and versatility of an SUV but prioritize the ride, handling and comfort of a sedan. Think of the Highlander as an oversize Camry wagon that went clothes shopping at REI, and you've got the general idea. Even in its sixth year on the market, the Highlander remains one of the better values for families 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 respectable fuel economy. Although you should definitely explore all your options in this segment, the 2006 Toyota Highlander offers a well-rounded package for the average crossover SUV buyer.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The four-door Toyota Highlander SUV comes in three trims: base, Sport and Limited. The base models are decently equipped with items like 16-inch wheels; power windows, locks and mirrors; cruise control; air conditioning; keyless entry; and a CD player. The Sport spices things up with 17-inch polished alloys, sport suspension, foglights, color-keyed grille, chrome exterior trim, power driver seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift and a CD player. The Limited features automatic headlights, 17-inch non-polished alloy wheels, heated outside mirrors, a windshield wiper de-icer, power-adjustable front seats, a fold-flat third-row seat, an upgraded JBL sound system and HomeLink. Popular options for the Highlander include a rear-seat DVD-based entertainment system, an in-dash CD changer, a tow package and, on the Limited trim, leather seating and a navigation system.
Powertrains and Performance
There are two engine choices for this Toyota SUV: a 2.4-liter four-cylinder (that comes with the base Highlander) or a 3.3-liter V6 (optional on the base model and standard on the Sport and Limited trims). The four-cylinder makes 155 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque, while the smooth V6 puts out 215 ponies and 222 lb-ft of torque. A four-speed automatic transmission is standard on four-cylinder models, while V6 Highlanders upgrade to a five-speed unit. Tow ratings are on the light side, the maximum being 3,500 pounds on a properly equipped V6 model. The Highlander comes in both front-wheel-drive (2WD) and all-wheel-drive configurations.
All Highlanders come with four-wheel antilock disc brakes equipped with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) and BrakeAssist, a stability control system, a tire-pressure warning system and whiplash-reducing front seats. Optional on all models are seat-mounted side airbags for front occupants and side curtain airbags for the first and second rows. In government crash testing, the 2006 Toyota Highlander scored five stars (out of a possible five) for frontal-impact protection. In side-impact tests, it again received five stars for both front and rear passengers. In frontal offset crash testing administered by the IIHS, the Toyota earned a "Good" rating (the best possible).
Interior Design and Special Features
The Highlander's passenger accommodations are reasonably spacious, but newer competitors offer more room in the second row. Ordering the third-row bench allows the Toyota SUV to seat two additional passengers, preferably small ones, for a total capacity of seven. Unfortunately, the second-row seat's lack of a flip-and-fold mechanism makes the third row tougher to access than most. When it's time to haul groceries, the third-row seat folds flat into the floor (without requiring removal of the headrests), opening up 38.5 cubic feet of cargo space. Drop the 60/40-split second-row seats and there are 81.4 cubes to go around.
A fully independent suspension delivers an excellent combination of comfort and control, although, like the Camry, most Highlanders favor ride quality over handling. Drivers looking for a flatter cornering attitude will want to consider the Sport version with its firmer suspension tuning. Regardless of trim level, the Highlander weighs less than many other crossover SUVs, giving a more nimble feel. The base four-cylinder engine provides adequate power for those who travel light, but most buyers will prefer the V6, which provides smooth, strong acceleration in all situations.