Full 2010 Toyota Highlander Review
What's New for 2010
The 2010 Toyota Highlander is unchanged other than a new sunroof option on base four-cylinder models and an available rearview camera that's now offered on base V6-powered versions.
What do you get when you cross a sport-utility vehicle with a sedan? Something that looks an awful lot like the 2010 Toyota Highlander. One of the first of a new breed of crossovers when it debuted almost a decade ago, the midsize Highlander quickly carved out a niche for itself by combining the shape and practicality of a traditional SUV with the more refined ride and handling qualities of a passenger car.
Representing the model's second generation, the 2010 Highlander remains a standout in an increasingly crowded segment. One of the Highlander's better attributes is what you'll find under its hood. Though a passable 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine was introduced in the base model last year, it's the 3.5-liter V6 that's the real attraction because of the nice balance it offers between zippy performance and relatively good fuel economy.
The conservatively styled Highlander also scores on the inside. There you'll find comfortable seating for up to seven passengers, though accommodations in the standard third row are on the tight side compared to other three-row crossovers. However, the unique 40/20/40-split second-row seat with a center section that can be removed to provide easy walk-through access to the third-row seats is an especially bright idea.
While the 2010 Toyota Highlander has a lot to recommend it, it faces some stiff competition. The midsize crossovers from General Motors -- including the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia -- are appealing alternatives by virtue of their cavernous interiors with seating for up to eight passengers. The capable Ford Flex, the luxurious Hyundai Veracruz and sporty Mazda CX-9 also have their own distinct advantages. That said, we still think the Highlander hits an ideal sweet spot between SUV utility and passenger car comfort.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2010 Toyota Highlander is a midsize seven-passenger crossover offered in base, Sport, SE and Limited trim levels. The entry-level Highlander comes equipped with 17-inch alloy wheels, rear privacy glass, cloth upholstery, air-conditioning, full power accessories, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and a six-speaker CD stereo with an auxiliary audio jack. A fold-flat third-row seat is standard on V6 models and can be deleted if desired.
Step up to the Sport model and you get 19-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, automatic headlights, foglights, roof rack side rails and a flip-up rear window in the liftgate. Inside upgrades include a power driver seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and cargo area-mounted releases for folding down the second-row seats, along with a 3.5-inch screen that displays trip computer info and the image from the standard back-up camera.
The Highlander SE reverts to 17-inch wheels and the regular suspension but has a standard sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated seats, leather seating and a power passenger seat. The cabin also gets an upgraded driver seat, a power front passenger seat, keyless ignition/entry, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a compass and a satellite-radio-ready audio system with a six-disc CD changer.
The Highlander's options list varies by trim level and region, but those available include a sunroof, a power liftgate, heated front seats, automatic rear climate control systems and a towing prep package. Entertainment goodies include a rear DVD entertainment system and a premium nine-speaker JBL sound system that includes Bluetooth cell phone connectivity. A navigation system is also available, but it's only offered on models equipped with the JBL audio system.
Powertrains and Performance
The Toyota Highlander is available with a choice of two engines. Base models can be had with a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out a respectable 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. EPA fuel economy estimates are 20 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined.
By far the more popular (and better) powertrain is the 3.5-liter V6 that's rated at 270 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic and front-wheel drive are standard; all-wheel drive is available as an option. This latter combination propelled a Highlander Limited V6 AWD we tested from zero to 60 mph in just 7.8 seconds, a result that makes it one of the quickest crossovers out there. Properly equipped, V6-powered versions can also tow up to 5,000 pounds, another healthy number for this category. With front-wheel drive, the Highlander V6 returns EPA estimates of 18 city/24 highway/20 combined; adding all-wheel drive drops those numbers by 1 mpg.
The Highlander comes with a long list of standard safety features including antilock disc brakes, stability control and hill-start assist that helps keep the vehicle from rolling backward when motoring away from a stop on an incline. All-wheel-drive models also come with Downhill Assist, which helps the driver make a slow, controlled descent on steep, slick surfaces like snow-covered driveways.
The Highlander's cabin is fitted with a total of seven airbags, including side-impact airbags for front seat passengers, side curtain airbags that cover all three rows of seats and a driver-side knee airbag. Whiplash-reducing active front head restraints are also standard.
In government crash tests, the Highlander earned five stars (the highest possible) for the driver and four stars for the front passenger in frontal impacts, and five stars for side impacts. In tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Highlander received "Good" ratings in both frontal-offset and side impact tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2010 Toyota Highlander features an attractive cabin, especially on top-of-the-line Limited models. Visibility is excellent and the straightforward layout of gauges and controls makes for refreshingly intuitive operation.
Compared to the previous generation, the 2010 Toyota Highlander's passenger compartment offers noticeably better head-, leg- and elbow room. That said, competitors like the Chevrolet Traverse and Ford Flex offer more spacious interiors that may make them a better choice for buyers with large families.
Front and second-row seats are plenty comfortable, but the third-row's lack of legroom makes it best suited to pre-teen passengers. The second-row bench slides fore and aft and reclines for greater comfort. This seat's unique 40/20/40-split design, with a removable center section that stows neatly in a special compartment beneath the center console, also makes it easy to access the way-back bench even with a pair of child car seats strapped into the second row.
When you've got cargo to haul, the Highlander offers a healthy 95.4 cubic feet of space with the second- and third-row seatbacks folded down. The fact that the third-row seat folds down as a single unit instead of being split 50/50 as in many competitive models is a disadvantage, especially when trying to schlep both passengers and cargo.
If you're used to the lumbering trucklike feel of traditional SUVs, the 2010 Toyota Highlander will feel like a pleasure to drive. The fully independent suspension delivers decent handling, at least by family-hauler standards, and the ride quality is surprisingly smooth even with the slightly firmer suspension on Sport models. The steering feels light enough for easy parking lot maneuverability while retaining enough precision to inspire confidence in everyday driving.
The 3.5-liter V6 adds to the appeal by providing strong acceleration that makes this 4,000-pound crossover seem smaller than it is. The fact that this powertrain is also among the most fuel-efficient in the category is an added bonus.