Full 2011 Toyota Highlander Review
What's New for 2011
For 2011, the Toyota Highlander receives a refresh that includes restyled front and rear ends and a few more standard features. Among the latter are a 50/50-split-folding third-row seat and rear climate controls for base and SE trims. Lastly, the Sport trim level has been dropped.
When it debuted 10 years ago, the Toyota Highlander blazed the trail for midsize crossover SUVs. At the time, we wondered whether people would like this "Camry wagon" (the Highlander typically has had a lot of Camry in its DNA) or continue to stick with truck-based SUVs. Well, the last decade has pretty much proven that refined carlike crossovers have prevailed.
Thanks to a quiet, fairly roomy cabin, a V6 engine that is both smooth and comfortable and a reputation for reliability, the Highlander has remained one of the most popular midsize crossovers. A refresh for the 2011 Highlander brings updated styling and additional standard features. A new third-row seat has a 50/50-split folding design that makes it easier to configure the vehicle for passenger use or cargo hauling.
Otherwise, the 2011 Toyota Highlander stays the course. This means a smooth, quiet ride and comfortable seating for up to seven passengers (though the third row is a bit tight compared with some of the Highlander's competition). The Highlander also boasts a 40/20/40-split second-row seat with a removable center seat that allows walk-through access to the third row, not to mention the comfort of captain's chairs with fold-down armrests in the second row.
While the midsize 2011 Toyota Highlander has a lot going for it, this crossover faces some stiff competition. The larger crossovers from General Motors -- the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia -- offer more cavernous interiors with seating for up to eight passengers. The Ford Flex and Mazda CX-9 also have their own distinct advantages, as do the totally redesigned Dodge Durango and Ford Explorer. We suggest checking out these models, but in general we still believe the Highlander hits the sweet spot between passenger-car comfort and SUV-style utility.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Toyota Highlander is a midsize seven-passenger crossover offered in base, SE and Limited trim levels.
The entry-level Highlander comes equipped with 17-inch cast-aluminum wheels, rear privacy glass, cloth upholstery, a 40/20/40-split-folding second-row seat that both reclines and slides fore and aft, a 50/50-split-folding third-row seat, air-conditioning (with rear controls), a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and a six-speaker CD stereo with an auxiliary audio jack.
Step up to the SE and you get a sunroof, power tailgate (with a separate glass hatch), roof rails, foglamps, windshield wiper de-icer, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, an eight-way power driver seat, heated front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, cargo area-mounted releases for folding down the second-row seats, a back-up camera, and an upgraded audio system (optional on base) with satellite radio, a USB port and Bluetooth connectivity/streaming audio.
The Limited adds 19-inch cast-aluminum wheels, additional chrome exterior trim and power-folding/heated outside mirrors with puddle lamps. The cabin also gets upgraded leather upholstery, tri-zone automatic climate control, keyless ignition/entry, a 10-way power driver seat, a four-way power passenger seat and wood-grain accents.
The Highlander's options list varies by trim level and region, but those available include a towing prep package, an upgraded JBL sound system (with six-disc CD changer and subwoofer), a navigation system (includes the JBL sound system but with a four-disc CD changer) and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2011 Toyota Highlander is available with a choice of two engines. The Base model can be had with a 2.7-liter inline-4 engine that puts out 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/25 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined.
Optional for the base and SE and standard for the Highlander Limited is a 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 optional. A Highlander Limited AWD tested by Edmunds sprinted from zero to 60 mph in just 7.5 seconds, performance that makes it one of the quickest crossovers on the road.
Properly equipped, a Highlander V6 can 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 these numbers to 17/22/19.
The Highlander comes with a long list of standard safety features including antilock disc brakes, stability control and hill-start assist. All-wheel-drive models also come with hill-descent control, which electronically intervenes with the antilock brakes to control speed 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 (the highest possible) in both frontal-offset and side impact tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2011 Toyota Highlander features an attractive cabin, especially the top-of-the-line Limited model. Visibility is excellent, while the straightforward layout of gauges and controls makes for refreshingly intuitive operation.
The front- and second-row seats are plenty comfortable, but the third-row seat's lack of legroom makes it best suited to pre-teen passengers. The Highlander's second-row bench slides fore and aft and reclines for greater comfort. This seat's unique 40/20/40-split design, which has 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.
If you're used to the lumbering trucklike feel of a traditional SUV, the 2011 Toyota Highlander will be a pleasure to drive. The fully independent suspension delivers decent handling, at least by family-hauler standards, and the ride quality is surprisingly smooth. The steering feels light enough for easy parking-lot maneuverability, though it is rather numb and uninspiring compared to its crossover rivals.
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.