We just bought a 2012 Highlander with the 4cyl engine. We chose the Tech Package and then had the dealer add leather interior.
Our priorities on this purchase were
2. Fuel Efficiency
3. 3rd Row
We cross shopped with Ford Edge, Explorer, Pilot, Venza, Crosstour, Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, CX-9, CPO RX-350, and 4Runner.
We really liked the Buick Enclave but it was expensive and real world gas mileage was under 20 avg. The Pilot EX-L was cheaper, had more features but was noisy and rode rough.
The Venza, Crosstour, and Edge were too small. 4Runner was awesome just not good enough gas mileage.
In the end it was between the RX-350 and Highlander.
Gas Mileage: Only 250 miles on the car but 100% suburban dallas driving and we are getting 25mpg. When it breaks in the mileage should get even better.
Comfort: Very quiet vehicle. Don't underestimate how a quiet vehicle feels like a quality vehicle. We probably would have gotten the Pilot if it were quieter.
Power: This IS NOT a speed demon but power is very adequate for suburban driving. We can cruise at 72mph turning 2100 rpm and getting 26.5 mpg.
Controls: The layout is very user friendly. Round knobs are truly the best system for HVAC and Radio functions.
3rd Row: It's there when we need it and disappears flat when we don't
Better Standard Stereo: Weak system by 2011 standards. The head unit looks good but the power is low.
Bigger Backup Camera or Rear View Mirror Mounted: I find that it is distracting to look at the center of the dash when reversing.
Sliding Rear Window: The sliding window of the 4Runner is better than the lift up glass of the highlander
Deeper Center Console: This car does not have a lot of storage cubbies like the Pilot
Deeper bottom seat cushion for front seats: I like having my whole thigh supported and the Highlander doesn't quite reach that far.
Ability to Recline 3rd Row
17 Month Update: The car still performs just like new. We have about 17,000 miles now. The OEM tires do not look like they will see anothe 17,000 miles - very disappointing but not unexpected for OEM tires. We just went in for a service and they had us change the 2 air filters. I was suprised how dirty they were since I have a Ford Expedition that I use for work on construction sites all day and the air filters were good till 75,000 miles on that. The Highlander only gets light duty around town use.
Gas mileage is still 24-28. My wife can get 2 mpg more than I can. But overall lifetime average has been 25.5 mpg. We are very happy about that.
We rarely use the 3rd row. We wish the cargo area had more hooks and tie downs.
Very comfortable and quiet. If I had to make a purchase again today I would pick the same vehicle, no question.