Toyota’s first answer to buyers seeking SUV attributes, like space and versatility, was the mini-ute RAV4. The second was the luxury Lexus RX 300, which rides on a modified Camry chassis. With the Highlander, Toyota tried again to find a way to offer sport-utility attributes and all-weather security, with the comforts and handling of a car. It seems to have succeeded.
Highlander’s carlike unibody construction, similar to the smaller RAV4, and a softly sprung suspension make it drive and ride more like a car than an SUV. But, with 7.3 inches of ground clearance and no low-range transfer case, it’s ill-equipped for rough off-roading. It can handle light snow-covered road conditions, though. And it has a good safety record and an extensive list of standard features.
Its front-wheel drive version makes for a pleasant urban commuter, with quiet, refined power delivery and a smooth, comfortable ride. It’s also surprisingly fuel-efficient, with highway mileage in the high 20s. And its V-6-powered four-wheel drive counterpart can tow 3500 lb.
The Highlander’s roomy, flexible interior feels more spacious than that of most mid-sized SUVs. The tall driving position and large windows contribute to excellent all-around visibility. And the front seats are comfortable and supportive, with lots of headroom. But the liftgate window opens separately, there’s no telescopic adjustment for the steering wheel, and third-row seat room is limited.