This week we tested the 2013 Toyota Highlander, by sales numbers one of the top mid-size crossover SUV’s on the market. It swims with the sharks including Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder, and Honda Pilot.
In this arena today, fuel economy, value for the money and tech features are higher on the priority list than ever, pushing things like horsepower and off-road capabilities back on the list of things buyers make their decisions over.
Enter the Highlander which brings styling that is more related to Toyota’s tough trucks than their cars. It has a muscular front face and bulging flared fenders that make it look very much at home out in the wild. The silhouette is still conservative as you would expect from Toyota.
The interior is simple in its design with no over the top style for the sake of style. The dash is laid out in an upright fashion which gives a traditional SUV feel. Seats are high enough to give you a commanding view over the hood, but you don’t feel perched on top of the vehicle.
Our Limited Highlander came with leather trimmed seats, steering wheel and shift lever. The 8-way power driver seat even had adjustable thigh support which made tailoring to both large and small drivers a breeze.
The rear seat area gets its own set of controls for the HVAC and has generous room for three passengers. Rear seats can adjust fore and aft, and the backs also recline. The third row is spit 50/50 which is good as when the seats are up, cargo capacity is virtually eliminated. The second row seats fold down with a 40/20/40 split.
The third row seat also offers enough leg room to be credible for adults. Second row seats tumble forward for a relatively easy entry and exit, and pull levers are located so rear passengers can get themselves out on their own if need be.
Fit and finish are second to none all around the cabin, with trim and grab points having a solid buttoned down feel that is not that far from more expensive brands. The simulated wood grain trim makes no large effort to appear real, but is handsome none the less.
We had the most recent version of Toyota’s new Entune enabled touch screen navigation system which isn’t as intuitive as we would like. Trying to get to the navigation and entering addresses requires a number of menu level steps that require a learning curve, not as direct as some competitors.
The top-level 9 speaker JBL sound system however sounded as good as you would expect and at least tuning its stations and jumping around on the list is relatively easy behind the wheel.
Though the Highlander looks the truck based SUV part, it drives just as smoothly and refined as a sedan. The chassis is well tuned and solid, giving a premium feel behind the wheel around town and on the highway.
Road noise is hushed and the powertrain is as sewing machine smooth as they come. Toyota’s venerable 3.5 liter V6 with 270 horsepower churns quietly under the hood, delivering power through a 5-speed automatic transmission.
Fuel economy for our all-wheel drive Highlander is rated at 17 mpg city, 22 mpg highway, and 19 mpg combined. We averaged about 21 in our week of testing, not bad. We expect if it had a more modern 6-speed automatic transmission, it could do even better.
With all-wheel-drive and reasonable approach angles, we took the Highlander to our testing ground to see how well it articulates over moguls and more challenging terrain. The suspension and chassis was well composed and did well on the unpaved surfaces.
We did encounter some deficiencies on the all-wheel-drive system’s robustness on more extreme spots where say one front and one rear wheel didn’t have full traction. Traction control nor differentials were able to take charge of the situation without enabling “Snow Mode”
While we came away duly impressed with the 2013 Toyota Highlander’s comfort, quality and overall execution, fully loaded at $40,863 we felt it was missing a number of features its competition now offers for the same money. These include things like radar based driver aids such as lane keeping assistance and cruise control, ventilated seats, and a panoramic roof.