In a crowded marketplace where everyone is clamoring for your attention, and your dollar, there are things that can become lost. Good things, decent things, things that might otherwise grab your attention are missing, buried and sitting on the sidelines.
The Toyota Highlander is just such a thing. It’s a good, decent thing that seems lost. It wasn’t always so. When it was introduced in 2000, the Highlander was one of the first midsize SUV crossovers, a niche created by people who were growing tired of the minivan. They wanted the same features but in something that more resembled a car. They wanted room, higher views on the road and seating for more than five. The Highlander filled that niche and people bought it like popcorn in a movie theater. Soon it was seen it driveways all over suburbia.
As is the American way however, it didn’t take long for others to jump in the SUV crossover pool. Today sadly the Highlander ranks near the bottom in sales among its class. And that’s a shame because it still is a good thing; on the other hand though simply being good isn’t going to cut it so in the end being simply ‘good’ isn’t good enough.
For 2013 the Highlander is offered in base, Plus, SE and Limited trim levels. We recently spent a week with a Limited model and while it was enjoyable, it just wasn’t memorable. This is no frills flying with no first class amenities, you’re in coach get used to it here’s your peanuts. The base model has standard features that include 17-inch alloy wheels, rear privacy glass, cloth upholstery, an eight-way (manual) adjustable driver seat, a 40/20/40-split-folding second-row seat, a 50/50-split-folding third-row seat, air-conditioning (with rear controls), a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, iPod/USB interface and an auxiliary audio jack.
Move up to the Plus and you add foglights, roof rails, a windshield wiper de-icer, a lift-up rear window, a rearview camera, driver seat power lumbar support, extendable visors with vanity mirrors, one-touch fold-flat second-row seats and a cargo area privacy cover. The SE adds a sunroof, a power liftgate, leather upholstery, an eight-way power driver seat, heated front seats and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
Our Limited had 19-inch alloy wheels, heated mirrors, keyless ignition/entry, perforated leather upholstery, a four-way power passenger seat, tri-zone automatic climate control, a nine-speaker JBL sound system (with HD radio and satellite radio), a navigation system, Toyota's Entune suite of smartphone app-based services..
Most importantly any of the three trim levels above the base gives the option of replacing the 2.7-liter inline-4 engine that produces 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, with a 3.5-liter V6 that's rated at 270 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque. The engine is standard on the Limited and we were grateful for that. Because the one thing that allows the Highlander to stand out among the other crossovers we drove recently is the power. The acceleration is smile-inducing, the shifts are crisp and the ride is smooth. You won’t be taking any corners in an aggressive manner thanks to a fair amount of body roll, but that’s okay no crossover is designed for such moves. However we did note that there seemed to be a bit more body roll in comparison to some of the other crossovers we’ve tried lately.
The drive is good and the Highlander would be okay, as long as you don’t look around the inside too much. Sure the interior is roomy, the seats are comfortable; it’s just best described as uninspired. The layout is fine, but the screen for the Entune is small and the entire dash looks plain with plastic looking accents and a wood trim that appears a bit dated. A smaller screen set in the center top of the dash gives out information that seems somewhat head scratching making us wonder why it was there. There are also two large round buttons set aside the climate control that do absolutely nothing. Given the comfortable ride and the able handling, all of this would be fine though, if there weren’t so many other players on the field.
With an MPG rating of 18 in the city and 24 on the highway and an MSRP of $41,634 for the Limited we tested there are just too many others on the market to choose from. There’s nothing to make the Highlander stand out from the crowd. And that’s shame. With Toyota’s quality and reliability anything from Toyota is usually a winner. The Toyota quality is there, no doubt the reliability is as well, unfortunately there isn’t much else.
The good news is that the Highlander gets an upgrade for 2014; it will get a bit longer and wider, with more interior room and an extra seat. More importantly the design will rely less on a boxy exterior and will instead add a little flair. Maybe this is just what the Highlander needs to make it better than good. Maybe the Highlander will jump back in the game, stand out in a crowded marketplace and grab your attention.
The 2013 Toyota Highlander (Limited)
MSRP: $ 37,950
MSRP (as tested): $ 41,634
Engine (as tested) 3.5 L V6
Horsepower 270 hp @ 6200 rpm torque 248 ft-lbs. @ 4700 rpm
Fuel economy (cty/hwy) 18/24 mpg
Fuel economy (as tested): 21.5 mpg (mixed conditions)
Drive type front wheel drive
Transmission 5-speed shiftable automatic
Width 6 ft. 3.2 in. (75.2 in.)
Height 5 ft. 9.3 in. (69.3 in.)
Length 15 ft. 8.4 in. (188.4 in.)
Ground clearance 0 ft. 8 in. (8 in.)
Wheel base 9 ft. 1.8 in. (109.8 in.)
Front head room 39.7 in.
Front hip room 56.7 in.
Front leg room 43.2 in.
Front shoulder room 59.7 in.
Rear hip room 56.5 in.
Rear head room 40.1 in.
Rear leg room 38.3 in.
Rear shoulder room 59.5 in.
Weights and capacities
Maximum towing capacity** 5000 lbs.
Maximum payload** 1545 lbs.
Epa interior volume 156.0 cu.ft.
Gross weight 5800 lbs.
Curb weight 4255 lbs.
Cargo capacity, all seats in place 10.3 cu.ft.
Maximum cargo capacity 95.4 cu.ft.
** when adequately equipped, which may require engine and/or other drivetrain upgrades.
basic 3 yr./ 36000 mi.
Drivetrain 5 yr./ 60000 mi.
Free maintenance 2 yr./ 25000 mi.
Roadside 2 yr./ 25000 mi