Toyota is determined to have the best-outfitted SUV stores on the planet with an array of both truck and car-based models ranging from cute-ute size to Suburban fighters. Five different sport-utilities are now available from Toyota, and that's not even counting the two from Lexus. Toyota's goal: meeting every need, want, taste and whim of the SUV shopper.
The new mid-size Highlander slots in as a car-based (uni-body) SUV slightly larger in capacity than the truck-based 4Runner. Like its kissing cousin, the Lexus RX300, the Toyota Highlander offers lots of flexibility when it comes to carrying people and cargo. It totes four people comfortably, five less so. Alternatively, the seats can be folded down for cargo carrying.
The Highlander performs decorously on street and highway pretending to be a car. Yet it can swallow with ease impromptu buys at flea markets and get them home despite sudden worsening of the weather. Women went gaga over the Lexus RX 300 and will be equally at home in this variation from Toyota. Men of a practical bent will like the more utilitarian attitude of the Highlander. Everyone will cheer the obvious value: for all its shared components the Highlander is some $8,000 to $10,000 less than the RX 300.
Highlander is available with either full-time four-wheel drive or front-wheel drive. There's also a choice of engines: A 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine comes standard, and is rated at 155 horsepower. A 3.0-liter V6 engine that produces 220 horsepower is optional. All come with automatic transmissions.
One well-equipped model is available, which comes standard with air conditioning, power windows and door locks, cruise control, cloth upholstery, and anti-lock brakes. Prices start at $23,995 (including destination charge), which includes a four-cylinder engine with front-wheel drive. Options increase prices for this and all Highlanders, however. The V6 adds nearly $1600. Full-time four-wheel drive adds $1400. We highly recommend the optional Traction Control with Vehicle Skid Control ($850) for all front-drive models, and especially with the V6 ($25,575). The 4WD V6 model retails for $26,975.
Options such as leather upholstery, power seats drive the price up. Side-impact air bags are an option for $250. We drove a loaded 4WD V6 model that totaled $30,470, and a well-equipped 2WD four-cylinder model that came to $27,150.