When our '98 Land Cruiser was in the shop for a major tune up/smog cert, I decided to get a rental car, and for $9/day, Toytota 101 gave us the Highlander Hybrid. Wow. The Highlander Hybrid was so good, I gave up the Land Cruiser and bought one. This is probably the most all-around capable car I've ever been in.
Pros and Cons
Highlander Hybrid gets better gas mileage than the Land Cruiser
Smooth, quiet, luxurious
Great for kids with tons of back seat room
FAST! Recorded 0-60 in 6.8 seconds
Hauls 10 cubic feet less than our Land Cruiser (which it replaced)
Steering wheel doesn't telescope
Has one touch windows (up/down with one touch) only on the driver's side - why not for all windows?
Mundane looking unless black or blue
Owners complain they aren't getting the quoted gas mileage
Thin paint that scratches easily.
0-60 in 6.6 sec according to Motor Trend. My Audi A6 4.2 is supposed to do that in 6.7 seconds. So I tested both (in the rain). According to my stopwatch, the Highlander did it in 6.8 seconds. The Audi in 6.9. Quicker than my 300hp Audi!
Driving through mud road test. There is a saturated mud bog close by. When I drive the big old Land Cruiser in there, it starts to slip and slide as the huge tires get gummed up. The Audi, with its huge low profile tires, overcompensates with it's anti-skid control and also bogs down in the mud. The Highlander, with taller/skinner tires just dug in and plowed through with the least drama.
Braking in wet/Anti Skid control. The Anti Skid control feature is much more advanced in the Toyota. It doesn't kick in as abruptly as the Audi's.
Gas mileage: claimed 27/30 mpg, though a lot of owners have complained it "only" gets 25 mpg. We get 24mpg. That's 127% better than our thirsty Land Cruiser.
If you drive 15,000 miles a year, at 3$ a gallon:
The Land Cruiser at 11 mpg will cost you $4091. The Highlander will cost you $1,800.
Wow! $2,300/year. After 5 years, that adds up.
Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
The Highlander is impressive. It’s extremely quiet at highway speeds. The leather interior is plush and the materials are made of high quality plastic.
The Highlander has comfortable captain’s chairs that give you a good perch over the road. Interior is nicely finished and the GPS/on screen is easy to use. Unfortunately, there isn’t an MP3 player auxiliary plug. The vehicle hauls 50 cubic feet in the back; reasonable for two kids and their gear. The rear seat room is spacious and makes it very easy to lift a baby into the back. The real test is putting the baby jogger in the back without having to disassemble; the 2/3, 1/3 rear seats are on rails and you can easily move the seats up. Presto-baby jogger fits!
3rd row seating: at first I thought the highlander didn't have a third row - it is so cleverly packaged - they fold in to the floor. But a small bench seat pops up. It’s only large enough for small kids but handy in a pinch. Front seat comfort: I really like not being too cramped. The Highlander feels spacious; the only thing lacking is the steering wheel doesn't telescope.
On start up, the car is quiet as it runs only on electricity. Once underway, the CVT transmission is a little unnerving as it seems to rev a bit on its own. But the car is surprisingly powerful.
The Highlander could benefit from stiffer anti-roll bars; there is a bit of lean through turns. The high-mileage tires also tend to squeal early in turns, but steering is crisp.
The Highlander won’t win any beauty contests. But in black, blue, or white, it looks decent. The alloy wheels really fit the car and the black paint looks deep and luxurious.
As a mid-sized SUV, the Highlander is a great deal. It offers luxury and fuel economy with surprisingly fast acceleration. Further, in crash tests, the Highlander received "Good" and "Excellent" ratings throughout. While a bit expensive, this is a nice vehicle that offers reasonable gas mileage (24 mpg combined), luxurious interior, and practical storage space.
Conclusion / Who Should Buy It?
If you need an SUV, this is a very good choice. It offers great acceleration, luxurious interior, and, best of all, plenty of space for your 1 or 2 kids to be comfortable in the back. Even tall adults will find plenty of head and leg room.
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