When the original Toyota Highlander launched in 2001 it joined the RAV4 and Lexus RX 300 in ushering in the car-based sport utility vehicle. Highlander gained immediate success, setting the industry standard for car-based SUVs in innovation, comfort and sales. Toyota broke new ground again in the summer of 2005 with the launch of the Highlander Hybrid, the world's first hybrid gas/electric SUV with available seating for seven. The all-new 2008 Highlander and Highlander Hybrid raise the bar once again in the mid-size SUV segment with a complete redesign that is improved, refined and expanded in nearly every metric of comparison.
Highlander continues to hold a unique distinction within the Toyota brand and within the automotive industry. It is a vehicle with an extraordinary level of versatility, innovation and technology that enables it to cross demographic boundaries between buyers of SUVs, passenger cars, minivans and environmentally sensitive and fuel-efficient vehicles. Along with the 4Runner and FJ Cruiser, Highlander anchors Toyota's three-vehicle mid-size SUV lineup. Equally important, along with Prius and Camry Hybrid, it is a key component in the industry's only three-vehicle hybrid strategy.
The 2008 second-generation Highlander is significantly larger, roomier and more powerful than the vehicle it replaces. Even with an increased curb weight, Highlander's estimated fuel efficiency improves (when calculated using 2008 EPA method). It is noticeably quieter, smarter and more spacious with versatility and ride comfort. It is among the leaders in providing standard active and passive safety equipment in a segment where safety is at the top of purchase considerations. And, it's all wrapped in a package designed for buyers who want to stand out and make a statement.
"Customer First" Quality
As vehicles become increasingly complex, Toyota has realized the need to re-vamp the engineering and manufacturing processes. In 2005, President Katsuaki Watanabe took the reigns of Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) and issued a company-wide challenge to re-prioritize product quality.
The initial steps to guide the quality enhancement agenda began with engineering innovation. He tasked each TMC chief engineer to offer new ideas to improve quality. Everything from tools and processes to budget, was open to discussion. The result was a company-wide agenda called "Customer First."
The program re-allocated assets, allowed more development time, increased headcount, and reverted to the use of additional prototypes to gauge quality during development. Raw materials were reconsidered and assembly was extensively analyzed.
The Highlander development program served as the pilot and featured three critical criteria. First, the process of producing the most comprehensive and accurate original drawings possible was given the top priority. The vehicle would only be as good as the quality of the blueprints.
Second, Toyota accelerated prototype production, increased the number of prototypes, and enlarged the number of quality-check personnel four-fold.
Finally, with these changes, Toyota was able to devote an additional month in the development schedule to address countermeasures.
New Levels of Safety Features
Highlander is equipped with one of the highest levels of standard safety features in the small-, and mid-SUV segments. With a segment-leading total of seven airbags Highlander provides the most inclusive airbag coverage ever equipped in a Toyota vehicle. These include advanced driver and front passenger airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags and a driver's knee airbag. Roll-sensing side curtain airbags help to protect the occupants of all three rows in the event of certain side collisions or vehicle rollovers. They also help reduce the possibility of passengers being ejected from the vehicle during a rollover.
Highlander is equipped with a hood and front fenders that are designed with special crumple zones. Engineers designed the hood with longitudinal reinforcing ribs on its inner structure. The braces for the outer parts of the cowl and the front wall of the cowl are constructed to absorb energy.
In addition to its improved ride and handling, Toyota engineers were determined to make the Highlander even quieter on the road and under the hood. Several measures were taken to substantially reduce road and engine noise, making the all-new Highlander as much as six decibels quieter, than its predecessor.
Among the many noise reduction measures taken were the installation of a larger and thicker amount of absorption insulation material around the instrumentation panel. Road noise and vibration reduction was achieved through the use of a new engine mounting system that features five components including a torque rod mount, a front active control mount, and engine mounts on the front left, right and rear. The result is a significant reduction in engine mount stiffness, creating less vibration and noise. A larger engine intake resonator was also installed for further engine noise reduction.