Toyota Highlander Limited 4x4
The cabin is awash in cupholders, map pockets, and storage compartments, but there's not really anything here to excite or offend, just the bare wonderfulness of Toyota sobriety.


The Highlander is the Martha Stewart matching-tablecloth-and-napkins approach to sport/utility design. It blends into everyday life quietly, capably, adding a measure of pack-it-up-and-take-it-with-you utility without offending anyone's sensibilities. No one's going to fantasize about running (or decorating) the Baja in it, either.

Presently in its third model year, the Highlander is the best-selling car-based midsize SUV--more than 110,000 were sold in the U.S. during calendar year 2002. It's also Toyota's best-selling SUV, big or small, just last year surpassing the more trucklike, robust, and rugged 4Runner.

In concept, the Highlander is a more affordable, less-stylish version of the SUV that pioneered the crossover wave: the Lexus RX 300. Before the RX, if you wanted carlike attributes and AWD, the choices included an Audi or Subaru wagon or a Chrysler minivan. Now, you can get into something that kinda, sorta looks like an SUV, but drives like a car. Bumper to bumper, the Highlander is a surprising five inches shorter than the Camry, but stands 10 inches taller, the better to accommodate clunkier cargo.

Our fully kitted V-6-powered Highlander Limited 4x4 stickered above $35,000. Four-cylinder, front-drive versions of the Highlander base model start under $24,000.

Aside from the slightly higher vantage point the driver and passengers enjoy, the experience behind the wheel of the Highlander is Camry-like. It's exceptionally quiet and familiar inside. Big climate-control buttons and audio dials cut to the chase of what Toyota buyers want--comfort and ease of use. Rear-seat passengers can recline their seatbacks. The cabin is awash in cupholders, map pockets, and storage compartments. Material choices and fit and finish are top-notch. Outward visibility is excellent. Long-legged drivers may wish for a bit more seat travel, but there's not really anything here to excite or offend, just the bare wonderfulness of Toyota sobriety.