Grade-school parking lots all over the country are crying out for something different. Minivans and full-size SUVs litter the landscape: Siennas, Odysseys, Suburbans, Expeditions. But some may want a more stylish, more efficient choice.
"But Highlanders are too small," weary parents out there yawn. Well, not anymore, Mr. and Mrs. Carpool--it's 3.8 inches longer, 3.3 inches wider, and 2.8 inches taller, and offers several clever storage and kiddie-carrying solutions.
Grown from the same structural seed that sprouted the Avalon and Camry, the roomier Highlander's interior is highlighted by an extractable (and stowable) middle, second-row seat that provides a unique kid corridor to the third row (also more spacious and fitted almost universally across the lineup). Additionally, the second row offers almost four inches of track movement, allowing for more second- or third-row legroom. The family-friendly theme continues with an adequate 3.5-inch rear-camera display on all but the base model, plus easy-reach levers that remotely fold down the second-row seats from the rear hatch.
As with the Camry and Avalon, power for the traditional gasoline version is supplied by a 270 horse, 3.5 liter V 6 coupled to a five-speed automatic transmission. No surprise that acceleration is strong nor that the front-drive version's steering suffers momentary confusion when you give it the stick from a stop. The Sport model's recalibrated steering software and stiffer springs don't cure this, but they nicely focus the handling of front and AWD models, with modest ride degradation.
This isn't a problem with the hybrid version (which is just about all carryover hardware) because it's outfitted just one way--with AWD. Notably, it also offers identical output to the gas Highlander, 270 combined gas/electric horsepower, making for a particularly elementary mileage comparison: According to the EPA's all-new, real-world 2008 mileage metric, the hybrid has a 37 percent economy advantage. It also offers an EV mode button that theoretically instructs (though rarely allows) it to traverse up to three miles at 25 mph without firing the engine. More effective is the "Econ" mode that intelligently smoothens power changes if it deems the driver's accelerator foot is just being fidgety.
All three grade levels will be powered with the new V-6, and pricing will start just under $26,000, with the Hybrid Highlander starting below $34,000.
| 2008 Toyota Highlander|
|Base price|| $25,800|
|Price as tested|| $33,800|
|Layout|| Front engine, FWD/AWD, 5/7-pass, 4-door SUV|
|Engines|| 3.5L/270-hp/248-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6; 3.3L/209-hp/212-lb-ft V-6+167-hp/247-lb-ft (f) and 68-hp/96-lb-ft (r) electric motors, 270-hp|
|Transmission|| 6-speed auto|
|Wheelbase, in|| 110.4|
|Length x width x height, in|| 190.6x76.6x68.9|
|Curb weight, lb|| 4450|
|GVWR, lb|| 5900|
|Payload capacity, lb|| 1450|
|Max towing capacity, lb|| 3500|
|Max cargo capacity, cu ft|| 86.8|
|0-60 mph, sec|| 8.0 (TT est)|
|EPA fuel econ, city/hwy, mpg|| 17-18/24-25|
|CO2 emissions, lb/mile|| 0.94-0.99|
|On sale|| Currently|