Weighing a relatively light 4480 pounds (the last CX-9 Grand Touring AWD we tested tipped the scales at 4633), the Highlander Limited 4WD soldiers on with Toyota's ubiquitous 3.5-liter V-6. It's good for 270 horsepower at 6200 rpm and 248 pound-feet of torque at 4700, mated to a five-speed automatic. If you're wondering why no six-speed, well, so are we, especially since the 2.7-liter Highlander gets one. But the five-speed works, and works well. Acceleration -- 0 to 60 in 7.2 seconds and the quarter mile in 15.6 at 88.0 mph -- is brisk (the CX-9 needs 7.8 and 16.0 at 87.8); shifts are smooth and quick; and fuel economy, at 17 city/22 highway, is respectable for the class (the six-speed CX-9 AWD is rated at 16/22). Further, the Limited 4WD, with is 55-series rubber and strut suspension, puts down solid handlings numbers of 0.74 g lateral acceleration and 28.7 seconds in the figure eight (the CX-9 delivered 0.77 and 28.4).

While the Highlander performs well objectively, it falls a little short subjectively. The steering comes across too light and artificial, lacking the organic directness of the CX-9's. The suspension, tuned on the soft side for a Limited-fitting luxurious ride, nonetheless seems busier and slightly harsher than the Mazda's, which just happens to work in conjunction with larger 20-inch wheels. As you may have ascertained, we still prefer the CX-9 to the Highlander, but that's not to say we don't recognize the Toyota's virtues. Let's start with towing. While the CX-9 tops out at 3500 pounds, the Highlander can pull 5000. Off-roading? While neither is a rock crawler, the Highlander offers a smidge more ground clearance (8.1 inches versus 8.0) and better approach/departure angles, so venturing off the beaten path is less of a daunting task.

Now built exclusively at Toyota's Princeton, Indiana, factory (the hybrid still comes from Japan), the Highlander V-6 remains a very competent, capable, and well-executed three-row crossover. Perhaps to a fault. "Engaging" and "fun to drive" are really the only two Highlander boxes left unchecked. So if you're looking for a seven-passenger sport/ute with those boxes checked, then the Mazda dealer has your rig. If not, then you'll be extremely satisfied with the 2011 Highlander.

2011 Toyota Highlander Limited 4WD
Base price $37,155
Price as tested $41,000 (est)
Vehicle layout Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 3.5L/270-hp/248-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Curb weight (f/r dist) 4480 lb (55/45%)
Wheelbase 109.8 in
Length x width x height 188.4 x 75.2 x 00.0 in
0-60 mph 7.2 sec
Quarter mile 15.6 sec @ 88.0 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 128 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.74 g (avg)
MT Figure Eight 28.7 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 17/22 mpg
CO2 emissions 1.02 lb/mile
Average fuel econ 21.0 mpg