2008 SUOTY Contender Road Test: 2008 Toyota Highlander
No Miss Congeniality
It's easy to imagine the Highlander as a student who's been cramming for this exam for years, its guidance counselors scrutinizing our Sport/Utility of the Year criteria to find any opportunity for improving their scores. And improve them it did.
On superiority, the upgrades to an already solid vehicle are all laudable: more passenger and cargo space, myriad new features easily controlled via a user-friendly knob-centric dash, and a new standard 3.5-liter V-6 delivering 270 strong horses that can tow up to 5000 pounds. Hybrids get standard all-wheel drive and new economy-boosting features.
In the significance category, Toyota's marketing efforts have helped make the Highlander a segment sales leader. With models ranging from front-drivers with cloth seating for five, to leather-lined Limited seven-seat Hybrids, Toyota caters to a wide slice of the SUV-buying (and tree-hugging) public, earning big points in this category.
In terms of value, the much improved Highlander starts at just $27,245, or $620 more than last year's entry V-6 model ($1680 up on the unlamented four-banger). Top Limited Hybrid models tiptoe over the $40K mark. It's not cheap, but Toyota's sterling reputation for quality, reliability, and resale delivers strong bang for the buck.
And yet, like a brown-nosing teacher's pet, the Highlander failed. Drop the hammer, and the engine moans and sounds like it's complaining. Bend it into a curve, and the tires howl in protest. Despite the "Sport" badging on its flanks, it's no jock.
|2008 Toyota Highlander|
|Base price range||$27,245-$40,635|
|Price as tested||$40,953 (Sport AWD)|
|Vehicle layout||Front engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV|
|Engine||3.5L/270-hp/249-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|Curb weight (f/r dist)||4489 lb (55/45%)|
|Length x width x height||188.4 x 75.2 x 69.3 in|
|0-60 mph||7.3 sec|
|Quarter mile||15.7 sec @ 87.7 mph|
|Braking, 60-0 mph||123 ft|
|Lateral acceleration||0.74 g (avg)|
|MT Figure Eight||28.6 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||17/23 mpg|
|CO2 emissions||1.01 lb/mile|
|Bottom Line||A spectacularly competent vehicle that needs to stop acting like a minivan and let its hair down.|