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The Toyota Highlander is smooth and comfortable, a crossover SUV with generous space for passengers and cargo. The Hybrid version delivers excellent fuel economy with minimal emissions, while the base-level four-cylinder model offers decent fuel economy at a lower price point. An available V6 engine delivers smooth performance and respectable fuel economy.
A versatile cabin adds to the attractiveness of the Highlander as a family vehicle. The second row can slide forward and back, and the third-row seat is hospitable for children and capable of carrying adults. Getting in and out of the first two rows is easy, and Toyota provides both a walk-through and a fold-and-slide-forward second-row seat to ease access to the third row.
The Highlander was completely redesigned for 2008, and made larger than the previous generation in every significant dimension. A more economical four-cylinder version arrived for 2009. Displacing 2.7 liters, the four-cylinder makes 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, and delivers attractive EPA fuel economy ratings of 20/27 mpg City/Highway. It has a variable intake manifold and Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i) to optimize torque and fuel efficiency and to deliver strong response at all engine speeds. The inline-four is matched with a six-speed electronically controlled automatic overdrive transmission, and is available only with two-wheel drive.
The 2010 Highlander is available with a power tilt-and-slide moonroof on both four-cylinder and V6 models. The Highlander V6 comes standard with a multi-information display, including back-up camera. And the mid-range Sport model is being replaced by the Highlander SE, which is more near-luxury and less sporty.
The V6 is a 3.5-liter unit that delivers 270 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. We found the 3.5-liter V6 is buttery smooth. Also smooth is its five-speed automatic transmission, which downshifts seamlessly to provide ample passing punch. Front-wheel-drive Highlanders with the 3.5-liter V6 are EPA-rated at 18/24 mpg City/Highway, while all-wheel drive models are rated slightly lower at 17/23 mpg.
The Highlander Hybrid has a gas/electric powertrain that provides smooth, plentiful power. The gasoline engine is a 3.3-liter V6 that delivers 209 horsepower and 212 pound-feet of torque and is matched to an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT). With its gas engine and three electric motors, the complete Hybrid powertrain can deliver the same 270 peak horsepower as the 3.5-liter V6 alone. The Hybrid is rated at 27/25 mpg City/Highway.
Gasoline-only Highlanders come standard with front-wheel drive, with all-wheel drive available for customers who want all-weather capability and enhanced safety. Hybrids come standard with all-wheel drive.
The Highlander is a so-called crossover, meaning it's built more like a car than like a truck. The Highlander is based on the architecture of the Toyota Camry midsize sedan. As a result, the Highlander offers a quiet cabin and a luxurious ride quality. Overall, we found the Toyota Highlander to be a pleasant way to carry a group of people.