Road Test Reviews, Toyota

2007 Toyota Highlander 4WD Limited – 2007

The Toyota Highlander is more than just a plain-Jane unattractive SUV. However, it could never be called sexy or beautiful. In fact, you-d be hard-pressed to call it anything more than a wallflower. Like that girl at the school dance, she wasn’t particularly attractive, but she had a great personality once you got to know her. Likewise, I present to you: the 2006 Toyota Highlander.

The Highlander is a midsize SUV and “combines the style, handling and comfort of a premium sedan with the space, functionality and driving confidence of a sport-utility vehicle” according to Toyota. There are times when a manufacturer would like you to believe one thing, while they deliver another. In the case of the Highlander, Toyota has hit the bulls-eye. After spending a week with the Highlander, I would be remiss if I didn’t state that anyone interested in a large-ish 4-door sedan, would be foolhardy to overlook the Toyota Highlander as being in that same category. Yes it’s an SUV, but I’d consider it to be more of a station wagon version of the Avalon or the long-departed Ford LTD wagon/Chevy Caprice wagon and the like. The difference being, that (maybe) apart from the Avalon, the Highlander is far superior in every way.

At this point you-re probably asking yourself “Why is there even a Road Test article about an SUV for old family geezers on PaddockTalk?! A valid question and here-s the valid answer: I didn’t initially choose to take the Highlander for a week of testing; I was supposed to take the Lexus RX350 out for a spin. However there was a conflict in the scheduling and I ended up getting “stuck” with the Highlander. BUT, although I was uninspired at the thought of driving this old-fart SUV, after just a few minutes behind the wheel I was completely taken aback, and my attitude changed completely. I’m glad to say I had the opportunity to drive this extremely good vehicle that I would never have given a second-glance if the choice were up to me.

The steering is tilt, but not telescopic adjustable, with audio and cruise controls on the wheel. The dials are large and legible giving you all the information you need. The middle dash and centre console is covered in a glossy fake-wood material that is tasteful, but not my cup of tea. The automatic climate control and audio system reside in the top portion with the information display. I had my usual love/hate relationship with the automatic climate control – it does the job, but on its own terms “not mine. Every time you make the slightest adjustment it switches the system into re-circulate mode for some strange reason. If I WANTED it to re-circulate I would have pushed the big re-circulate button!! On the positive side, the dials for turning up the temperature and fans speed are nice and big and easy to use. There’s even a button just for the front window defrost “that saves you cycling through the Mode button to get to it. I was very surprised that the Highlander didn’t have dual-zone climate controls. This is a serious oversight for a luxury-type vehicle in this price category “never mind the fact it was a Limited edition model.
The cup holders located between the seats for the front occupants are awful. It has a flimsy plastic divider that you can move forward and backwards to accommodate different sizes of cups/bottles “as long as the driver and passenger are using different sized cups! It-s absolutely useless for water bottles and it wasn’t much better for coffee cups either. It-s too large for anything smaller than a Super Big Gulp. At the opposite end of the “brilliance” scale is the well thought out and spacious area under the shifter/centre console that has a powerpoint and plenty of room for women to store their purse “no matter how large it may be.

The audio system is quite good with JBL speakers throughout the cabin. Again, the dials for the volume and station tuning are nice and big “matching the climate control dials in look and size, which turned out to be a problem every now and again when I was using my peripheral vision to make adjustments. Fortunately the steering wheel-mounted buttons for the audio system kept the confusion to a minimum. One thing of note for those that still have audio cassettes “the Highlander has a cassette player as well as a 6-disc in-dash unit that does not play MP3 CD-s. Another surprise was the absence of a SatNav system, although it is an available option.

The Highlander is a good-sized SUV, about the same size as the Mitsubishi Endeavour. It seats 5 people in comfort thanks to the flat floor in the back seat, and it offers an available 3rd row seat (included in the test vehicle), which “increases the seating capacity to seven“ or so they say. This option makes no sense to me at all. If you need room for seven – get a van! 99% of SUV’s that have “seating” for seven have no room left for luggage, coolers, etc. And surprise, surprise, that’s exactly what the Highlander does – seven seats – and no room for more than a couple of small bags. If you stuff seven women in there and they all put their purses in the back – you’ll be lucky to have room left over for a pack of gum. If you did have two women willing to climb over the obstacle course that is the second-row seat, they-d have to be about 3 feet tall and no more than 60 lbs because it’s pretty tight back there.

My wife decided she just had to get back there to try it out, and since she was wearing a skirt she gave me quite a show I’ll tell ya! The second-row seat back flips forward, but you still have to climb over the seat and around the seat belt, then turn around and sit down. Getting out is even more difficult because you don’t have any grab handles, so you have to use the seat that remains upright to grab on to, and pull yourself up, and then scramble over the second-row seat much the same way you did on the way in, while at the same time making sure you don-t fall out when reaching your leg out to stand on the ground. Sound complicated? It’s tricky to say the least! On the bonus side, it was extremely easy to get the seat up and down for those emergency situations when you need room for two more passengers. You have to ask yourself this question though “is it worth any extra money for that extremely rare occasion?

The rear seating (second row in the case of the test vehicle) is almost limousine-like, with an abundance of leg, knee and foot space for three occupants. A very nice bonus – and something I think all SUV’s should have – is the tilting seatback to make the rear passengers more comfortable. Additionally, the seat slides forward and back to allow even more leg room or more rear cargo room without sacrificing passenger legroom. Throw in the 60/40 split seat and the Highlander becomes a very adaptable vehicle. Also in back, are two bottle holders in each door and two cup holders in the fold-down armrest “so no one-s going to be dying of thirst back there! The doors are quite large making it very easy to get in and out, but every now and again someone hit their tail bone on the hard plastic hinge that allows the seat to fold forward. The entry/exit height is perfect for people of all ages. Folding the rear seats to increase cargo room is simple and quick. Once folded the seats remain flat and the cargo area increased to a cavernous 80.6 cu ft.

In back, with second-row seats up, the covered cargo area is large (39.7 cu ft), with a flat floor, tie-down hooks and under the floor is a full-size spare. There’s a perfectly contoured area beneath the floor to stow the security cover when it is not in use – an absolutely brilliant idea, and one of those: “Why didn’t anyone ever think of this before” concepts. Usually, when you have one of these covers they will eventually get in the way and have to be removed. That’s fine if you’re at home – you just leave it behind, but if that’s not an option you have to find someplace to put it to keep it out of the way. The Toyota designers created a space for it in an area that isn’t being used anyway, so you always have it with you, or you can neatly tuck it away – truly brilliant! Also, it’s very easy to get it out and put it back. All too often great ideas end up being cumbersome to use and people just don’t use them out of frustration – however, this design is perfectly executed! The tailgate is easy to lift and surprisingly easy and light to close – it’s a big door, yet takes very little effort to close. Unfortunately, the Highlander doesn’t have the option of opening the glass independently of the tailgate, but this is the case in most SUV’s anyway.

On the highway the Highlander was perfectly smooth and silent while cruising at 80-90 mph. It took some nasty road imperfections and patches in its stride with no shuddering vibrations passed through to the passengers. Driving for long distances gave me the opportunity to really appreciate the luxury-side of the vehicle, and I can-t imagine a better choice of vehicle for long journeys. There’s a nice big dead-pedal for the driver in the exact spot it’s needed which adds to the level of comfort. The steering and suspension are reasonably tight, giving you a sense of substance, quality and luxury. The Electronic 5-Speed Automatic transmission works flawlessly, and gear shifts are so smooth they’re almost undetectable.

The Highlander-s 3.3 litre, 24 valve V-6 engine with VVT-i, offers adequate power for the vehicle. It was perfectly matched to the Highlander and never felt underpowered. The V-6 has 215 hp @ 5,600 rpm and 222 lb/ft torque @ 3,600 rpm. It’s no drag- racer, but I never had the feeling that it NEEDED to have more power at any time.

The Limited Package is different in Canada and the U.S. In the U.S. the price is lower, but so is the content, therefore you have to add a lot of options to get to the level of the Canadian Limited version. In Canada, the price of $7,825 Cdn may seem high, but it leaves nothing except the SatNav as an option. Among other things, the Canadian Limited model includes: Drivers auto up/down window, stainless steel exhaust system, 17” rims with lower-profile tires (65 versus 70), automatic climate control, two power outlets, premium JBL audio system with AM/FM Cassette with an in-dash 6-CD audio system and 8 speakers, one-touch power moon roof, and anti-theft alarm system, rear spoiler, roof rack, leather steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, 8-Way Power Driver/4-Way Power Passenger seat, heated front seats, HomeLink garage door opener, foldable heated outside mirrors, engine immobilizer with alarm, color-keyed mudguards, sun visor with illuminated mirror, and a windshield de-icer.

As with many vehicles today, the Highlander is full of safety features. Among them are: 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS, EBD (electronic brake-force distribution) and BA (Brake Assist) being standard. Also included is VCS (Vehicle Stability Control) with TRAC (Advanced Traction Control). Also standard are: dual-stage airbags, front seat-mounted side air bags, front and rear side curtain airbags, driver and front passenger seatbelts with pre-tensioners and force limiters, tire pressure monitoring system, and an anti-theft engine immobilizer.

The warranty is: 3-years/36,000 miles [60,000 kms] bumper to bumper and 5 years/60,000 miles [100,000 kms] powertrain, with major emission control components being covered for 8 years.
Towing capacity is a maximum of 3,500 lbs.

The Conclusion
I liked the Highlander far more than I ever thought I would. It-s a terrific SUV, the perfect size – big without being imposing, yet very easy to drive, feeling smaller than it actually is. The cargo capacity is very good and it’s very comfortable for all but the passengers in the questionable third-row seats. Right from the moment I climbed in, it felt like I-d just gotten into a vehicle I-d owned for years. The ride, fit and finish are superb. The permanent all-wheel drive is a nice safety feature along with all of the other luxury features. It does everything well, even excelling in many aspects. I can’t fault this vehicle. Add to that the fact that Toyota’s are renowned for being bullet-proof and you should have years of pain-free driving. My only reservation is the logic of a seven-passenger capacity, and that-s not Toyota-s fault – obviously, the market demands it because more and more manufacturers are stuffing the 3rd-row seat into their SUV’s.

Pricing for the 2007 Toyota Highlander Limited:
As tested: $37,574 [$46,730 Cdn]
Base price of the 5-passenger model starts at: $32,465 [$37,855 Cdn], and the 7-passenger starts at $34,465 [$38,905 Cdn]

Fuel Consumption: [Regular Fuel]
The Highlander is listed at 19 mpg City [12.7L/100 km] and 27 mpg Highway [9.0L/100 km]
I averaged 20.6 mpg [11.8 L/100km] in mostly [90%] highway driving @ 75+ mph

Toyota-s usual outstanding quality fit and finish
A luxury car with the advantages of All-Wheel-Drive and the adaptability of an SUV
Very good gas mileage for this size/type of vehicle

No telescopic steering
No Dual-zone climate control
Terrible cup holders for the front occupants

Would I Spend My Money On It? 
No. It’s reasonably priced and offers everything it’s designed to do, but it’s just not sporty enough for me. I’d probably lean towards the other “Wallflower” SUV – the Mitsubishi Endeavor, but it would be a very close call.

Back Seat Driver Test: 10 out of 10
Passengers found it quite easy to get in and out. Once inside it was extremely comfortable and with the tilting seat back there’s plenty of space. Visibility from the back seat was considered very good. The bottle holders in the door were a big hit, as well as the cup holders in the arm rest.

Immediate Competition:
Chevy Trailblazer, Chrysler Pacifica, Dodge Durango, Ford Freestyle, Ford Explorer, GMC Envoy, Honda Pilot, Jeep Commander & Cherokee, Mitsubishi Endeavor, Nissan Pathfinder and Subaru B9 Tribeca.

By The Numbers:
Horsepower: 215 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 222 @ 3,600

10 – Quality
10 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
10 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
8 – Special Features (Climate Control etc)

10 – Ease of Entry/Exit
10 – Front Roominess
10 – Rear Roominess
8 – Driving Position/Controls

7 – Drool Factor
10 – Fit & Finish

8 – Engine
9 – Transmission
9 – Ride & Handling

Ownership Value
9 – Bang for the $$
9 – Fuel Economy

137 Total / 150

Copyright © 2007 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text: Iain Shankland ~ Images: Iain Shankland/Toyota

Also Published at: PaddockTalk