In Depth – 2011 Toyota Highlander
The last decade was probably the best in Toyota’s history but last year was a total disaster for the company because of the embarrassing recalls and hundreds of lawsuits. Things start to look better for the company but Toyota is still facing an aging product lineup which needs to be updated as soon as possible. Although the Corolla and the Camry are still a hit in sales, updated versions are long overdue. The first one did receive a very mild update for the 2011 version but the competition is breathing down its neck. The same situation is available for Toyota’s SUV and truck portfolio where the Tundra, RAV4, FJ Cruiser and the Tacoma are quite outdated models.
The Highlander has always been a successful model from Toyota and the question is will it remain to be successful in the future with this new version. Last year, Toyota managed to sell 92,000 units of the Highlander, making it the third most successful CUV, behind the Chevrolet Traverse (107,000 units) and the Honda Pilot (102,000 units). To keep these numbers or even improve them, the Japanese automaker offers the new version as standard with three-row seating and bolder projector-style headlamps.
The limited-spec models start at $36,575 for the front-wheel drive configuration and $37,375 for the all-wheel drive models. All the trim levels pack USB, Bluetooth, satellite radio and power liftgate. The Limited models also feature as standard a no-charge power moonroof and heated front seats. For $4,630, clients can get the infotainment package that includes a 9-inch navigation screen, premium JBL sound system and rear-seat DVD entertainment system. Tri-zone climate control, 10-way power driver’s seat and 19-inch wheels are standard on the Limited models.
Although these features are a nice addition to the Highlander, the visual upgrades can really make the difference. On that note, the car now features a lower air dam, along with cool fog lamps, an updated stamped hood and convex headlamps covers, similar to the ones that you saw on the 2010 4Runner, but this time they look better. In the back, nothing has really changed, except for the headlamps which have been slightly reworked.
Moving inside the vehicle, besides the aforementioned standard features, the car’s cabin is largely carryover. The good part is that the front seats are still reasonably bolstered and quite comfortable. The ergonomics and controls are still well thought-out and the leather-wrapped steering wheel is still quite nice to grip. The down side is that the soft-touch materials are quite rare in the cabin and the center armrest of the Highlander it is not the plus cowhide you will find in other similar-priced crossovers (the Ford Flex Limited comes to our mind).
Both the second and third row accommodations of the 2011 Highlander are a little bit impressive. If you decide to fold both of them completely, you will obtain 95 cubic feet of cargo space which is a solid 30 more in comparison to the Dodge Journey which is a similar-sized crossover and much more in comparison with the above mentioned Flex model from Ford. The engineers over at Toyota came up with an interesting removable middle seat that can be stored into the storage bin located below the center armrest. If you decide to use the third row, you will have only 10 cubic feet to storage some of your personal belongings. 10 cubic feet means that you will have enough space to store four small bags of groceries which should be enough, but if you decide to go on a trip, the car’s passengers will have to get used to having luggage at their feet. The Honda Pilot offers 18 cubic feet while the similarly-priced Chevrolet Traverse offers 24 cubic feet of storage, but the car is significantly larger than the Highlander.
Tech-wise, the rear entertainment system is quite cool and the optional yet expensive JBL sound system will rock the cabin. As far as the navigation system is concerned, it is quite impressive visually speaking, but it can be a little bit tricky to go through the menus as you must apply a firm pressure on the screen in order to get a response.
The 2011 Toyota Highlander is equipped with a 3.5-liter V6 power unit that is able to output 270 hp @ 6,200 rpm and 248 pound-feet of torque @ 4,700 rpm. The engine is linked to a 5-speed automatic transmission and if you want the 6-speed automatic, you need downgrade to the 2.7-liter engine. Although the standard transmission is not something revolutionary, it will do the job quite nicely as the gear shifts are very smooth. In addition, the suspension and the chassis will do a very good job, offering proper handling that will soak up most of the bumps we come across to in our roads. For those of you that want a more athletic driving feel, choose the Sport model.
The 4WD model is pretty good but if you want something better, get the full-time AWD version which although will cost you a little bit more, it is worth every extra penny. The Limited 4WD model will do 17 miles per gallon in the city and 22 mpg on the highway, according to EPA ratings. If this isn’t enough for you, there is always the Hybrid version that will do 28 mpg combined, at a starting price of $37,490.
The biggest disadvantages of the car can be found inside the cabin where things haven’t changed that much in comparison to the previous generation. The car is not truly capable of offering enough space for seven passengers and the disappearing second row seat is simply too small to be somewhat comfortable on longer trips. The similar thing can be said about the third row and if both are in use, the available cargo space is not that generous as you might have expected from a vehicle of this size. Despite its flaws, the Highlander still is a very interesting crossover with plenty to offer.