The Highlander, a mainstay of the busy crossover segment of the car business, but more than that, a lesson in how just fine can be just fine.
Let's drive the 2011 Highlander Limited and check this out.
Now, Toyota is anything, it's a conservative company with the possible except for the FJ Cruiser, these guys just don't take chances of anything, the Celica, the MR2, the Supra long gone.
So, it's hard to characterize the Highlander as much as of anything in particular, but it was the first mid-sized crossover and it maintains its role as the vehicle you won't have to explain why bought.
Now inside, you're gonna find a lot of familiar Toyota DNA, the steering wheel, those gauges, which are very good looking by the way and that head unit.
This by the way is top of the line.
We've loaded this car up with the full JBL plus navigation option.
There's very little about this system that would wow you on paper, but using it is just absolutely pleasant.
I never once went "errr" at the damn thing.
You know, for me, that's kind of rare.
This is DVD based, but notice how smoothly and quickly I can get around with touch screen inputs.
Now, the resolution is not great.
This is not like you'd find in a higher trim Toyota or a Lexus where you have a much finer dot pitch, but that cost-cutting move doesn't bother me when the underlying performance is good.
Entering an address is easy.
The screen is properly responsive and I found the voice command was also very solid.
Now, once you're under guidance, you've got some very interesting map views, useful ones.
You have full screen or you can go duo map that's gonna give you a splits.
You can also go to this compass mode if you're one of those who never knows what direction you're pointing and you find that fast needing and it's got your lat and your long of where you're going and where you are, and when you're underway you can also say, show me my next turn in detail or show me my turn left like a list from a map quest thing, but the only thing missing here as I mentioned is hard drive base or flash base.
This guy requires an annual DVD upgrade to keep your data up-to-date.
By the way, the disc sleeve in here for audio disc can play on this guy because we have knob.
If we just had an audio system without knob, you'll have a 6-disc changer.
Your audio choices are AM, FM, No HD radio, and now the disc/aux button you see some more fun stuff.
Here's our aux jack right here by the shifter.
Next to that is our USB connector for a thumb drive or for an iPod connector.
This is not a great place for USB or aux jack.
You can either break your thumb drive or break your thumb.
You can also get to you sources via these tabs.
We do have bluetooth streaming on this upgraded JBL head unit with or without navigation.
There's our aux and here's my USB looks like when I want go through artists there.
It's surprisingly slow to go through things on this guy.
I wasn't crazy, but the data read right across here.
So, you got all the basics, all the greatest hits of modern day media.
You're missing kind of the oddball ones, internal hard drive, HD radio, too, that haven't really caught on that well.
In terms of sound, again it's JBL audio, but it's nothing too fancy.
When it goes to DSP, it's not surround or anything except an automatic sound level
like every cars had for the last 15 years.
The JBL sound is 8 speakers plus a sub.
If you don't go JBL, you get a little more hollow sounding system with 6 speakers and that's about it.
Now, right above the big screen is the little screen and all of these guys are gonna have one of those.
For example, my Revue camera, which shows up on the big LCD here would be shown on the little LCD in a Limited if I didn't get the navigation option, so you'll never left without.
This display button here on the wheel moves you through a few things that include your climate control.
You can keep that separate and on all the time, which I kind of like.
Sacrifice in terms of transmission.
We've got a V6, the top motor in this guy, but we have a 5-speed automatic.
If I had a 4-cylinder lower trim Highlander, I have a 6-speed automatic.
That doesn't seem fair.
Little sport shifting gate over here and a sport mode if you just leave on that side, no paddles.
You do have a snow mode on this vehicle right here, all-wheel drive on a Limited.
That's how they come and is also a downhill ascent control right there to crawl down the steep stuff.
Okay, up here in the engine bay, we've got a 3.5 liter V6, 270 horsepower, 248 foot-pounds of torque, gets this big boy up to 16 about 7.2, quite respectable and the MPG respectable 1722, this is no econobox and what doesn't help that numbers the fact that all Limiteds are all-wheel drives.
As I mentioned also, 5-speed automatic is your only choice on this guy.
Okay, so if you're into spotting generations of Highlanders, I mean not quite as big a hobby as spotting vintage Ferrari, but I'm sure there's some of you who do it.
The face is where you go.
Our car tech video producer, Mitch Chang, has one of these guys and he says compared to his earlier edition, this one looks more like a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger and I can't disagree.
Let's check out the volume, the packaging in the back here.
You've got a third row.
This kind of a thin, very small seat ideal for your kids or Brian Tong, they fold flat really easily.
I like that.
This is interesting.
Toyota has just about the most ambitious emergency kit I've ever seen.
There is a hose clamp.
This is one of those things that those bike people wear.
Here's a survivor wrap, air gauge, a flashlight, hose repair kit, oh a little heat resistant glove, there's 2 of them and I'm sure it's safe for a family television.
Here's a whistle with a compass on the air.
You think they got kind of weird about safety after the last couple of years or so?
Shabby, knock-off, Leatherman tool.
This is a wonder box.
I'm gonna buy one of these.
I mean the car.
By the way, a number of you wrote in asking for a quick comparison of a Highlander Hybrid or this V6 gas engine version.
Well, they stack up like this.
Comparably equipped, the Hybrid costs 6650 box more than the gas engine V6.
The Hybrids rated at 28 city, 28 highway, 28 average mpg.
Compared that to the 17 city, 22 highway, 19 average of the gas engine V6 and that in spite of the Hybrid weighing 300 pounds more.
Assuming you drive 15,000 miles a year and keep paying 325 gallons of gas, you would earn back the extra cost of the Hybrid Highlander in 12.7 years.
In other words, you need to drive more like 20,000 miles a year and expect to be paying 5 dollars of gallon for gas to earn back the price premium in a more realistic 3.9 years.
But even that, you're not exactly getting free money every time you go to the pump.
Now, we just had the new 2011 Ford Explorer and right before the Highlander, so it gave me a chance to compare them while they both fresh in my mind.
The Highlander has more spirited throttle response from a same-sized V6, a little less listing in corners, a little less rocking back and forth, but not a big difference.
The Explorer just felt more heavy and present.
Neither was extremely this sort of that in its driving dynamics, more the matter of your taste.
Okay, I know you guys like it best when I smell blood in the water and go nuts on these cars, but I can't really do that with the Highlander.
It's sort of the official flagship of the good enough is good enough crowd when it comes to Crossover SUVs.
It does a good job.
Let's price it.
$371 is your base, that's for the Limited, which is the highest trim of the gas engine car and it's all-wheel drive as well.
That's how nice it is.
On top of that, you have 3 choices to go CNET style, $650 gets you JBL audio, mostly better sound, $2650 gets you that plus the DVD GPS navigation system, $1750 for rear-seat entertainment, that 9-inch single screen right in the way of your rear-view mirror, I'll skip that one.
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