The Toyota Highlander is a midsize SUV that's smooth and quiet underway, with a versatile cabin that seats seven. Highlander is a crossover SUV, meaning it's built more like a car than a truck, while feeling nice and big like a truck SUV. It's based on the platform of the Toyota Camry midsize sedan.
All Highlanders were extensively revised for 2011, with freshened styling and upgraded audio and safety systems. There are no additional changes to the 2012 Highlander.
The 2012 Highlander comes with a choice of powerplants. The base 2.7-liter four-cylinder makes 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, and delivers EPA fuel economy ratings of 20/25 mpg City/Highway. It's matched with a 6-speed electronically controlled automatic overdrive transmission, and is available only with two-wheel drive.
The optional 3.5-liter V6 is extremely smooth and delivers 270 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. Also smooth is its 5-speed automatic transmission, which downshifts seamlessly to provide ample punch for passing. Front-wheel-drive Highlanders with the 3.5-liter V6 are EPA-rated at 18/24 mpg City/Highway; Highlander AWD (all-wheel drive) models are rated slightly lower at 17/22 mpg, which is about what we got in the AWD V6 we drove, including a 300-mile freeway run.
There's also a Highlander Hybrid, whose gas/electric powertrain uses three electric motors: One to drive each axle, for AWD, and a third to regulate the electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT). The Highlander Hybrid's gasoline engine is essentially the same 3.5 liter V6, but with port, rather than direct, fuel injection and milder tuning producing 231 horsepower and 215 pound-feet of torque. But add in the additional punch of the electric motors, and the total system horsepower is 280. EPA estimated fuel economy is 28 mpg, city or highway. Unfortunately, we found it difficult to achieve that during our winter test drive using power accessories full blast.
Highlander offers a quiet cabin and a comfortable ride, while being a pleasant way to carry a group of people, with generous space for passengers and cargo. A versatile cabin adds to its attractiveness as a family vehicle. The second row can slide forward and back, and the third-row seat is good 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 2012 Toyota Highlander offers a choice of three powertrains, three trim levels and front or all-wheel drive. The base Highlander comes with the 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine ($28,090) or a 3.5-liter V6 ($29,245). Highlander SE also comes with either the four-cylinder ($32,695) or 3.5-liter V6 ($33,850). Highlander Limited ($35,595) comes standard with the V6. All of these models are front-wheel drive.
All-wheel-drive models all have the 3.5-liter V6, and are available in base ($30,695), SE ($35,300), and Limited ($37,045) trim. Highlander Hybrid models come standard with all-wheel drive and are available in base ($38,140) and Limited ($43,795) trim only.
Highlander comes standard with air conditioning; cloth upholstery; 40/20/40 second-row seat with a removable center section that can be stowed under the first-row center console; 50/50 third-row seating with rear climate control; AM/FM/CD with six speakers, MP3/WMA playback, and an auxiliary input jack; power windows, door locks, folding mirrors and remote keyless entry; cruise control; variable intermittent wipers front and rear; rear defogger; rear spoiler; tilt/telescope steering wheel; two front and one cargo-area 12-volt power outlets; daytime running lights; and 245/65R17 tires on alloy wheels.
Hybrid models add fog lights; and a 3.5-inch multifunction display screen that includes a rear backup camera, a clock, tire-pressure display, air conditioning readout, and outside temperature and trip computer information, in addition to all the hybrid-related features.
Highlander SE also adds fog lights and a 3.5-inch multifunction display screen, plus leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and display controls; leather seats with heat for the front row; power tilt/slide moonroof; SiriusXM satellite radio, USB port, and other audio upgrades; Homelink universal transceiver; opening glass in the rear hatch; rear tonneau cover; a lever in the cargo area to fold the second-row seats; lighted vanity mirrors; visor extenders; second-row reading lights; heated outside mirrors: and a power liftgate.
Highlander Limited models upgrade with tri-zone automatic climate control; 10-way power driver's seat; four-way power front passenger's seat; Smart Entry; and interior wood trim. The Limited models are distinguished with more chrome and bright trim than other models, and bold 19-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels wearing 245/55R19 tires. Hybrid Limited models come with the same features as the Limited.
The Tech Package ($1835) for base models includes most of the electronic and convenience features from the SE, but skips the leather upholstery and moonroof. A Leather Package ($2305) for the base Hybrid adds leather, the moonroof, and a few additional conveniences. The base Hybrid can also be fitted with 19-inch alloy wheels ($1020). A Cold Weather Package ($60) for either base model adds heated exterior mirrors and a windshield wiper de-icer. A power liftgate ($400) is also available. Hybrid, SE, and Limited models can be ordered with voice-activated navigation ($2650). Hybrids, Limiteds, and Hybrid Limiteds can add rear-seat DVD entertainment, or a premium JBL stereo ($650). Tow packages are available ($200).
Safety features on all models include dual front airbags, front side-impact airbags for thorax protection, head-protecting curtain side airbags that cover all three seating rows, a driver's knee airbag, active front headrests, daytime running lights, tire-pressure monitor, antilock brakes, traction control, antiskid control, and hill-start assist. Smart Stop automatically reduces engine power when the brake and accelerator pedals are applied simultaneously. Downhill assist control is standard on AWD models.