Drive Apart Overview
Although an all new, totally redesigned 2013 Toyota Highlander is waiting in the wings to be launched early next year, the stalwart and reliable second generation version is soldiering through this, its last year on the market with plenty of good, if rather unexciting attributes, still on offer. Sure, we may find the 4Runner to be just a bit sexier a choice in SUV but for many folks out there, the Highlander is the more obviously luxurious and easy to enjoy new vehicle choice. Now let’s see how it stands up to our rigorous testing regimen and see if this crossover stands as a contender and not just a wannabe pretender.
What We Liked
The 2013 Toyota Highlander is definitely a more user friendly passenger vehicle when it comes down to its ride height and also down to ease of entry and exit from the third row of seats compared to the clearly more truck-like Toyota 4Runner. You can even separate the rear second row bench seat in the Highlander into two Captain’s Chairs if your kids can’t manage to get along back there. You do this by detaching the middle connecting portion of the seat then slide it under a handily placed second row center console cubby. Older drivers will appreciate the low lift over height to get cargo or luggage (or grandchildren) into the back of the Highlander as well as how easily all of the seats fold.
What’s Not to Like
Our Limited model with all of the bells and whistles like rear seat DVD entertainment, navigation, tri-zone climate control, JBL audio stickered over $40,000 even without standard all-wheel drive which might be a necessity if you live somewhere more remote than the suburbs or which possibly has some form of weather unlike Los Angeles most of the time. But the Highlander battles back with class leading residual values, the lowest insurance rates in its class and top notch safety reports.
Tow and Haul
Every 2013 Toyota Highlander with the 3.5 liter 270 horsepower/248 lb.feet of torque V6 comes standard with a heavy-duty radiator with engine oil cooler, a 200-watt fan coupling and supplemental transmission oil cooler to afford this SUV a 5,000 lb. tow capacity. The Hybrid version of the Highlander can tow up to 3,500 pounds while the 4-cylinder base variant is a relative weakling with a 1,500 lb. limit.
The aspect of driving the Highlander that mainly disappointed us was the level of steering feel which felt like a Novocain addicted dentist had attacked it with his or her favorite drug. We hope that the next generation model boosts the level of steering feel as we know Toyota can improve on the wheel which has far too much play around the center and never tells you where the front wheels are in any entertaining or really safe manner. Body roll is kept minimal which is surprising considering the steering set-up.
Engine and Drivetrain
The standard the 3.5 liter 270 horsepower/248 lb.feet of torque V6 and the undetectable 5-speed automatic gearbox may not be the newest powertrains on the block but they serve their purpose well and have proven to be unfailingly reliable. Toyota’s tried and true 3.5 liter 6-cylinder is under rated in the industry thanks to its snarly growl and an ability to always give the driver just enough power. Then, at cruising speeds, it hushes itself up like a comatose librarian for serene cruising.
Interesting Vehicle Features
We tend to prefer the interiors of our SUVs and pick-up trucks on the “Dark Side” so to speak so we were thrilled to find that Toyota now offers a black interior option with the Highlander. You’ll notice a few years back it was hard to find a black interior in many Toyotas but now you can even find one in the Camry SE. And what car but Toyota couldn’t use a little bit more evil foreboding to go with all of that reliability and value?
According to the EPA the 3.5 liter V6 we tested should return 18 city/24 highway with the hybrid returning 28 city/28 highway and lastly the 2.7 liter 4-cyllinder engine option should return 20 city/25 highway. Admittedly, we were a bit heavy on the throttle with the V6 but it still returned an impressive 21.5 miles per gallon on regular with a sizable 19.2 gallon fuel tank.
Interior and Exterior
Our one gripe with the interior has to do with when the Limited interior model comes in the battleship gray leather and plastic trim option—it does not look expensive or tasteful with that interior color so select either the beige or the black. Even the wood Toyota uses with the gray interior color in this Highlander is something we felt was so badly judged it might be hard to live with it for the life of your loan or lease. As for the exterior, it’s inoffensive at worst and nicely purposeful at best. This is a conservative SUV for conservative tastes.
As for cargo hauling, the Highlander is mighty impressive as it even affords 10.3 cubic feet of cargo room with all three rows upright and being used. Fold down the third row and the number grows to 42.3 cubic feet and should you need your own personal U-Haul then the Highlander can accommodate you with 95.4 cubic feet of living space. There are apartments in New York City with less space.
If you buy a base model Highlander with the 4-cylinder engine then you can squeeze in under $30,000 but we would recommend the 3.5 liter V6 because in base trim it comes to $30,350. If you don’t need all of the luxuries that the Limited commands we would probably recommend the SE model as it comes to just over $34,000 yet still has a power liftgate, backup camera, leather front seats, a power moonroof, and more. Limited trim brings uprated leather all around, navigation, upgraded audio and allows you to order a rear seat DVD entertainment system. We may think the SE is the better deal but if you have the money for the Limited why not invest in some family peace and quiet?
The 2013 Toyota Highlander Limited with its surprisingly burly 3.5 liter 270 horsepower/248 lb.feet of torque motor and standard towing capability up to 5,000 pounds mean you could easily haul a couple of bikes all the way to the Sturgis Harley Davidson motorcycle rally. While you might look like the only one there who looks like they might also be going to a local PTA meeting, who cares when an SUV is this versatile? Sure, it screams suburbia but can handle a whole lot more all while keeping you and the family in quiet, serene and peaceful comfort.
For more information: go to Toyota.