Smack in the middle of this viciously competitive segment, Toyota’s family-friendly crossover meets all the needs of the typical American brood with seating for up to seven in a comfortably roomy cabin, generally quiet on-road demeanor, and plenty of optional media add-ons to keep the front-seat passengers happy and the kids in the back entertained.
Opt for the V-6 engine, and there’s even an entertaining amount of go-power to keep the driver engaged.
The 3.5-liter, twin-cam six is one of Toyota’s most popular go-to engines, delivering a smooth 270 horsepower, quite capable of motivating the 4,464-pound, all-wheel-drive wagon.
The five-speed automatic transmission, while generally smooth-shifting, is lagging behind the competition, many of which offer at least six forward gears. It’s also a bit hesitant to downshift, possibly a concession to fuel economy concerns. Selecting “sport” mode with the gear-shift lever seems to help.
Oddly, the standard four-cylinder engine is paired with a six-speed automatic.
Highlander’s handling is commendably carlike, with relatively flat cornering from a suspension tuned more for comfort than sport. Given the crossover’s mission, that’s to be expected. The payoff comes in a very smooth highway ride with well-damped rebound from surface irregularities.
Our top-of-the-line Limited model comes endowed with a long list of convenience and comfort features, headlined by perforated leather upholstery, moonroof, power liftgate, nav and heated front buckets.
An overabundance of hard plastics on the dash and doors earns a demerit or two, but at least it’s tightly assembled. And the shiny, fake wood trim is old school.
Safety takes priority, and along with a plethora of air bags and side-curtain protection for all occupants, all the modern electronic nannies are on board, except for blind-spot warning.
For 2014, a new Highlander will debut, undoubtedly addressing these minor indiscretions. But until then, the current model fills the family bill just fine.