First Drive: 2008 Toyota Highlander

2008highlander500

Just a stone's throw from Ford's corporate headquarters, Toyota invited journalists to Dearborn, Mich. yesterday to check out the redesigned 2008 Highlander. We took the SUV/Crossover through its paces on city streets and Michigan highways. The verdict: Toyota hasn't messed up a good thing.

All Highlanders carry a 270 hp V-6 from the Camry. There is no more four-cylinder, but V-6 gas mileage improves slightly to roughly 20 mpg in overall driving, according to the EPA's stricter 2008 ratings. By the same standards, the old V-6 Highlander came in at 19 mpg.

The new engine means lead-footed parents will make it to the video store before midnight; power comes quickly as the engine revs, with enough oomph to make you forget the unremarkable response early on. The five-speed automatic allows for energetic passing — third gear is the name of the game, as it proves a handy springboard to accelerate from around 45 mph all the way to 60 or 70.

The suspension sounds a bit crude over expansion joints and potholes, but the highway ride is otherwise quiet. We drove a 2007 Highlander Hybrid to Michigan for the event, and the '08 models exhibited none of its incessant squeaks and rattles.

That makes it easy to relax in the cabin, which is mostly a step in the right direction. The dashboard looks much like the new Camry's with sloping contours that arch toward the prominent center controls. Taking a page out of the Tundra's playbook, the Highlander has enormous circular knobs for major climate and radio functions. If this cabin is any indication, the era of Japanese cars having Mini-Me controls might finally see its end.

This Highlander is based on the latest Camry, and as in the Camry, not everything comes up roses. Toyota needs to find some better headliner materials — the Highlander's mouse fur looks and feels downright tacky. If you opt for a moonroof, passengers get flimsy pull-out grab handles. Ironically, the cheaper non-moonroof trim levels have more desirable flip-down handles. In more expensive trims, the plain-looking leather upholstery won't fool anyone for Lexus quality.

Most Highlanders come with seven seats, with a trick center seat in the second row that stows in a hideaway compartment between the front chairs. Room is abundant in the first two rows, and six-foot adults could even endure a short trip in the third row. I can't say that for a lot of three-row SUVs. One catch: Cargo room behind the third row is dismal.

Even in its twilight years, the old Highlander sold briskly. In some areas, the 2008 model takes a step back, but in most other regards it's a healthy leap forward. With models trickling into dealerships as you read this, and a hybrid version set to arrive next month, there's little doubt that Toyota's latest SUV will be as popular as ever.

Related
Research the 2008 Toyota Highlander (Cars.com)
Cars.comparison: Three-Row Crossovers (Cars.com)

By Kelsey Mays | August 2, 2007 | Comments (14)

Comments 

KJ

There is nothing outstanding with the exterior design. In fact it looks too similar to an old Subaru. Thankfully Toyota has a solid reputation for building quality. That will be the selling point for this SUV.

happymantis

I'm probably the only one who likes the exterior, its way more muscular looking than the old plain jane exterior. The interior is looking quite snazzy.

Peter Williams

"Thankfully Toyota has a solid reputation for building quality." - don't count on it.

"Toyota quality" has slipped very severely and many problems have surfaced with each newly released model.

Note the subtle warnings in the editorial comments:
"power comes quickly as the engine revs, with enough oomph to make you forget the unremarkable response early on." Unremarkable response is a chronic and severe 5-speed transmission and drive-by-wire hesitation problem that the Avalon has been suffering from since the 2005 model was introduced.

"The suspension sounds a bit crude over expansion joints and potholes, but the highway ride is otherwise quiet. We drove a 2007 Highlander Hybrid to Michigan for the event, and the '08 models exhibited none of its incessant squeaks and rattles."
Both the new Avalon and Camry have been plagued with various mechanical noises and interior rattles.

"Toyota needs to find some better headliner materials — the Highlander's mouse fur looks and feels downright tacky. If you opt for a moonroof, passengers get flimsy pull-out grab handles."
The new Avalon and Camry have very cheap interior materials that are loose, badly assembled and scratch easily. Headliners are flimsy, dash parts do not align and the general quality of the materials are below par and even the moonroof rattles.

"In some areas, the 2008 model takes a step back"
Toyota has taken a huge step backward. The new models are built on the cheap and the engineering is lacking. Build quality is way down. 6-speed Camry transmissions have been failing or malfunctioning requiring replacement. Even the new Tundra has suffered engine failure within a few hundred miles.

I know - I was an unfortunate buyer of these "new" generation Toyotas. They are certainly not built or engineered they way they used to be and only exacerbated by terrible dealer service and attitude. There are many better and cheaper alternatives around.

jm

i also agree that Toyota has made a huge step backward.

i have had so many problems with my new Rav4 that i cannot wait for the new VW to come out so i can ditch the Rav4 and get a decent car. I origionally traded in a VW for my Rav4, because it was 15 years old and had over 300,000 miles on it. i had absolutley NO problems with it, and noone i have ever talked to thyat has had a VW has experienced any problems.

Origionally, I thought it was good looking, affordable, and high-quality. i was wrong. i have had numerous electrical problems (the Yaris, Camry, and Rav4 all have these smale problems) with the turn signal and air pressure warning. every time i turn on the car, the tire pressure warning screams in my ear.

Toyotas are no longer agile or smooth-riders anymore. they have lackluster handling and an extremely bumpy, even bone-jarring ride.

Toyota has gone crazy with this "gas milage" movement, and sacrificed EVERYTHING to get 1 (real world) mpg better than the American and German competitors.

Max Reid

Whats wrong with V4 model, why is Toyota going gas-guzzling. They have increased the rebates by 48 % in July-2007 and still their sales have gone down 7 %. Many models Sequoia, 4-Runner, Sienna have taken double digit declines.

I guess Highlander will also go the same way, if those who want V6 settle down for some other model. Oil prices are very high and we dont know when it will translate into higher gas prices.

Rob

So many negative statements. Are Toyota and General Motors trading places in more than just sales volume?

Al

I traded my 2002 Avalon for the 2005 model when it came out. That was a huge mistake. The new Avalon had more than 20 different problems including transmission hesitation, drive by wire problems, rattles, rumbling and tapping noises everywhere, paint blobs, ill-fitting hardware, ill-fitting body panels, strong sulphur smell, steering clunk, very rough-riding with suspension vibrations, engine clattered like a diesel, I only got 16mpg city driving... the list went on and on and on.
I got rid of it after 9 miserable months of dealer-fighting and denials from Toyota.
This was my worst car since my 1986 Pontiac 6000. I was a loyal Toyota customer for over 20 years but now just the thought of going near a Toyota dealer sickens me - never again.

J

The reason why they didn't even bother with a 4 banger is because it is overlapping RAV4's market.
But I really can't stand the rear end looks like the last gen Santa Fe

MSS

TO MAX RIED:

First there is no such thing as a "V4". Second, there is no four cylinder because the old Hghland and New Rav4 were almost the same size, if you want a 4 cylinder, get a Rav4.

TO HAPPYMANTIS:

I like the new sheet metal also, it does look way better than the last Highlander.

TO PEOPLE ABOUT TOYOTA QUALITY:

Toyota has realized this and have said they are going to slow down the process it uses to bring cars to market to ensure their "bulletproof reliability"

JP

To MSS:

Currently, there are no V4 motors that I am aware of. However, I have seen V4 motors in Europe, Ford and Saab has had them in the 1970's and 1980's I believe.

SmithSanchez

One of my coworkers had the 05 or 06 models, not sure, and riding in the backseat was one the worst experiences in my life. So small inside.
I believe Toyota is becoming more and more careless.

S

I just test drove the gas-only version. There is a big difference between the 2007 and 2008 models as you can see. The interior is ok, but cant compare with the Q7, Enclave, or Acadia(which are acctually similarly priced when you equip them with the same features). All using a V6 get similar gas milage as the new Hilander, around 17-18 mpg.

The other SUVs are also much safer. In Toyota's "MPG craze" they made everything lighter and more flimsy, and I can't their cars standing up to other SUVs like the Tahoe, Expedidtion, Explorer, or GL-Class in a head-on colision. Even though the Hilander is smaller than all of those, that gives it all of the more reason to have a super-rigid frame that will keep people safe in a serios accident.

Personally, I would rather have an SUV that is super safe and has a very nice interior, especially if im paying upwards of $40,000 like the Hilanders can get when you equip them with comparable features that are standard in toher SUVs.

Teppo Erickson

I recently got a 2008 Highlander Sport after having had a 2005 Pilot. Overall a huge improvement. More cargo room, much quieter, nicer looking, 19 inch wheels, better shifter location, better A/C, better gas mileage and more horsepower. Negatives are no side moldings for ding protection, 3rd row seat is one solid piece. Overall, I'm very happy with vehicle.

mms

there is such thing as a v4
aprilia rsv4r

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