DETROIT - We got the chance to spend a week with Toyota's all- new 2008 Highlander and walked away from our test drive feeling pretty good about the vehicle.
First, we drove it to Chicago. We love the city but we were more impressed with the Highlander's Interstate manners. Toyota increased the 2008 Highlander's output to 270 horsepower and its torque was 212 pounds- feet. There was a five speed automatic transmission.
The Highlander had plenty of power to cruise effortlessly at 80 mph. Wind noise was minimal which we thought significant because the Highlander is a utility vehicle with a pretty upright silhouette. Road noise was within acceptable parameters and the suspension was pliant without feeling too soft.
You can always gauge the tautness of a suspension by how it handles the expansion joints on high speed thoroughfares. Anyway, our only complaint about the Highlander's highway worthiness was the fuel tank. At 17.2 gallons, the vehicle had a range of a bit more than 300 miles. A larger fuel tank would increase the Highlander's range. On long trips with the family, who wants to stop for gas every three or so hours?
Short range and all, we found the 2008 Toyota Highlander very comfortable. Our test vehicle had a cloth interior that was pretty soothing. The driver's seat had a seat cushion extender that provided plenty of back support and the cushion seemed a bit longer to provide more leg support for taller drivers.
The new Highlander is bigger than the vehicle it replaced. This translated into more interior room. We had the sport version and didn't realize it had a third row seat until we really started examining the vehicle. Our point is that the third row folded flat creating a flat cargo floor.
Once the third row was deployed it was obvious that it was meant for little people. Our best guess is that the average size child, up to 10 or 11 years old, would be comfortable in the third row. Older than that and it's a crap shoot.
The second row of seats was very comfortable and could be slid back 4.7 inches to provide even more leg and foot room. And the seat backs were adjustable, too. There was a center seat that could be removed and the remaining two seats could be converted into captain's chairs and there was a console with two cupholders that could be fitted between them.
Toyota has made the new Highlander for more passenger and driver friendly than the model it replaced.
We had the sport model. It was front- wheel- drive and it didn't have that many options. Still, we found it quite pleasant. It had a premium audio system with MP3.WMA capability, an in dash six- disc CD player, satellite radio and it had Bluetooth technology that turned compatible cell phones into hands free car phones. Our Highlander also had the tow package which gave it the capability of pulling up to 5,000 lbs.
Both here and in Chicago, we found the Highlander very civil on the streets, it accelerated well. Cornering was good, there wasn't any torque steer, and it accelerated real well on the expressways.
We were particularly pleased and impressed with the rearview cameras. In fact, we kept forgetting we had one since our Highlander didn't have a navigations system. Navigation systems and rearview cameras tend to go hand in hand. But Toyota has broken that golden rule and the Highlander's rearview camera is standard with a nav system.
All in all, we think Toyota has done a fine job of making the 2008 Highlander much better than the model it is replacing.