2008 Toyota Highlander Sport 4x4: Mid-size SUV gains in style, power and economy
By Mike Blake, Carlisle Events
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
While the mid-size sports utility vehicle market may not be on the meteoric upswing that it enjoyed in the 1990s, it is still a solid automotive market in the late-oughts despite rising fuel costs and environmental concerns.
Among car-based mid-size sports-utes, the Toyota Highlander, first launched in 2001, and fresh off a complete re-design, is the more family-friendly of Toyota’s three SUVs in the category, balancing the niche with the rugged 4Runner and tough, trendy FJ Cruiser.
The second-generation Highlander has gained in stature over its successful type-one antecedent, as it is larger, roomier, heavier, more powerful and more highly teched than its predecessor. Even with a larger engine and increased curb weight, the ’08 Highlander delivers better fuel economy, and the cabin ride is quieter and more comfortable than ever before. On top of that, the Highlander reaches new heights in design and artistry.
Taking size first, the 2008 Highlander measures out at 188.4 inches long (4.4 inches longer than Gen.-1), 75.2 inches wide (an increase of 3.2 inches) and 69.3 inches high (making it 1.3 inches taller) on a wheelbase of 109.8 inches (3 inches longer), while providing a ground clearance of 8.1 inches (about the same as last year). The added expanse has also added about 220 lbs. to the vehicle to a current curb weight of 4255 lbs.
Moving on to engine power, the ’08 Highlander sports a 3.5-liter V-6 double overhead cam, 24-valve engine that pumps out 270hp and 248 lbs.-ft. of torque.
The new plant thunders out an increase of 40hp and 26 lb.-ft. of torque over last year’s 3.3-liter version. Brawny and efficient, and mated to an electronic Toyota direct injection ignition system and a 5-speed automatic transmission, the new set-up propelled the sports-ute in a carlike 7.5 seconds in one of my zero-to-60mph test runs on the way to a 16-second quarter-mile, about a second-and-a-half quicker than my test runs in last year’s model.
Last year, a week of car tests garnered me 22.1mpg in the ’07 Highlander, while recently, in seven days of testing across Central Pennsylvania and Maryland highways, country roads, dirt roads and borough streets, my ’08 test Highlander surpassed its EPA rating of 17mpg/city and 23 mpg/highway, with an average of 22.3mpg on 87 octane fuel.
Additions in technology run inside and out, as foam inserts in body voids, and extra sealing in the door jambs reduce interior noise by six decibels at normal driving speeds. Inside, an abundance of safety and entertainment items fill the automobile.
As for style, Highlander’s exterior utilizes a chassis also used by Camry and Avalon. The new design features an athletic stance, clean lines, rounded contours and a look of sportiness, rather than one of ruggedness. A sporty rear spoiler, smoked chrome frame, color-keyed bumper system, chrome tip exhaust, power outside mirrors, fog lamps, rear glass hatch and auto on/off headlamps form a fun image for a vehicle that can take the kids to a birthday party, the family camping, or mom and dad to dinner. The Highlander can also tow about 5,000 lbs. and can perform moderately off-road when necessary.
With 4-wheel drive, 4-wheel independent suspension, electronic power steering, 4-wheel power-assisted solid front and disc rear brakes, hillstart and hill assist with downhill assist control just as is employed in the Land Rover, handling on all surfaces is sure and steady. The vehicle may not be agile on an autocross, but it is dependable in traffic and over ruts, mud and uneven surfaces.
Interior space has increased in 2008, with a gain of 2 inches in headroom (40.6 inches up front and 40.1 in row two, 36.3 in row three), 2.5 inches in leg room (43.2, 38.3, 29.9) and a couple of inches in shoulder room (59.7, 59.5 and 55.0). Cargo room is 95.4 cubic feet behind row one, 42.3 behind row two and 10.3 behind row three, while accouterments include a front air conditioner with clean air filter, rear back-up camera with multi-informational display, remote keyless entry, tilt/telescopic steering wheel with audio controls, cruise control and engine immobilizer.
Safety items on-board include enhanced vehicle stability control with traction control, anti-lock breaks with brake assist, seven airbags, including driver and front passenger advance airbags, mounted side airbags, roll-sensing side curtain airbags and a driver's knee airbag, and a unique protection structure up front minimizes slow-speed impacts and can even protect pedestrians to some degree.
The Highlander’s base price is $31,400, and my test vehicle stickered out at $34,558, with the following upgrades: $630 premium sound system – Satellite ready capability, JBL AM/FM 6-disc in-dash CD changer, hands-free phone via Bluetooth wireless technology, MP3/WMA, eight speakers with subwoofer in seven locations; $60 cold weather package – heated power outside mirrors and windshield wiper de-icer grid; $375 front dual zone climate control; $585 rear air conditioning system; $229 cross bars; $275 cargo mat and 3-row seating; $359 VIP RS3200 Plus security system and a delivery processing and handling fee of $645.
The 2008 Toyota Highlander is one re-design that upgrades a previous successful generation both functionally and aesthetically.
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