With impressive updates inside and out, the bolder 2011 Highlander elevates Toyota to the top of the midsize crossover mountain.
The Highlander’s broad appeal has always rested in it dedication to balance. While it offers the size, spaciousness and rugged good looks of a sport utility, it has always featured the carlike handling, reliability and considerate amenities of Toyota’s immensely popular sedans. The 2011 iteration of Toyota’s crossover accentuates both sides of the coin, enhancing its aggressive styling outside, while boosting convenience within.
In Highlander, SE, Limited and a pair of Hybrid trim levels (starting MSRP $28,090), the newest Highlander gets a refined and refreshed front end, complete with a powerful dark silver grill, projector beam headlamps and a new chrome-accented lower air dam. Hybrids get the distinct blue-accented headlamps, taillamps and badging of Hybrid Synergy Drive®, and Limited trims come standard with features like power heated mirrors, fog lamps, 19-inch alloys, chrome roof rails and a power liftgate. As far as crossovers are concerned, the stylish and imposing Highlander certainly looks the part.
Fortunately it acts the part, too, with a trio of powertrain options that deliver impressive horsepower and fuel economy. Two-Wheel Drive base models start with Toyota’s 2.7-liter four-cylinder, which generates 187 hp and 186 lb/ft of torque through a standard six-speed automatic transmission (with an integrated Snow Mode). Equipped with the four, Highlanders achieve up to 25 highway mpg.
Step up to the Highlander’s 3.5-liter V6 engine and you’ll see output jump to 270 hp and 248 lb/ft of torque. The V6 attaches to a smooth-shifting five-speed Electronically Controlled automatic with intelligence, and works in tandem with Toyota’s capable full-time Four-Wheel Drive system to deliver an impressive level of power and performance(Two-Wheel Drive Highlanders also carry the V6 option). An available V6 Towing Prep Package boosts the Highlander’s towing capacity to 5,000 pounds.
Hybrid Highlanders combine the 3.5-liter V6 with a pair of electric motors, a sealed Nickel-Metal Hydride battery and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) to balance a net 280 hp with an impressive 28 city and highway mpg. Both Hybrid trims (Highlander Hybrid and Limited) come equipped with an Electronic On-Demand Four-Wheel Drive system, and all models see the agile, carlike handling of a four-wheel independent MacPherson strut suspension with a pair of stabilizer bars.
Inside, the Highlander’s spacious cabin is sophisticated and refined without ostentation. It is, after all, a Toyota, and Toyotas are built to do more than simply look good. The three-rowed 2011 Highlander is designed to be lived in; not literally of course, but in the sense that its features and amenities fit your life. So while you’ll find optional heated leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and elegant wood-grain style interior trim, you’ll also find easy-clean fabric seats, available three-zone climate control and a sliding second row of seats with a middle seat that easily converts into a console between two captain’s chairs.
The Highlander’s controls and instruments are attractive and easy to operate, and even the integrated technology features are designed with an eye towards convenience. The optional six-disc JBL premium audio system features easy Bluetooth, USB and iPod connectivity, and the available touch-screen DVD navigation system sports simple voice-activation, real-time traffic readouts and even a back up camera for easier parking. Limited and Hybrid trims feature an optional rear-seat DVD entertainment system as well, with a nine-inch display and a pair of headphones.
All trims come with a form of Toyota’s Star Safety System™, a unique combination of Enhanced Vehicle Stability control, Traction Control and advanced braking systems. Across the board, every Highlander gets standard three-point safety belts for every seat, Hill and Downhill Assist Control, daytime running lights and front, side, knee and three rows of side-curtain airbags.
Bigger, bolder and an ever better performer in its advancing age, the newest iteration of Toyota’s popular Highlander maintains its lofty perch atop the midsize crossover heap.