Its high time that we actually stop calling crossovers as SUVs. When you say crossover, it has got to be something like the Suzuki SX4, a sedan with SUV looks. However in North America, every other vehicle is now been called a crossover. Classic example is that of the 2011 Toyota Highlander. Now tell me one thing. Which part of the Highlander looks as a crossover. Looks are a personal thing but I didn’t find anyone disagreeing with me on this part though. The subject out for a review today is the 2011 Toyota Highlander. If you want road presence, then the 2011 Toyota Highlander will offer that in plenty however it wouldn’t distinguish your car from the scores of big SUVs moving around in North America or anywhere else in the world.
The 2011 Toyota Highlander doesn’t look like a crossover and infact is a big fat SUV, the types we Americans love. In profile it actually resembles Hyundai’s Santa Fe. The 4 layered grille has chrome on it and the Toyota logo embossment feels a tad bigger than what Toyota logo usually are. The head lamps are embedded deep into the bonnet whereas the fog lamps have their own chrome beak shaped cut outs.The air dam has that Nissan Micra like grille cutout. The top end Limited edition boasts of having 19 inch alloys whereas the base trim gets 17 inch aluminium wheels. From the sides, rarely would any one say that this is a Toyota Highlander as most of the cars in its category look the same from the sides. The rear also shows more of Hyundai’s Santa Fe kind tail lamps The D pillars look as if they are resting on the tail lamps, which bulge out.The black bumper cladding masks the single tail pipe though. There are two reflectors on the bumper as well.
The 2011 Toyota may have some subtle changes done to its exteriors however the interiors barely received any fresh detailing. There are three trim levels for this car and the fourth one, the Sports has been eliminated. The trims now available are base, SE and Limited editions. If you choose the entry level one, then you get regular air conditioning, CD player with 6 speakers along with aux input, third row seats with 50/50 split arrangement and second row with 40/20/40-split-folding. Moving to the mid level SE trim, one gets dual zone climate control, power tail gate, sun roof, upgraded audio system, reversing camera and heated front seats. The Limited edition gets 4 way power passenger seat, a different central console, leather upholstery and also automatic climate control with tri zone operation. The 2011 Toyota Highlander gets a 4 spoke steering wheel wrapped in leather and one which gets audio, Bluetooth and cruise controls on it. The instrument cluster is typical Toyota with its optitron dials and hooded binnacle. Everything falls into place as it exactly should. However touch the dashboard and you would be disappointed if you expected soft touch materials. Don’t get me wrong there. They are soft to touch however not exactly as the ones in the Ford Flex.
Both the front passenger and the driver find comfortable perches with 10 way powered seats for the driver on the Limited version. The middle row seats even though have enough of leg room, fall short in the realms of comfort. For a well fed American, the seats would be too narrow plus under thigh support is also an issue here. However put three thin people and they would be reasonably comfortable. Moreover the middle seat can be pulled out and stowed behind the front one to create an easy access to the last row or just give captain seat arrangement for the middle row passengers. However comfortable it may be, taller passengers would always be wary of the last row of seats. It seems a bit claustrophobic but then the space has been utilized better for seating all passengers. Once all the rows of seats are in place, the cargo space is only 10 cubic feet.
Handling and ride quality
The 2011 Toyota Highlander has been tuned more for comfort rather than outright handling. Toyota has taken feedback from many Highlander owners and has incorporated this into the new 2011 model. This was the main reason for axing the Sport version which had firmer springs and concentrated more on the handling aspect. So all the versions of the Toyota Highlander absorb bumps as if they don’t exist. Handling, even though it has taken a back seat doesn’t mean all is lost here. It handles okay but then it always shows its 4500 pound kerb weight and body roll is also more pronounced. The steering wheel also worsens matters by taking more locks for a turn than usual. Toyota have however countered this by saying that most CUV owners like it that way and hence it has been engineered so. The cabin is really quiet and you really have to push the engine hard to hear any engine noise. Moreover the wind or tyre noise is also absent here. Calm and peaceful motoring at its best.
Engine, performance and fuel efficiency
Two engines grace the engine bay of the 2011 Toyota Highlander. One is the 2.7 liter 4 cylinder that puts out 187 Hp of power and 186 pound feet of torque. It is mated to a 6 speed auto tranmission which directs power to the front wheels. The other engine is a 3.5 liter V6 unit which pumps in 270 Hp of power whereas the torque figure reads as 248 pound feet. It gets a 5 speed auto tranny for company. The V6 engine is very tractable and there is no dearth of power even in the upper reaches of its power band. What you get is an optional all wheel drive system. This was the car that I had with me for the review and the run from 0-60 mph was completed in only 7.4 seconds. The gear box is also upto the mark with upshifts and downshifts not taking longer than what a conventional manual would.
Like all Toyotas, the 2011 Toyota Highlander has a plethora of safety features for it. The brakes themselves are powerful but assisting them in this duties are the 4 channel ABS system, hill start assist as also the stability control system. My AWD model also came with hill descent control which works electronically with the ABS to cut down on slippage on inclines or ice covered surfaces. 7 air bags, reverse camera and side intrusion beams handle the safety aspect of this car. The US government has accorded this car 5 star ratings for safety whereas IIHS has given it the “Good” tag.
As far as fuel efficiency is considered, the AWD model that I had gave 19 mpg. This isn’t far from the EPA estimated 17 mpg in city and 23 mpg on the highway. The front wheel drive model returns 20 mpg in city and 26 mpg on the highway. These are EPA estimates for the V6 engine and the 4 cylinder should return marginally more fuel efficiency.
2011 Toyota Highlander Photo Gallery
The 2011 Toyota Highlander is one sensible product with the legendary Toyota reliability. It brings in decent space for 7 or eight, has decent interiors and well damped ride quality. If you notice, only the ride part has been well sorted out however the others are just decent. This is because the Highlander is showing its age. Especially for the interiors. Toyota should think about a serious revamp instead of this half hearted efforts. The 2011 Toyota Highlander price starts from $27,540 and ends at $35,490.