Saturday, October 06, 2007

Road Test: 2008 Toyota Highlander

Sometimes I feel like Michael J. Fox in a new episode of “Back to the Future,” when I am given the opportunity to try out a new automobile before it’s released to the public.

This week I am driving Toyota’s new Highlander for 2008, and it’s got enough futuristic features to pique your curiosity, while keeping your feet on the ground in the here and now.

I once rented a Highlander 4X4 to escape an ice-storm in Ft. Worth. My flight out of DFW had been canceled, and I really did not want to stay all weekend holed up in a motel with nothing but my dirty laundry for company and pizza delivery service for sustenance. I figured I could beat the storm south. The trip was unremarkable, as planned. The Highlander was a dream.

For ’08, Toyota has added a few inches here and there to make it longer, wider, and higher off the ground than its ancestors. Highlander’s all new chassis and drive-train have evolved from the stable Camry and Avalon series, but there are some nice additions available as upgrades. The test model driven this week was the Highlander Limited, the top of the line out of three versions of the Sport SUV. Toyota will also add a Hybrid version to the 2008 Highlander family after the first of the year.

All three lines boast a 270-hp 3.5-liter V-6, an increase of 55-hp from the ’07 model, which will adequately drive the 2X- and 4X4 iterations. There’s a beefy towing package that adds 5k lbs of towing capacity, and includes a beefier radiator and engine oil cooler, transmission oil cooler, stronger cooling fans, and a 150-amp alternator to keep tall the gadgets running smoothly.

Neat gadgets, too. The Sport- and Limited versions include a standard rear-view camera, and the Limited-edition vehicle we drove had the optional DVD entertainment system as well as the GPS navigation system and sunroof.

Toyota is also very clever with space allocation on the new Highlander. The optional second-row center seat-or-console is an interesting touch; either feature stows below the front center console. The main seats in the second row are honest-to-Pete captain’s chairs…and they have plenty of travel for optimum leg room.

The third- row seats are fairly comfortable, given they’re tailored for persons of diminutive stature. The Roaming Gnome would have enough room for his entire entourage back there.

Let’s talk about value for a moment.
Remember, I am not a Toyota salesman, but I do recognize value when I see it. Toyota is raising the price on the already-pricey base Highlander for 2008 by about 1.9%. The Highlander Limited is going to cost about 6% more than last year’s model.

If you figure the average rate of inflation in the US through August of this year was about 2.45%, the base vehicle's price increase is not out of line. If you don’t morph into a bean counter everytime you read a window sticker, then the price increase for the top-of-the-line edition is moot. You wanna drive one of these, or not?

Either way, the new Highlander is a solid driving machine.
Almost makes me look forward to another ice storm in North Texas this winter.

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