By contributing editor David Colman
- Spacious and airy
- Flat storage area
- 5,000 lb. tow rating
- Hit-or-miss remote tailgate release
- Bug-eye styling
- 270 hp not enough
The Toyota stylists who freshened the look of the Highlander for 2011 did not do its front fascia any favors. New headlight modules stand nearly 4 inches proud of the fender surface, imparting a frog-like visage to the SUV. The rear makeover is more successful than the front, but the revamped Highlander is never going to win any beauty contests. Inside, the redo is more beneficial. Three rows of seats are now standard in all models. The second and third rows flips flat by releasing seatback-mounted detents. The resultant flat load floor is a boon if you need to stow bulky items. Liftover height at the tailgate threshold is low enough to make insertion of ungainly objects like a bike easy. However, the tailgate key fob release only worked sporadically.
Standing 15 inches tall on its Bridgestone Dueler 245/55R19 mud and snow tires, the Highlander looks the part of an imposing off-roader. The LTD boasts independent suspension at all corners, all-wheel-drive, and downhill speed assist. Thanks to its sophisticated suspension, elevated ride height, and competent outback tires, the LTD is well-equipped to handle moderate off-road terrain. But on paved highways, the Highlander feels ungainly, due to twitchy ride oscillations and extravagant lean angles. As long as your speed is moderate, the LTD will get the job done unobtrusively. But if you press it aggressively through twisty turns, you’ll be fighting a losing battle. In tight parking maneuvers, the Highlander’s spacious turning circle impedes U-turns. The backup camera, which is integral to the $2,650 optional “NV” (Navigation) package, overcomes limited rear vision and is essential to accurate parking.
If you pull the LTD out of line to pass a slower car ahead of you, you’ll note with dismay that the 5-speed automatic gearbox is somewhat sluggish in kicking down a gear to assist the passing maneuver. Adding to this lack of immediate response is a 270 hp V6 tasked with propelling two tons of curb weight. So it’s no surprise that the LTD fails to sparkle in the 0-60 mph sprint. The best way to circumvent its acceleration shortfall is to slap the console-mounted gear change over to the left hand, manual override, side of the shift gate, and select the gear you need before you need it. The tiny gear-selected readout in the lower quadrant of the speedometer does not make the task of gear selection any easier. A fat, 20 point digital number, ala Jaguar XK, would be most helpful in manually shifting the Highlander.
The LTD’s cabin is so comfortable and fully equipped that it makes you feel like you never left home. The front seats loft you above the mean streets and permit you to survey the road ahead with an aristocratic, studied indifference. The interior is quiet, the furnishings subdued but handsome, the bevy of techno-tools at your disposal daunting. The voice activated touch screen DVD Navigation system awaits your bidding, and the 9-speaker JBL audio sounds splendid when playing standard XM satellite radio. The 2011 LTD is the first Highlander to offer music streaming through Bluetooth wireless technology. If you’re more inclined to enjoy gadget fidgeting than driving, the Highlander is the perfect balm for your attention deficit disorder.
2011 TOYOTA HIGHLANDER LTD
- ENGINE: 3.5 liter DOHC 24-valve VVT-i V6
- HORSEPOWER: 270 hp
- TORQUE: 248 lb.-ft.
- TRANSMISSION: 5-speed Electronically Controlled automatic Transmission with intelligence (ECT-i)
- FUEL CONSUMPTION: 17 MPG City/22 MPG Highway
- PRICE AS TESTED: $40,410
Pages: 1 2