NEW FOR 2008:

– All-new model

For 2008, the Toyota Highlander and Highlander Hybrid have been redesigned and are all-new models.

The new Highlander sits on an all-new chassis derived from the Camry and Avalon; it is longer, wider and sits on a longer wheelbase than the model it replaces, with three rows of seats in all models. The previous 3.3-litre V6 is replaced by a 3.5-litre V6, but despite the size difference, fuel economy is slightly improved. An updated front and rear suspension is further tuned for the Sport model; the rack-and-pinion steering is electric and speed-sensitive. Towing capacity also increases from 3,500 lbs to 5,000 lbs.

Other improvements include increased cargo space, seven standard airbags, active headrests, an enhanced vehicle stability control system, a backup camera on all but the base model, and a unique removable seat that can be placed in the second row’s central position, turning the captain’s chairs into a bench seat.

All conventional Highlander models use a 3.5-litre V6, mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. U.S. buyers can order a front-wheel drive model, but Canadian models all use full-time four-wheel drive. Trim lines are the Highlander, SR5, Sport and Limited.

The Highlander Hybrid uses a 3.3-litre V6, combined with Toyota’s Synergy Drive hybrid electric system, mated to a CVT. The Hybrid uses an electronic on-demand four-wheel drive system.

Features on the base Highlander include 17-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, CD/MP3 stereo with auxiliary jack, 40/20/40 second-row seat, fold-flat third-row seat, power locks with keyless entry, conversation mirror, power windows, tonneau cover, tilt and telescopic wheel, floor mats, cruise control, driver’s knee airbag, heated mirrors, roof rack with rails, spoiler, variable intermittent wipers, and rear washer/wiper.

The SR5 adds six-CD/MP3 stereo with wheel-mounted controls, premium cloth seats, eight-way power driver’s seat, outside temperature gauge, leather-wrapped wheel, automatic door closer, power rear door, backup camera, flip-up rear hatch glass, and fog lamps.

The Sport adds 19-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated leather seats, silver trim accents, automatic headlamps and power sunroof. The Sport model also has a unique black interior.

The Limited adds Bluetooth hands-free system, driver’s side variable cushion length, four-way power passenger seat, auto-dimming rearview mirror, woodgrain trim, reading lamps, Smart Key system with pushbutton start, garage door opener, LED map lights, anti-theft system, and puddle lamps.

Features on the base Hybrid include 17-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, CD/MP3 stereo with auxiliary jack, 40/20/40 second-row seats, fold-flat third-row seats, power locks with keyless entry, cruise control, driver’s knee airbag, heated mirrors, roof rack, variable intermittent wipers and rear washer/wiper.

The Hybrid Limited adds 19-inch alloy wheels, four-CD/MP3 stereo with auxiliary jack, Bluetooth hands-free communication, dual-zone climate control, heated leather seats with eight-way driver and four-way passenger power adjustment, auto-dimming rearview mirror, leather-wrapped wheel, pushbutton start, power liftgate, garage door opener, navigation system with backup camera, privacy glass, power sunroof, automatic headlamps and fog lamps.

As with most makeovers, the Highlander grows in size, but offers improved fuel economy to make up for the difference. Second-row seating is roomier than before, and the removable centre seat (which stores under the front-row console) increases the Highlander’s versatility. Both second and third rows fold flat via levers at the rear, so it isn’t necessary to open the back doors to create a flat cargo floor. Third-row passengers have more space than in the previous model, but the seats aren’t easy to access, and the high floor makes it awkward to sit comfortably for a long period of time.

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