2001 Toytoa Highlander
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Our top-of-the-line Highlander Limited test vehicle not only provided a comfortable ride with confidence-inspiring traction and stability but came equipped with features that winter weary Canadians would value such as heated front seats, automatic climate control with outside temperature indicator, fog lamps, heated outside mirrors and a windshield wiper deicer.

“Camry” of SUVs offers sedan-like comfort, inspires confidence

All good things must come to an end. Just as the latest Top 40 hit will surely fall right off the charts, the Toyota Camry’s four year reign as the top selling car in North America won’t last forever. And not because Toyota won’t build a better Camry or lose the loyalty of Camry owners who keep buying new Camry’s, but because tastes change.

And the taste of North American car buyers is turning increasingly toward SUVs.

So what is Toyota to do if a loyal Camry owner wants an SUV? Put them in a 4Runner? Not Likely. The aging 4Runner is a classic 4×4, with body on frame construction and part time four wheel drive. It rides like the truck on which it is based and lacks the car-like comfort that today’s SUV buyer demands. (This is no knock on the 4Runner which is more at home off-road than on.)

Enter the Highlander. Unlike the 4Runner, the Highlander is built on a car platform – similar to the Camry – using unibody construction. The advantage of unibody construction is structural rigidity which results in better, more responsive handling and a quieter, more comfortable ride.

2001 Toyota Highlander
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With the Highlander, Toyota wants to give its loyal Camry-owners (or any car owner considering a near-luxury SUV) the comfort, convenience and sedan-like ride and handling they have come to expect in a Camry. Add in the versatility of an SUV and the safety and confidence of four-wheel-drive and it should be a package that can’t miss.

We had a full week to find out if Toyota hit the mark. And what a week it was – typical mid-February in Ottawa, with two mild snow storms and a full day of ice rain followed by a flash freeze. This was weather that would keep most people at home, but with the Highlander, it could just as well have been mid-summer.

Our top-of-the-line Highlander Limited test vehicle not only provided a comfortable ride with confidence-inspiring traction and stability but came equipped with features that winter weary Canadians would value such as heated front seats, automatic climate control with outside temperature indicator, fog lamps, heated outside mirrors and a windshield wiper deicer.

Anyone who has experienced the misery of freezing rain knows how a perfectly good pair of windshield wipers can become totally useless when covered in ice or bent out of shape by the freeze up that follows. Wiper deicers should be law in Canada. They are standard equipment on all V6 Highlanders.

Foul weather traction and handling were assisted by Toyota’s Vehicle Skid Control (VSC) system with traction control which enhances cornering stability by sensing and correcting oversteer and understeer situations using both engine output and brakes to dampen the unstable condition. When the yaw sensor detects vehicle instability a light flashes on the dash and, in extreme situations, emits an alerting beep. If you hear this beep though – and I never did – odds are you’re already aware you’re in big trouble. VSC is only available with the Limited package.

Antilock brakes are standard on all Highlander models. Coupled with Electronic Brake Force Distribution, which detects minute front to rear speed differences and electronically prevents rear wheel lockup, braking is excellent, although I found the brake pedal action to be a bit soft. An additional braking feature is Brake Assist, which detects a fast application of the brake pedal under emergency conditions and exerts additional pressure to achieve the shortest possible stop.

Both front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive Highlanders are available, the former powered by a 2.4 litre, 4-cylinder DOHC engine that produces 155 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 163 lb-ft of torque at 400 rpm. All-wheel-drive versions get Toyota’s 220 horsepower 3.0 litre V6. This engine has dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder and sequential multi-port fuel injection and Toyota’s Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i) technology.

VVT-i controls intake valve timing according to engine speed in order to optimally match air intake volume with precise amounts of fuel. The result is both improved driving and emissions performance. Both the V6 and four cylinder-powered Highlanders are certified as low emission vehicles. Fuel economy is reasonable for a vehicle of this size: 10.7 litres/100 km (26 mpg) in the city and 7.9 litres/100 km (36 mpg) on the highway for the four cylinder FWD model and 13.0 litres/100 km city and 9.7 litres/100 km highway for the V6 4WD models.

Acceleration on our V6 equipped Highlander was very good. One reason is an unusual induction system that uses two valves inside the intake manifold to create the effect of three intake runner lengths. When the valve opens, a pulse of high intake pressure is immediately available. This allows the engine to pull an unusualy large volume of the air/fuel mixture into the combustion chamber. Translation: put your foot down hard on the gas pedal and a moment later the Highlander responds with a noticeable rush of acceleration. Toyota likens it to a supercharged effect, but the delay between input and response makes it feel more like a turbocharger

The Highlander’s four-wheel-drive system is similar to the RX 300 and RAV4 – there is a 50/50 front-to-rear torque split on a full time basis. When a tire slips the viscous coupling applies torque as necessary to the front or rear wheels depending on which wheels are slipping.

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2001 Toyota Highlander interior
2001 Toyota Highlander interior
2001 Toyota Highlander interior

Inside the Highlander has plenty of room for five adult passengers and their gear. Leg room, hip room, head room and access to both front and rear seats are all very good thanks to a high roof, wide body and low step in height. A flat floor makes even the centre rear seating position truly useable and not just lip-service to five-passenger seating.

The easy-to-read analog gauges are arranged in an overlapping elliptic design that is clearly visible through the 4-spoke steering wheel. Audio and climate controls are mounted high on the dash, which makes them both easy to see and reach. The Highlander Limited’s control panel is surrounded by plenty of plastic wood grain trim. I’m not fond of this treatment, but it is purely a matter of taste.

So to is the lack of a centre console. Toyota says the short console that houses the automatic shifter allows a “walk through” from side to side and front to rear, much like a mini van. However, there is no place to put your little stuff like CDs, cell phone and a cup of coffee where you can see it – front cup holders fold out of the side of the driver’s seat at the floor. I can’t see why anyone would want to “walk through” and would much rather have much needed storage space.

Cargo space – .909 cubic metres (32.1 cubic feet) – can be increased substantially to 2.304 cubic metres (81.4 cubic feet) by lowering the rear seats which fold flat into the floor to make a level cargo area. And beneath the cargo floor – a full size spare.

Safety features include dual front airbags and five three-point seatbelts. The front seats are equipped with seatbelt pre-tensioners and force limiters. All outboard seatbelts have height-adjustable anchors, while the rear centre belt is equipped with a reclining detector mechanism that prevents the seat belt from being used if the seat back is not properly locked. All three rear seats have headrests, the centre being recessed to allow unobstructed rearward vision for the driver. Side airbags are not available.

The Highlander is one more step in the metamorphosis of the SUV from high-testosterone off-roader to everyday family wagon. There is no heavy black front and rear trim, no bush bars or step rails. Only very slight fender bulges pay homage to its SUV heritage. Some might say it is kind of plain looking – Toyota prefers “refined” – but the overall effect is clean and uncluttered.

The Highlander is not the kind of SUV that will get you noticed, but then the Camry is not the kind of sedan that gets noticed – except by a large number of North American car buyers who prefer reliability and a reputation for quality over a look-at-me automotive status symbol.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the Highlander became the Camry of SUVs. With its conservative looks, comfortable car-like ride, and available four cylinder front-wheel-drive or six cylinder with no-fuss full-time four-wheel-drive, the Highlander is sure to appeal to the same market segment that has made the Camry a star.

Features and pricing

2001 Toyota Highlander
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Standard equipment on all Highlanders includes keyless illuminated entry, power door locks and windows, air conditioning, cruise control, 6-speaker AM/FM Cassette CD sound system, tilt-adjust steering wheel, variable intermittent wipers, accessory power outlets, power heated exterior mirrors with front windshield wiper deicer (V6 models only), front and rear splash guards, privacy glass, roof rack and engine immobilizer security.

Front-wheel-drive, four cylinder Highlanders are $31,900. Base V6, four-wheel drive models start at $36,100. The Limited package, at $9,200, adds aluminum alloy wheels, wheel locks, Vehicle Skid Control, Automatic climate control, premium JBL audio with six-disc in-dash CD changer and eight speakers, power drivers seat, heated front seats, leather seating surfaces, multi-information display, integrated garage door opener, outside temperature gauge, rear spoiler, power moonroof, wood grain interior trim, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, illuminated vanity mirror, cargo cover, anti-theft system, automatic headlamp controls and fog lamps – bringing the total to $45,300.

Technical Data:

2001 Toyota Highlander Limited
Base price (V6, 4WD) $36,100
Price as tested (V6, 4WD Limited) $45,300
Type 4-door, 5 passenger mid-size sport utility
Layout transverse front engine/full-time 4WD
Engine 3.0 L V6 DOHC 24 valves, VVT-i
Horsepower 220 (164 kw) @ 5800 rpm
Torque 222 (301 N.m) @ 4400 rpm
Transmission 4-Speed Automatic
Tires All-Season Radials P225/70R16
Curb weight 1760 kg (3880 lbs.)
Wheelbase 2715 mm (106.8 in.)
Length 4685 mm (184.4 in.)
Width 1825 mm (71.8 in.)
Height 1745 mm (68.7 in.) w/ roof rack
Cargo Capacity (Rear seats up) 0.909 m3 (32.1 cu. ft.)
  (Rear seats down) 2.304 m3 (81.4 cu.ft.)
Ground clearance 185 mm (7.2 in.)
Towing capacity 1587 kg (3500 lbs.)
Fuel consumption City: 13.0 litres/100 km (22 mpg)
  Highway: 9.7 litres/100 km (29 mpg)
Warranty 3 years/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 years/100,000 km

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