2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4x4
2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4×4. Click image to enlarge
Competitors
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Dodge Durango
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 GMC Acadia
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Honda Pilot
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Hyundai Veracruz
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Nissan Pathfinder
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Saturn Outlook
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Subaru Tribeca
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Suzuki XL7
Manufacturer’s web site
Toyota Canada

Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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2008 Toyota Highlander

North Vancouver, British Columbia – Though it’s larger than the previous Highlander – now about the size of a Honda Pilot – the redesigned 2008 Highlander remains a more car-like vehicle than Toyota’s other mid-size SUVs, the 4Runner and FJ Cruiser.

With its Camry-based unit body platform, fully independent suspension, and full-time 4WD system, the ’08 Highlander drives more like a tall station wagon than a truck. While not designed for serious off-road adventures like the 4Runner and FJ Cruiser are, the Highlander’s all-wheel drive system and high ground clearance give it the capability to handle the adverse conditions encountered by most Canadian drivers: snow-covered streets, icy pavement, unexpected potholes and gravel country roads.

For 2008, the same 270-hp 3.5-litre V6 engine that also powers the Camry, Avalon, Sienna, and RAV4 replaces the 208-hp 3.3-litre V6 from the previous Highlander. The increase in horsepower is enough to compensate for the new Highlander’s increased size and weight: Toyota’s published figures show a 0 to 100 km/h time of 7.8 seconds, more than half a second faster than the 2007 model.

2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4x4
2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4×4. Click image to enlarge

Surprisingly, the 2008 Highlander’s official fuel consumption figures have improved slightly: City mileage is now 12.3 L/100 km (23 mpg Imp.) vs 12.7 L/100 km (22 mpg Imp.) and Highway fuel economy is 8.3 L/100 km (32 mpg Imp.) vs 9.0 L/100 km (31 mpg Imp.) (Toyota supplied figures). Toyota says this is due to advances in engine efficiency, new aerodynamic covers underneath the vehicle, reduced rolling resistance, and a lower coefficient of drag (0.34).

For those buyers looking for even better fuel economy, a new Highlander Hybrid model was introduced later in 2008 with a 3.3-litre V6 mated to a continuously variable transmission, hybrid electric drive system, and an electronic on-demand four-wheel drive system. Its fuel consumption is estimated at 7.4 L/100 km (38 m.p.g.) City, and 8.0 L/100 km (35 m.p.g.) Highway (official Energuide figures).

In Canada, the new Highlander is offered in four trim levels: base ($39,650), SR5 ($41,900), Sport ($46,200), and Limited ($49,900), all with standard all-wheel drive; while the Highlander Hybrid is offered in two trim levels, base ($42,825) and Limited ($55,975). A full description of the standard features in each trim level can be found in the 2008 Autos Buyer’s Guide.

2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4x4
2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4×4. Click image to enlarge

My tester this week was a top-of-the-line Highlander Limited ($49,900) with the leather seats, premium JBL audio system with nine speakers and Bluetooth hands-free telephone capability; woodgrain interior trim; steering wheel mounted audio and climate controls; power driver’s seat cushion adjuster; power tailgate; Smart Key/pushbutton start system; garage door opener; anti-theft system; electrochromic rear-view mirror with compass; reading lamps; chrome door handles and chrome interior trim; map lights; puddle lights, and Limited badging. My test vehicle also had the optional Navigation Package ($3,150) which includes a DVD-based navigation system, eight-inch dash screen, back-up camera, and in-dash four-disc CD changer. With a $1,390 Freight charge and $100 A/C tax, the as-tested price of this vehicle came to $54,540.

2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4x4
2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4x4
2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4x4
2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4x4
2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4x4
2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4x4
2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4×4. Click image to enlarge
Interior impressions

The Highlander’s redesigned interior is considerably roomier than the previous model’s. First, second and third row passengers in the new Highlander will find more legroom, hiproom and headroom, however the third row seats are still rather hard and uncomfortable, although less so.

As the Highlander Limited is mechanically similar to other Highlander trim levels, its additional interior features are its main attraction. The Limited model’s tan leather upholstery and warm woodgrain trim are certainly an appealing combination however its beige carpets are a bad idea for dirty boots.

An attractive charcoal-coloured dash layout with subtle chrome trim looks high tech, and includes big buttons and knobs that are easily seen and adjusted from the driver’s seat. Dual chrome-ringed pods for the tachometer and speedometer are backlit for easy reading night or day, but the numbers could be a larger size. A gated floor shifter is positioned for easy reach on the left of the centre console, as are two 12-volt powerpoints, an auxiliary i-Pod jack, variable seat heater dials for both front seats, and two open and two covered cupholders. A padded armrest between the front seats includes a roomy storage bin underneath.
At the top of the dash is a small 3.5-inch colour screen (standard on all Highlanders) that provides info on time, outside temperature, heater temperature settings, fan speed, and average fuel consumption and acts as a back-up camera when in Reverse. You can scroll between screens using a small “Disp” button on the steering wheel spoke, but this is best operated when not turning the steering wheel.

Just below the small screen is the larger, optional eight-inch colour touch-screen that comes with the Navigation system. It performs a variety of functions such as displaying the navigation map, destination instructions, vehicle information and settings such as maintenance intervals and telephone operation; and a Menu for various settings such as screen setup, user choice, and volume control. I found the screen functions easy to use, but of course, it’s distracting while driving and should be done when stopped. In fact, each time you turn on the ignition, a warning screen tells you exactly this, and requires you to press “I Agree” – which gets pretty tiresome after the first dozen times. To access the hidden in-dash six-CD/WMA/MP3 player and the navigation map DVD behind the colour screen, the driver presses a “Load-Close” button and the screen pivots outwards.

The automatic climate control in the Limited includes separate temperature controls for driver and passenger and a single fan speed control, however second row passengers have their own temperature and fan speed controls.

2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4x4
2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4x4
2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4x4
2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4x4
2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4x4
2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4x4
2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4×4. Click image to enlarge

In automatic mode, I found it warmed up the interior fairly quickly but with leather upholstery, I appreciated the front seat heaters even more. Too bad second row passengers can’t get them.

The Limited’s JBL premium audio system has nine speakers and provides great sound quality: crystal clear treble notes and rhythmic bass sounds, and turns the Highlander’s cabin into a small concert hall. Curiously, the Limited has a four-disc in-dash CD player rather than the six-disc in-dash player available in other Highlander models.

Three-row, seven-passenger seating is standard for 2008 and includes a small, removeable second row middle seat that can be stored underneath the front centre console when not in use. This allows passengers to walk through from the second row to the third row, or the option of a putting a storage tray with cupholders between the second-row seats. When installed, the middle seat in the second row is not very comfortable, but at least if gives the option of carrying three passenger abreast in the second row.

The second row outboard seats include folding inboard armrests, and slide forwards and backwards to allow more legroom for third row passengers. They also slide forwards automatically when the backrest is tilted to allow access to the third row.

The split third row bench seats two people, and although there is adequate headroom and legroom for an adult, the seat cushions are hard and the backrest is low.

Both second and third row seatbacks fold flat without having to remove the head restraints – the third row head restraints flop down against the seatbacks. This can be done with levers from the rear of the vehicle, eliminating the need to open each rear door to fold down the seatbacks.

Compared to the previous Highlander, cargo space has increased considerably behind the first and second row seats – with the second and third row seatbacks folded down, I was able to load a 203 cm (6′ 8″) bookcase inside the Highlander with the tailgate closed – but space is still tight behind the third row seat (291 litres (10.3 cu. ft.). Still, you can fold down one side of the third row for extra cargo room and still have room for six passengers.

The Highlander Limited has a power-operated rear hatch that can be opened with a button on the key fob or on the dashboard – but if you just want to quickly throw in a small package, the separately-opening rear window is very handy.

Driving impressions

With big doors and a low step-in height, the Highlander is easy to get in and out of (for a truck) and the driving position is very good with excellent visibility except for the thick pillars at the rear corners of the vehicle.

In the Limited, the eight-way power driver’s seat not only has power height, power rake, power recline, and power lumbar, it also has power seat cushion length adjustment – plus a tilt/telescoping steering wheel. Needless to say, the driving position and the front seats are really comfortable. The only thing it doesn’t have is power pedals, but I didn’t miss them.

With Toyota’s “Smart Key” system, the key is left in your pocket and you push a Start button. There is no need to insert a key in the ignition. This has its advantages and disadvantages – for example, an associate of mine once switched seats with the driver on a long drive who later got out of the car and left with the key while the car was still running! Personally, I just prefer to put the key in the ignition and turn it. Call me old-fashioned.

2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4x4
2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4x4
2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4x4
2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4x4
2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4x4
2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4×4. Click image to enlarge

The 3.5-litre DOHC, 24-valve V6 with variable valve timing is a powerful engine, even in this rather heavy mid-size SUV. Its maximum 270 hp is reached at 6,200 r.p.m. and max torque of 248 lb-ft at 4,700 r.p.m. In independent acceleration tests conducted by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (www.ajac.ca) last October, a similar Highlander zipped from 0 to 100 km/h in 7.6 seconds, and from 80 to 120 km/h in 7.2 seconds. This engine is also a very smooth, quiet, and unobtrusive powerplant that responds quickly to throttle input and cruises effortlessly down the highway. It’s certainly one of the high points of the new Highlander.

During my week behind the wheel, I managed to average just over 15 L/100 km (19 m.p.g.), not nearly as good as the Energuide combined rating of 10.8 L/100 km (26 m.p.g.) Interestingly, the Highlander’s average fuel consumption display includes a historical record of the fuel consumption after each of the last five fill-ups – this is handy for keeping a record of your own driving habits.

A good engine needs a good transmission to be complete, and the 3.5 V6 works well with the Highlander’s standard five-speed automatic transmission, a quick-changing, responsive transmission that has the new option of sequential manual shifting, if you desire.

The 2008 Highlander is rated for a higher towing capacity than the previous Highlander: 5,000 lbs vs 3500 lbs, and the new Highlander can carry payloads ranging between 1679 lbs and 1822 lbs, depending on the model.

The new electric speed-sensitive, rack and pinion steering is light enough at city speeds to make parking easy, and its 11.8 metre (38.7 ft.) turning circle makes tight turns surprisingly easy for a vehicle of this size. However, there’s no getting around the fact that this is a longer, wider vehicle that needs a bigger parking space. The back-up camera helps when reversing, but I would have preferred audible parking sensors.

With a long 110-inch wheelbase and a wide track, the Highlander’s ride is very comfortable, though a tad firm. This firmness pays off when cornering where the Highlander is surprisingly well-planted for a tall vehicle with 19-inch tires and an eight-inch ground clearance. The all-wheel drive system, which provides a 50/50 front/rear torque split, is basically invisible to the driver, diverting power the wheels with the most traction without any input from the driver. As well, the Highlander includes such important safety aids as traction control, stability control, Hill-Start Assist control (brakes the vehicle on a hill for two to three seconds after the driver removes their foot from the brake to stop the vehicle rolling back) and Downhill Assist Control (automatically “creeps” down a steep hill by automatically applying the brakes), plus a “Snow” button which starts out in a higher gear to avoid wheelspin. With a good set of winter tires on the Highlander, you could easily drive across Canada in the middle of winter.

With standard disc brakes on all four wheels, ABS, Brake Assist for panic stopping, and Electronic Brake Differential to even out front to rear braking forces, the Highlander is also well-equipped for sudden stops. AJAC recorded a braking distance of just 40 metres from 100 km/h to zero in the dry.
In summary, the Highlander drives with the precision and nimbleness of a smaller vehicle with enough horsepower and braking performance to inspire confidence in most driving situations. However, its larger body does require a larger parking space.

Verdict

A roomy, stylish, well-equipped SUV that’s easy to drive, the Highlander Limited provides a high level of comfort and all-weather safety – for a price.

Pricing: 2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4×4
  • Base price: $49,900
  • Options: $ 3,150 (Navigation Package: DVD-based navigation system, 8-inch LCD display, back-up camera, in-dash 4-disc CD changer)
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Freight: $ 1,390
  • Price as tested: $54,540
    Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

    Specifications
  • Specifications: 2008 Toyota Highlander

    Competitors
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Dodge Durango
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 GMC Acadia
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Honda Pilot
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Hyundai Veracruz
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Nissan Pathfinder
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Saturn Outlook
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Subaru Tribeca
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Suzuki XL7

    Manufacturer’s web site
  • Toyota Canada

    Crash test results
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)
  • Connect with Autos.ca