By James Bergeron

Day 1:

Day by Day Review: 2008 Toyota Highlander toyota daily car reviews
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Perhaps you have seen the commercials recently on TV: a man parallel parks his SUV everyday at home and has hit the same tree and neighbour’s car countless times. In comes the new SUV — a 2008 Toyota Highlander — and he no longer hits the tree or car because of the reverse sensors.

A funny advertisement to say the least, but the base model Highlander doesn’t come with reverse sensors — I guess I’ll have to back into the neighbour’s car when I leave in the morning. This week I test drive the new 2008 Toyota Highlander, a base model 4WD with V6 engine.

Day by Day Review: 2008 Toyota Highlander toyota daily car reviews
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It has been a few weeks since I have been in a large SUV, and I had forgotten how big and cumbersome they were to drive, especially in small parking lots. Thankfully, the Highlander has light steering and fairly good visibility all around for those tight spots.

It is kind of nice to have a base model of a vehicle to test for a change; it seems to be happening a little more often lately, which is great for my readers even if it means I might have to “slum it” for a week. The Highlander comes standard with Toyota’s amazing 270hp 3.5litre V6 engine mated to a five-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive.

Other notable standard drivetrain features include: hill descent control, snow mode, hill-hold brake assist, four-wheel ABS, stability control and electronic brake distribution — certainly nothing to sneeze at. On the inside, standard items include: cloth seats, air-conditioning, stereo equipped with AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA capability, auxiliary input and six speakers and a whackload of cup-holders.

The new Highlander looks sharp and initial driving impressions are pretty good. I have high hopes for its fuel efficiency knowing Toyota’s record and this engine, but this is not a small vehicle — we’ll see how it goes.

2008 Toyota Highlander
MSRP as tested: $41,340

For more information on Toyota and the Highlander visit Toyota Canada


Day 2:

Day by Day Review: 2008 Toyota Highlander toyota daily car reviews
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The size of the Higlander has me a little confused. From the outside the Highlander looks rather large. From the driving position it feels rather large, even though the light steering allows you to steer easily and helps to make the vehicle feel slightly smaller.

Behind the front row is where everything seems to change. I expected a much larger second row and with the middle seat of the second row being pretty much useless, the Highlander — touted as a seven seater — turns into a vehicle that really can only hold four comfortably.

Day by Day Review: 2008 Toyota Highlander toyota daily car reviews
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The third row seats may be useful for small children, but I would certainly not want to be back there for any length of time. So here we have a rather large SUV that can only seat four people. If cargo capacity is your requirement, the Highlander has it, with a boxy design even with just the third row of seats folded down; a good amount of cargo space is available for your shopping pleasure.

My first thought when entering the Highlander was that the dash looked like the electronics aisle at Future Shop. I especially like the large dials used for the stereo controls, a very modern electronic look that is used on large stereo systems.

The HVAC system carries on the theme with very easy to read and use dials. Actually, all the buttons and dials on the Highlander are adorned with huge text that is very easy to read at a glance or if your eyesight is failing. This is a similar design to the new Camry as well, and although some may dislike it, I am glad for it in a world of more and more buttons that are hard to read, especially when you should be keeping your eyes on the road ahead.


Day 3:

Day by Day Review: 2008 Toyota Highlander toyota daily car reviews
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Even though I came down pretty hard on the Highlander yesterday for the seating arrangements, I will come back today with some praise. The Highlander’s driving dynamics are extremely capable and pleasing for a vehicle of this size and weight.

My test model weights in at 4,178lbs, which is pretty standard for a vehicle of this size, though some of the driving dynamics it possesses do not seem to jive with that. First is the handling: although not sports-car-like, the Highlander does handle fairly well and does not feel as though it is about to flip over when tossed around a corner. The steering is pretty vague and light feeling; off-road this could be an issue when trying to negotiate a rock.

Day by Day Review: 2008 Toyota Highlander toyota daily car reviews
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The brakes are somewhat puzzling — these do feel like brakes from a sports car. Touch them gently and you come to a crisp stop, touch them slightly more than gently and you eat the steering wheel for breakfast on your way to work. They are a wee bit on the touchy side, although easy enough to get used to and while I’m certain they aid in panic stop situations, they could make your passenger queasy if you reach for them too often.

Another place where Toyota delivers is the engine. In the Highlander,this is the same one used in the Camry V6 and the Rav4; one would think hauling this much extra weight around, performance would suffer, but it does not. The Highlander scuttles along smoothly and easily, so that keeping up with or ahead of traffic takes very little throttle response — as a result is a real joy to drive around town.

So there you have it, Toyota has a reputation for making boring appliance-like vehicles, but they provide their large SUV with the dynamics of a sports car — okay, perhaps that is stretching it a little too far, but for a vehicle in this segment it is somewhat engaging with good power, good brakes and great acceleration.

Day 4:

Day by Day Review: 2008 Toyota Highlander toyota daily car reviews
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The more I drove the Highlander during the course of the week and the more I thought about the content provided in the $41,000 base model Highlander, the more I came to the realization that this vehicle does not equate to a very good dollar-to-content ratio.

I cannot say the Highlander does not provide value, as value can mean many things to many people, but as far as content and features for the dollar the Highlander is lacking. There is nothing in the Highlander that really stands out as exceptional — perhaps a case could be made for the engine.

I wasn’t able to get very many kilometers on the Highlander this week, but averaged around 11.5L/100km, in mostly city driving, which is excellent for a vehicle of this size and better than Transport Canada’s estimated city mileage of 12.3L/100km. I will try to report back with an update after a little more driving this coming weekend, but as expected, Toyota did a great job on fuel economy.

With the abundance of crossovers/ SUVs and other utility vehicles heading to the market I do not see a compelling reason to jump at the Highlander. The RAV4 provides nearly the same amount of room with more style and the same engine. If you really need the seven seats, you may want to look for something that will provide your passengers with more comfort. Perhaps you won’t be as “cool” but the Sienna would do the job.

*Rating out of 5:

2008 Toyota Highlander
Acceleration Day by Day Review: 2008 Toyota Highlander toyota daily car reviews
Handling Day by Day Review: 2008 Toyota Highlander toyota daily car reviews
Comfort Day by Day Review: 2008 Toyota Highlander toyota daily car reviews
Interior Day by Day Review: 2008 Toyota Highlander toyota daily car reviews
Audio System Day by Day Review: 2008 Toyota Highlander toyota daily car reviews
Gas Mileage Day by Day Review: 2008 Toyota Highlander toyota daily car reviews

*Rating based on vehicle’s classification

2008 Toyota Highlander
MSRP as tested: $41,340

For more information on Toyota and the Highlander visit Toyota Canada
Day by Day Review: 2008 Toyota Highlander toyota daily car reviews




About James Bergeron

James Bergeron is an Ottawa-based automotive journalist. He is also a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).