What it Is
2008 Toyota Highlander - 2007 Chicago Auto Show Preview: Smart in, strong out. That’s a tagline Toyota is using with one of its new rides, but if you’re thinking it’s the newly-brawny Tundra, think again. It refers to the 2008 Highlander. That’s right, Toyota is aiming to associate strength with a model based on the Camry/Avalon platform, albeit one available with four-wheel drive. However, Toyota cites data which suggest that Highlander owners and prospective buyers want added size and power, so when the 2008 Highlander arrives in July it will sport 270 horsepower, added size in nearly every measurable dimension, a host of clever and desirable interior features, and a markedly muscular appearance.
Why it Matters
Since its debut for the 2001 model year, the Highlander has been a great seller for Toyota, attracting buyers with its utility, comfort, and promise of Toyota reliability. But, even so, six years is a long time for a vehicle to go without any major updates, especially when the vehicle is playing in the emerging, and hence increasingly competitive, crossover market. Couple this with Toyota’s own data indicating a need for a larger and more powerful Highlander, and its clear to understand why this rendition of one the brand’s most popular models is so important. Plus, the recently overhauled Toyota RAV4, now sporting up to three rows and nearly 270 horsepower, places the current Highlander on the border of redundancy.
What’s Under the hud
As Toyota officials tell it, previous Highlander buyers, as well as Highlander shoppers who ultimately opted for a different vehicle, have requested added size and power from the next-generation model. All should be satisfied when the 2008 model hits the streets in July. Replacing the current Highlander’s 215-horsepower 3.3-liter six-cylinder will be a 3.5-liter V6 boasting 270 horsepower and 249 lb.-ft. of torque. A five-speed automatic transmission will put the power to the pavement, and both front- and four-wheel-drive variants will be available. Each Highlander will also employ Toyota’s STAR safety system, including ABS, traction control, electronic brake-force distribution, electronic brake assistance, and stability control.
What it Looks like
Well, one thing’s obvious – the 2008 Toyota Highlander has grown. In fact, the redesign resulted in an extra three inches in the wheelbase, a one-inch higher ground clearance, four inches of added body length, and three inches of newly-developed width. On the scales, all that extra Highlander equals another 500 pounds of curb weight, though it also translates into more than 12 cubic feet of added interior volume. Outside, sculpted wheel flares and a wide, tall front grille and fascia treatment lend the new Highlander a more pronounced and aggressive appearance. Likewise, the tail has been reworked with restyled, wedged lamps and a redesigned fascia with integrated lower lenses. The interior is accented by pronounced gauges, soft shapes, and large control dials.restyled, wedged lamps and a redesigned fascia with integrated lower lenses. The interior is accented by pronounced gauges, soft shapes, and large control dials.
Inside the 2008 Toyota Highlander’s all-new and larger interior are features buyers are sure to appreciate. Among them are seven standard airbags, including side-curtains spanning all three rows and a driver’s knee airbag, a rear-view camera that can be ordered separate from the navigation system, and a keyless entry and ignition system. Other interesting items include a rear DVD system with a nine-inch monitor, a tow package pushing capacity to 5,000 pounds, and a Bluetooth-capable JBL audio system. Another neat feature is the second-row Center Stow seat – when used, it connects two bucket seats to create one bench, but when not used it can be packed under the front center console, allowing for a storage spot or walk-through area to the third row.
What Toyota Says
According to Don Esmond, Toyota’s senior vice president of automotive operations, “Highlander holds a unique distinction within the Toyota brand and within the industry. Along with the 4Runner and FJ Cruiser, it anchors one of the industry’s only three-vehicle, midsize SUV lineups.” Esmond goes on to say, “The 2008 Highlander takes the car-based SUV concept to a new level. I say that with conviction, because it’s a category we invented. As you can see, the new Highlander has raised the bar significantly.”
What We Says
As soon as we drove the redesigned, V6-powered, three-row RAV4, we knew the existing Highlander’s days were numbered. With the RAV4 essentially edging its big brother out of its own space, the Highlander had no choice but to move up a notch in terms of power and size. Such a move makes sense, and better positions the Highlander to compete with the myriad of crossovers that have emerged since its introduction six years ago. We’re talking about models like the Saturn Outlook, Ford Edge, Honda Pilot, and Mazda CX-9, all of which offer more power and arguably more contemporary styling than the current Highlander. However, with added power, an aggressive look, and Toyota’s reputation, the 2008 Highlander just might stave off the competition for another six years.
Photos courtesy of Toyota and Thom Blackett