CargoThere's just 10.3 cubic feet of cargo space when the third row is up. The Honda Pilot has significantly more, at 18.0 cubic feet. The Traverse, with 24.4 cubic feet, is significantly larger.
With the third row down, cargo room expands to 42.3 cubic feet, and for my use that was plenty large enough. I stuffed a 32-gallon trash can in the back — actually two stacked into each other — and those fit lengthwise with the second-row seats just slightly forward. The Pilot is rated at 47.7 cubic feet, so the difference between the two models there is less significant than it is behind the third row. I preferred the Pilot's under-floor storage, though.
Features & PricingFor 2012, the Highlander starts at $28,090 for the base four-cylinder with front-wheel drive. That doesn't get you much in terms of features, but it does include 17-inch alloy wheels, tinted rear windows, remote entry, cruise control, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and two 12-volt power outlets.
My test car was a base V-6, but I didn't feel like I was missing much in terms of features because it also had the $1,835 Tech Package, which includes a USB port, Bluetooth for phones and music streaming, and a nice trip computer. While I enjoy fancy entertainment systems as much as the next guy, this is the type of feature set that most families will need, for a reasonable as-tested price of $32,845. All-wheel drive is only $1,450 more. In this segment, it generally costs $2,000 to move up to all- or four-wheel drive.
SE models start at $32,695 for four-cylinder, front-drive models, adding a power moonroof, a rear window that opens independent of the liftgate, roof rails, fog lamps and a power liftgate. Heated leather front seats, HomeLink, a leather steering wheel with audio and Bluetooth controls, and all the features in the Tech Package are also included. For a similar price, I'd opt for the V-6 model instead of the SE four-cylinder.
The top-of-the-line, all-wheel-drive Limited V-6 Highlander starts at $37,045 and is loaded: 19-inch wheels, three-zone climate control, keyless ignition and entry, and higher-grade leather seats.
The Highlander Hybrid comes in two trims: a base model for $38,140 and a Limited model for $43,795, with similar equipment offerings as V-6 gas models.
Pricing is similar to the Traverse, Pilot and the rest of the class. Toyota also offers two years of free maintenance with new-car purchases, which none of its competitors in the segment offer.
SafetyThe Toyota Highlander is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick; that's the institution's highest award. To earn the rating, cars must receive top scores of Good in front, side and rear crashes, as well as pass roof-strength tests that measure rollover protection.
The Highlander earned a four-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Five stars is the highest rating, which the Chevy Traverse earned.
Highlander in the MarketIf it weren't so darn practical with a nice engine, it would be easy to discount the Highlander in a field that contains some splashier new models. But there are just too many things in the Highlander's favor to rule it out of your shopping plans. Because of their smaller footprint in your driveway and garage, the Highlander and Pilot are more accessible for more families.
This review was written in November 2011 about the 2012 Toyota Highlander. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2012, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.