The Toyota Highlander receives a few updates for 2011, both inside and out, and overall hits "the sweet spot between passenger-car comfort and SUV-style utility," says Edmunds.com.
Testers say the interior is practical, convenient and comfortable. The biggest addition inside is the now-standard 50-50 split third-row bench seat, allowing even the base Highlander to carry up to seven people. The second-row seat remains the same, with an innovative 40-20-40 split that allows the middle seat to be taken out and stored underneath the center console. Truck Trend notes that this "magical, disappearing middle seat" is "totally brilliant." Furthermore, the second row can slide fore and aft. With all the seats folded, the Highlander can accommodate up to 95.4 cubic feet of cargo, which is respectable in this class.
Experts are mixed on the interior quality of the Highlander, especially when compared to the competition. While Edmunds.com calls it "attractive" and "straightforward," others, like AutoBlog.com, claim that the dash lacks "any manner of soft-touch materials."
The entry-level model comes equipped with basic equipment, such as a six-speaker stereo and air conditioning. Optional equipment bundled with higher trim levels includes popular equipment like a power driver's seat, three-zone climate control, leather, sunroof, heated seats, an upgraded audio system and keyless ignition... A rear-seat DVD entertainment system is available as well. CNET describes the optional navigation system as "old technology that Toyota has been using for years," and finds that the system simply feels "shoehorned into the Highlander, and not well integrated with other controls."
Powering the base Highlander is a 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine with dual overhead cams and an output of 187 horsepower. The standard front-wheel drive comes with an automatic six-speed transmission and the highest fuel efficiency in the available trim levels; fuel estimates are 20 city/25 highway/22 combined, which is good among midsize SUVs. ConsumerGuide.com says the 4-cylinder provides "adequate acceleration overall," but admits that "passing punch is lacking," though the fuel economy benefit is likely to be appealing to many buyers.
Reviewers prefer the performance of the 3.5-liter V6, which pairs with a five-speed automatic. This combination is standard for the Limited, but is also available on the base and SE models. In their large comparison of six SUVs, Truck Trend notes that with the "gutsy" V6 "the Toyota was the quickest car here, blowing the competition away to 60 mph" in only 7.1 seconds. Colleague Edward Loh calls this combination the "best powertrain here."
Switching from four to six cylinders does affect fuel consumption. According to the EPA, drivers can count on 18 city/24 hwy/20 combined with FWD and 17 city/22 hwy/19 combined with all-wheel drive.
Cars.com summarizes the Highlander driving experience well, saying that "the ride was comfortable, the engine quiet and wind noise almost nil, which made for pleasant driving."
The 2011 Highlander receives high scores for safety with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, where it's a Top Safety Pick with Good marks on all crash tests, and electronic stability control as a standard feature. The Highlander also performs well in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's testing, earning an overall score of 4 out of 5 stars. Standard safety equipment includes front-side airbags, side curtain airbags for all occupants, driver's knee airbag, antilock brakes, traction control, stability control and hill-start assist. All-wheel-drive models come with hill-descent control as well.
Keeping in line with Toyota's reputation for reliability, a major independent publication predicts that the 2011 Toyota Highlander will be more reliable than the average vehicle.
1. Truck Trend
The test driving team at Truck Trend rate the 2011 Highlander well for its V6 and five-speed transmission, but they do not like the interior, which they call "a mixed bag at best."
Review: Three-Row Crossover SUVs Comparison, Jonny Lieberman, April 26, 2011
In their single-car review, Edmunds.com editors note that while competitors such as the Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave have larger interiors, "the 2011 Toyota Highlander's V6 engine, versatile interior and carlike maneuverability make it a good choice as a do-all family vehicle."
Review: 2011 Toyota Highlander, Editors of Edmunds.com
The 2012 Toyota Highlander earns a spot on the list of Top Safety Picks for the fifth year in a row.
Review: Toyota Highlander, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
With an overall score of 4 out of 5 stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the 2011 Toyota Highlander gets 4 stars for front crashes and rollover risk and 5 stars for side-impact crashes.
Review: 5-Star Safety Ratings, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Out of the three powertrain combinations, the EPA notes that the most fuel-efficient 2011 Highlander is the 2.7-liter engine with a six-speed transmission, posting estimates at 20 city/25 hwy/22 combined.
Review: 2011 Toyota Highlander, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy
The editors of ConsumerReports.org discuss all aspects of most new vehicles, testing models by actually purchasing them (rather than accepting them from the manufacturer). They also provide useful survey-based data on reliability, owner satisfaction and depreciation. ConsumerReports.org's content is available only to subscribers.
Review: Toyota Highlander, Editors at ConsumerReports.org
ConsumerGuide.com reviews all new cars, providing very brief overviews of each model that cover 11 aspects. Average scores are available for each class, making for an easy numerical comparison of how models perform.
Review: 2011 Toyota Highlander: Road Test, Editors of ConsumerGuide.com
8. The Detroit News
Scott Burgess at The Detroit News tests the 2011 Toyota Highlander and finds it to be an excellent all-around vehicle that is very practical. He does concede that it ranks low on the scale when it comes to driving excitement, but he also estimates that that won't bother a lot of consumers.
Review: 2011 Toyota Highlander, Scott Burgess, March, 2011
CNET is a website best known for its technology and electronics reviews and information. They also test some new cars, with a focus on in-cabin and powertrain technology. Reviewer Wayne Cunningham finds that the Highlander's navigation system uses old technology and isn't integrated particularly well into the rest of the cabin controls.
Review: 2011 Toyota Highlander Limited, Wayne Cunningham
Reviewer David Thomas at Cars.com gives an overview of the 2011 Toyota Highlander, providing quite a bit of detail on its practical and family-friendly features.
Review: 2011 Toyota Highlander, David Thomas, Nov. 2011
11. Motor Trend
This brief first-drive review gives details about the changes to the 2011 model. Editors note, as others do, that the Highlander checks nearly all of the boxes, but still "falls a little short subjectively."
Review: First Test: 2011 Toyota Highlander Limited 4WD, Editors of Motor Trend
This reviewer appreciates the improvements from the 2011 update, but finds the Highlander still lacking when it comes to third-row seat comfort and interior design.
Review: Review: 2011 Toyota Highlander, Chris Shunk, Jan. 2011