This week I had the chance to look at the 2001 Toyota Highlander SUV. It feels more like a mini van without the sliding doors, but Toyota says it’s “for buyers demanding the image and versatility of an SUV but who prioritize a sedan’s ride, handling and comfort.” In any case you don’t really know where to categorize this one. Is it an SUV or a Mini Van or a Sedan? A little bit of all I guess. At the end of the day I wasn’t terribly impressed with the combination in an attempt to give us consumers what we want. This mutant may well fill the need, but only time will tell if the market warms up to a car without a clear definition as to what it is. Will the consumer be confused and go out and buy a real Sedan, SUV or Mini Van with sliding doors?
It may be a futile attempt at being all things to all people. If, however, Toyota’s target is reached (Women drivers) it will have been a brilliant read of that market need.
Handling & Performance:
It rides like a passenger car or station wagon would be a better comparison. With the 4-wheel drive capability and the road clearance to qualify it to be called an SUV. It should indeed appeal more to women drivers particularly those with family needs who like the idea of SUV styling. They probably realize they will never get off-road anyway and some just can’t warm up to Mini Vans that are often viewed as nerdy.
It’s a part of the growing trend for SUV’s to become more car like. Not such a new concept but Toyota takes this consumer demand further by blurring the distinction even more. I’ve heard it said Highlander’s styling is “non-descript” which is a pretty good criticism. It’s anything but risky styling. Ho-hum, perhaps.
Fit and Finish:
Toyota can always be counted on for producing a well put together car. They, like most Japanese auto products, simply are among the best.
You get what you pay for and because of the Toyota nameplate you’ll get fewer features than may come standard on competitors base models.
At first blush it looks reasonably priced, but there is no free lunch folks and if you want the goodies you’ll end up out the door with an invoice nearly $10,000 more than the MSRP noted below for the popular name plate of Toyota.
If you don’t need an off-road vehicle the mini van is the better option. It will get much better gas mileage and for the family, it is easier to enter and exit for the little people. The styling of the Mini Vans has improved greatly over the years. In my view they are still the most practical family car on the market.
The competition (Order of Preference**):
(1)Mazda Tribute $18-24,000, (2)Ford Escape $18-24,000, (3)Subaru Forester $20-24,000, (4)Pontiac Aztek $21-27,000, (5)Toyota Highlander $23-26,000.
Roomy, strong V6, refined quality product.
Common styling, lazy with 4 cylinders, 6-cylinder is adequate but nothing to write home about and poor gas performance.
3.0 liter V6 engine, 4-speed auto trans, full time 4-wheel drive, dual airbags, power windows and door locks, tilt steering wheel, stereo with cassette and CD player, power windows and door locks, antilock braking system, auto halogen headlights, rear intermittent wipers, multi adjust front Capitan’s chairs, 60/40 split folding rear seat with fold flat and recline feature, cruise control,
18 City and 22 Highway MPG.
** – Order of Preference is based on a formula of price relationship to dimensions and standard features and the best overall warranty.