2008 has brought the most snow southern Ontario has seen in years. As a result, I’ve been pretty happy to be sampling a pretty wide variety of AWD and 4WD vehicles this winter. Every one of those vehicles has done a decent job getting off the line in the white stuff, but none of them were able to beat the laws of physics when it came to stopping. As I mentioned before, Toyota realizes that all season tires are really 3 season tires and have equipped their media fleet with true winter tires. What a treat!
On my second day with the Highlander we received about 6 inches of heavy snow, causing mayhem in the city. To avoid all the idiots, I took my usual route home through the north country on nearly abandoned rural roads. The winter boot shod Highlander took everything old man winter could throw at it in stride, including when coming to a stop. The Highlander with Toyo Observe snow tires may just be the ultimate winter machine.
There is more to life than winter though, and the Highlander excels in the dry too. In fact, Toyota’s mid size SUV drives more like a car than some of the competition. Highlander feels lighter and more nimble that the Taurus X and the transmission shifts much more crisply than the Subaru Tribeca. Both of those vehicles actually feel quite slow compared to the Toyota and feel like they are straining when pushed hard. The 3.5 liter V6 is smooth as silk and never feels like it is struggling, even on hard acceleration, while the 5 speed automatic always finds itself in the right gear. In our time with the Highlander, we averaged 15 l/100 km (16 mpg) in combined city & highway driving, which is almost identical to the mileage we got from the Taurus X in similar driving conditions.
If there was any criticism of the previous Highlander, it was that it wasn’t rugged enough. With this in mind, Highlander underwent a full redesign for 2008. With a longer wheelbase and longer track to cover, the fenders were thrust outwards which gives a more aggressive look. That look is completed with the addition of larger 17″ tires on the base and SR5 models, while the Sport and Limited models are sporting 19’s. Active families will appreciate the 5,000 pound towing capacity made possible by the stronger new drivetrain.
That larger exterior allowed for all sorts of newfound utility on the inside, which we’ll explore in part 2.