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2006 Toyota Highlander Limited 4x4 V6

There can be only one

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2006 Toyota Highlander Limited 4x4 V6

Highlander shares styling cues with Toyota SUV stablemates 4Runner and Sequoia, which is a good thing.

photo © Jason Fogelson
Though you'd never catch Christopher Lambert behind the wheel, the 2006 Toyota Highlander Limited has its virtues. Unibody construction with SUV styling made for a successful crossover on its debut in 2001. The 2006 Toyota Highlander Limited carries a $31,860 base price ($38,034 as tested) with Toyota's 3 year/36,000 mile basic warranty, 5 year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty and an EPA estimate of 18 mpg city/24 mpg highway. Let's unsheathe our swords and take a hack at the Highlander.

First Glance

Highlander shares styling cues with Toyota SUV stablemates 4Runner and Sequoia, which is a good thing, through my eyes. It might be because I am a Toyota SUV owner -- my daily driver, Moose, is a 1994 4Runner -- but I think that Toyota really has the iconic SUV styling down pat. The proportions are just right -- higher than a station wagon, but not so tall that it looks like it will topple in the wind. Highlander is a kinder, gentler SUV. If 4Runner looks like a warrior and Sequoia looks like an tank, Highlander is a gentleman soldier, the David Niven of SUVs.

Highlander's grille is a simple two-bar affair with a chrome Toyota longhorn emblem, offset nicely by big, detailed multi projector headlights that wrap the front corners. The beltline rises gently toward the rear, a modest effect that keeps Highlander's profile from looking too boxy. A fairly prominent crease above the rear fender blends into the big rear taillight. The tailgate is simple, and relatively unadorned, with just a strip of chrome above the license plate depression. A fixed rear window is dressed with a single wiper and topped with a modest spoiler.

Continued below...

In the Driver's Seat

Highlander's dash is nicely arrayed, with simple, clear analog instrumentation and a very elegant layout.

photo © Jason Fogelson
Highlander's cockpit nicely rides the line between SUV and sedan, especially in the high end "Limited" trim. My test vehicle wore the $1,400 option of leather seats, with the added $440 heated seat option, and they made for very nice perches. Nice and supportive, they lack the side bolstering you find in sports car seats, but they do fine in the Highlander.

Highlander's dash is nicely arrayed, with simple, clear analog instrumentation and a very elegant layout. I have to cast a firm "no" vote against the "Burled Maple Wood-Grain style" interior trim. It's fake wood, no matter how you slice it. No more fake wood!

An SUV really earns its stripes with the "U," and Highlander has great "U." 60/40 split second row seats are comfortable and roomy enough for adults, and fold flat for cargo. The right side seat tumbles forward to give access to the third row of seats, useful for children or small adults only, and just for quick trips. If you do a lot of school carpooling, you'll be glad you have the third row -- but don't expect it to be a popular spot. Also, when the third row seat is in place, there's very little cargo space left, so soccer moms should take careful measure. For the most part, Highlander makes a great minivan alternative.

On the Road

A family vehicle spends a lot of time in parking lots and strangely, this is where Highlander performs poorly. The power assisted rack-and-pinion steering system is just too heavy at low speeds, making parking a chore and pulling out into traffic from a stop difficult. Which is a shame, because once Highlander gets moving, it's a pleasure to drive. Quiet, smooth and comfortable, Highlander sits more on the sedan side of the crossover equation than the SUV side. Full-time four-wheel drive and four-wheel independent suspension tame the road, and front and rear stabilizer bars keep body roll at a minimum. Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with brake assist and electronic brake force distribution do a creditable job of hauling the 3935 lb vehicle to a stop.

Highlander is available with three engine choices: a 2.4 liter inline four-cylinder that pumps out 155 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque; a hybrid gas-electric with a 3.3 liter V6 gas engine/electric motor combo that nets 268 hp and 212 lb-ft of torque; or a 3.3 liter V6 that cranks out 215 hp and 222 lb-ft of torque. My test vehicle had the 3.3 liter V6 hooked up to a five-speed automatic transmission. Highlander's performance is good, not blood-pumping good, but good for a family hauler.

Journey's End

Soccer moms take careful measure: Highlander makes a great minivan alternative.

photo © Jason Fogelson
Highlander was a ground breaker in 2001 -- a mature, elegant crossover vehicle that retained its SUV heritage without going cute. The competition has heated up since then, with the cute utes growing up, and other makers going with a more wagon-like approach.

Toyota's own RAV4 encroaches on Highlander's territory in its latest edition, for thousands of dollars less. Honda's newly refreshed CR-V has also grown up, and is definitely worth a look. Hyundai's Santa Fe is very competitive and worth a look. Don't overlook the Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner/Mazda Tribute family, probably Highlander's closest competition. Highlander outdoes them on refinement, but the Ford/Mercury/Mazda can compete on price. If you want less SUV and more wagon in your crossover, take a look at the Ford Freestyle, Mercedes-Benz R-class and Chrysler Pacifica for a different approach to the people-moving equation.

If you're like me, and a big Toyota fan, give Highlander a try. You can save some money with lower levels of trim, by foregoing four-wheel drive, and by choosing the four-cylinder engine. Whichever Highlander you choose, you'll get a solid vehicle with a foot in two worlds -- doesn't that remind you of a Christopher Lambert film?

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