Sure the Highlander is pretty much a plain Jane, (though the 2014 is much sharper) but for a family vehicle it gets the job done. I bought this SUV because the Honda Pilot got worse mileage, wider turning radius, and had used a Highlander in the snow and it worked very well. On the plus side in 90+ K miles not a single mechanical or electrical failure, let down or weakness and that's mountain driving, commuting, going to the snow every winter, launching boats and pulling trailers (I got the tow option for larger alternator, trans cooler and pre-wired for trailer). The coolant overflow tank cap is too thin and will slightly leak fluid and was redesigned in 2008, the seat belt retraction was always a bit slow, but those are the two and only minor issues I've had). What I don't like at 6'3" is the seat bottoms are narow from front to back but newer models are larger and more confortable for long trips. The AWD, traction control has been flawless and is like new with a transfluid and filter and transaxle fluid change at 76K, brakes replaced at 64K with Akebono (Lexus) dust free brake pads and discs are straight and have plenty of material. One alginment and it's still straight (I don't hit curbs or parking stops). The paint is still great, haven't even changed a light bulb yet. All it has ever needed is change oil, filter, coolant, power steering fluid flush, and of course the cam chain replacement per required maintenace and I opted to change water pump also as Toyota had some TSBs and recalls on water pumps, though I never had a leak or impeller whine, etc. .
The 3rd row seating is realy only for kids or small adults. When the windows are down on the hiwya the buffeting is so strong it's disturbing. But is gets good mileage, round town wwith 3.3 liter V6 it's 20 and hiway in OD it's 26-28, has great safety results, features (stability control) and a stable ride.
The factory TOYO tires were gumball soft and went 26K, though my reasearch indicated most went at 15K, they squealed and had soft sidewall that made the car body rool on the initiation of the turn. I replaced them with Michelin M+S All Season "Cross Terrains" that went 63K miles and were quiet, more stable, gave better mileage, better snow and ice traction, the Toyos were terrible in the snow and acceptable in the wet but Michelin much better in wet especially braking. I now have Michelin LTX that are slighlty wider than stock and work great as a result of increaed footprint and mileage has not suffered with the Toyota reccomended tire pressure filled with nitrogen to keep the tire carcass cool during the summer days that are over 100 degrees.
Braking performance is good but pedal has a bit of soft feel due to ABS system design and requires a factory tool to completly bleed the brakes back to the correct amount of free play in pedal lever travel. brakes have never faded during trailer hauls in mountains or spirited driving.
Turning radius is great on Highlander as you can turn around in the parking lot with one turn or at the end of a street, or u-turn, unlike the Pilot. Ssuspension is jsut now getting a bit soft at 96K and I will replace with KYB GR-2 ( silver) or now known as Excel -G (black) struts all the way around a sthe Highlander has cartidge struts in rear not shocks.
The Highlander's slalom performance on twisty roads is hampered by the high center of gravity but good tires with stiff side walls really help keep it secure and on line, never compressing and underturning or wallowing in a swtichback or series of s turns.
Wet weather handling is good and snow driving is very good unless there is a lot of ice, which most SUVs don't do as well as the Highlander in ice. The uphill trans traction device works well to prevent slippage.
The ride is soft enough for long trips but does not sage so much when loaded to affect steering, as we pack it to the gills when camping 2-4 times a year. The steering is not vague and gives good enough feedback, especially after the fluid has been replaced as 50K with Red Line Power Steering Fluid or D4 ATF.
Overall, I would buy this car again or reccomend it as a used vehicle, for a smaller family or couple with a dog or two, it has proved to be reliable and ecomomical to own and drive. The 2010 and 2014 are improved overall but actually get worse around town mileage due to larger engines, tuned for more hp. But the cabins are larger, seating room for front and back is better than the earlier generation and with larger wheels and more low profile tires the center of gravity and haldning is imnproved oon the newer Highlanders, though from 2002 forward the old Highlander is still one of the most relaible vehiclas Toyota has made!
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