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The Toyota Highlander is a midsize SUV that's smooth and quiet underway, with a versatile cabin that seats seven. Highlander is a crossover SUV, meaning it's built more like a car than a truck, while feeling nice and big like a truck SUV. It's based on the platform of the Toyota Camry midsize sedan.
All Highlanders were extensively revised for 2011, with freshened styling and upgraded audio and safety systems. There are no additional changes to the 2012 Highlander.
The 2012 Highlander comes with a choice of powerplants. The base 2.7-liter four-cylinder makes 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, and delivers EPA fuel economy ratings of 20/25 mpg City/Highway. It's matched with a 6-speed electronically controlled automatic overdrive transmission, and is available only with two-wheel drive.
The optional 3.5-liter V6 is extremely smooth and delivers 270 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. Also smooth is its 5-speed automatic transmission, which downshifts seamlessly to provide ample punch for passing. Front-wheel-drive Highlanders with the 3.5-liter V6 are EPA-rated at 18/24 mpg City/Highway; Highlander AWD (all-wheel drive) models are rated slightly lower at 17/22 mpg, which is about what we got in the AWD V6 we drove, including a 300-mile freeway run.
There's also a Highlander Hybrid, whose gas/electric powertrain uses three electric motors: One to drive each axle, for AWD, and a third to regulate the electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT). The Highlander Hybrid's gasoline engine is essentially the same 3.5 liter V6, but with port, rather than direct, fuel injection and milder tuning producing 231 horsepower and 215 pound-feet of torque. But add in the additional punch of the electric motors, and the total system horsepower is 280. EPA estimated fuel economy is 28 mpg, city or highway. Unfortunately, we found it difficult to achieve that during our winter test drive using power accessories full blast.
Highlander offers a quiet cabin and a comfortable ride, while being a pleasant way to carry a group of people, with generous space for passengers and cargo. A versatile cabin adds to its attractiveness as a family vehicle. The second row can slide forward and back, and the third-row seat is good for children and capable of carrying adults. Getting in and out of the first two rows is easy, and Toyota provides both a walk-through and a fold-and-slide-forward second-row seat to ease access to the third row.