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SANTA FE, N.M. — Snowflakes lift on a gentle wind and blanket the red-clay adobe structures of this high desert city. The flakes are all shapes and sizes and encourage a gloved hand to capture one briefly, have a textbook moment, and observe individual patterns and differences.
It’s eye candy for the senses, but the snow also makes this a great opportunity to test Toyota’s newest sport-utility vehicle, the Highlander, and to notice its individuality in today’s sea of SUVs.
First, I evaluate the 2WD version of this all-new compact model on Santa Fe’s urbanthoroughfares and byways, where the pavement is slick and the traffic is slow. Its handling is clearly competent.
More fun, however, is when I motor to the mountains above the city in the Highlander’s all-wheel-drive version, ascending into the evergreen-forested high country, where cross-country skiers and outdoor enthusiasts play in this new-fallen white stuff. The slush and snow on the roadways is deeper now, and hairpin turns abound, but the Highlander is never unsettled.
Following Toyota’s route book directions, I leave the pavement behind and take a backcountry trail into a winter wonderland. Here, the Highlander’s 4WD traction makes it an easy run through the forest, and up and over a mountaintop. All too soon, I’m headed back to the city.
Toyota, once best known in America as an import automaker of reliable, economical, fuel-efficient small cars, hopes that it will soon be recognized as a driving force in the truck/SUV arena. Witness the events of the past year, during which this Japanese manufacturer has flooded this now-popular market with new offerings and updated versions of its previous models.
2001 Toyota HighlanderEnlarge Photo