Toyota’s Highlander just can’t seem to take itself too seriously. This is a car-based SUV that’s sorely lacking in the pretentiousness department. In fact, as we’ve said, it almost lacks enough pretenses to qualify as a crossover SUV at all. In its heart, the Highlander knows that it’s really a Camry wagon.
For 2004, Toyota has tweaked many of the Highlander’s details, added their instantly ubiquitous 3.3-liter V-6 engine to the menu, and bolted in a third row seat. But they still haven’t given it an attitude, and that’s just fine.
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Let’s see if you can count all the products that now use Toyota’s 3.3-liter V-6 and its accompanying five-speed automatic transmission. Over at Lexus they bolt it into the freshly renamed ES330 luxury sedan and the slick RX330 crossover SUV, meanwhile at Toyota it’s going into the simply wonderful Sienna minivan, the surprisingly somewhat engaging Solara coupe, and our subject here, the Highlander. And by this time next year it’ll likely be in the Avalon large sedan and mainstream Camry sedan too. This engine and trans combination has become the backbone of Toyota’s bread-and-butter products the way the 350/350 combination of the 350-cubic inch small-block V-8 and Turbo Hydramatic 350 three-speed automatic was at the heart of Chevrolet’s profitable products throughout the Seventies. And neither the 3.3-liter engine nor the transaxle was available in anything last year.