2002 Toyota Highlander Page 1

2003 Toyota Matrix by John Pearley Huffman (11/30/2001)

Time was when mere mention of the highlands conjured images of a repellent wilderness filled with uncouth barbarians and their nasty, savage habits. Highlanders were people to be shunned, feared and ultimately — in the case of Scotland, at least — cleared out of the way.

No longer. Today, it's the workaday world of so-called civilization that tends to be nasty and savage, and for respite we daydream about lonely walks atop scenic highland moors. To get there, Toyota has thoughtfully introduced a Highlander sport-utility vehicle that is just about as couth as they come.

The Highlander debuted in 2001, bringing Toyota's SUV stable up to five different models. Closest in size to the 4Runner, the Highlander couldn't be more different from its pickup-derived elder sibling. For starters, Highlander is a Toyota Camry at heart, and the fact that it shares this same sedan platform with the luxury-aspiring RX300 from Lexus speaks volumes about the Highlander's character. It's meant to smooth the commute and navigate the 'burbs, not to conquer the trackless wastes.

Initial reactions while test-driving the Highlander are bound to be nearly universal: "My, what a fine ride you have." Toyota has succeeded in dialing-in the proverbial "car-like ride" for this SUV-come-lately. Unibody construction and four-wheel independent suspension have a great deal to do with it — but not everything. Equally significant, from the aesthetic point of view, is Highlander's interior sense of calm. It is quiet; it is poised; it remains aloof from the helter-skelter that buzzes around and alongside.