While Toyota has honed in on interior practicality with the Highlander, it appears a little unfocused on the outside--and missing distinctiveness.
The current version of the Highlander, with us now since 2008, has looked a bit derivative--or at the very least, drawing a little too literally in equal parts from Toyota's car and truck sides and ending up with an appliance that lacks any real flair of its own. We tend to think that it looks a bit like the previous-generation Subaru Forester, sized up a notch. That said, there's a certain honest, straightforward charm about the Highlander--if you can get past its lack of flair.
A couple of years ago Toyota gave the Highlander a very minor facelift, with a somewhat different front end and a little more chrome trim, plus a few more angles and creases. That gave it a little more interest--at best, it's a little more handsome--and side creases that connect the outer edge of the headlamps to the taillamps help visually lower the design a bit.
Hybrid models are distinguished from the gas-only Highlanders, only if you look close enough. Mostly, it's differently shaped fog lamps, some blue plastic and chrome trim that draw the visual line between the versions.
There's little doubt the Highlander is unexciting on the outside; and for the most part the same rings true inside. The Highlander's well-built, well-equipped cabin puts all the controls where they need to be, without all that much heed to fashion or flair. A simple binnacle covers the primary gauges, which are tucked into cut tubes of plastic, and Toyota's traditionally large buttons and knobs drive the climate and audio controls. The top Limited edition gets some unconvincing woodgrains, with a band of metallic plastic trim, while its leather upholstery warms up the interior immensely. Screens for the new Entune multimedia infotainment system ar4e located top and center, interrupting what's a somewhat slab-like dash.