2008 Toyota Highlander

7.8
2008 Toyota Highlander

The Basics:

The family-car experts at TheCarConnection.com read the latest road tests to write this comprehensive review of the new 2008 Toyota Highlander. Experts from TheCarConnection.com also drove the Toyota Highlander to offer you a definitive opinion on this mid-size SUV. This review also compares the 2008 Toyota Highlander with other vehicles in its class to give you the best advice even when other reviews present conflicting opinions.

The 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid offers the same room and amenities that the nonhybrid Highlander does, only with better fuel economy and the badge of honor that comes with driving something that's trying to be green.

You're looking at the second-generation 2008 Toyota Highlander, which is bigger inside and out than the SUV it replaces. While the Highlander used to be sized closely to the Ford Escape, it's now in line with the Ford Explorer. Its styling has grown even more rounded but less distinctive, and while the interior feels like a quality piece, it's not a standout in terms of style, either.

Inside, the increased room is put to good use. Two rows of seats are standard, but the 2008 Highlander Limited and Sport models drove by TheCarConnection.com team featured three rows of seats. Second-row room proved ample for American-sized men, especially when the standard rear bench seat was configured like individual buckets. There's a Center Stow Seat that provides a spot for a third (small) behind. When stowed (an action that takes less than 15 seconds) in a rattle-free cubby under the front console, the space between the outboard bucket seats is wide enough to provide access to the two-person foldable third-row bench. While an adult wouldn't want to be in the third row for more than a few miles, the space is plenty large for the kids that will be crawling back there for their ride to soccer.

A version of Toyota's corporate 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 is the only engine available in the 2008 Toyota Highlander. A five-speed automatic handles shifting duties, but even though Toyota calls it the "Super Intelligent Electronically Controlled Transmission," its lethargic performance, even in manual mode, drains some of the zest out of the big V-6.

Dynamically, the Sport is the only nonhybrid model in the 2008 Toyota Highlander crossover line that will appeal to enthusiasts. The Highlander base and Limited editions are too softly sprung to be interesting on a twisty road, plus the electric steering offers zero feedback, and the springs and dampers feel mushy. Most drivers aren't enthusiasts, but all drivers want to feel in control.

With 8.1 inches of ground clearance and available full-time four-wheel drive (with a 50/50 torque split), light off-roading is also part of the 2008 Highlander's repertoire, especially since Toyota engineering finally acquiesced and put an Off switch for the traction control. No longer will you get stuck on beach access roads or your snow-covered driveway.

You're looking at the second-generation 2008 Toyota Highlander, which is bigger inside and out than the SUV it replaces. While the Highlander used to be sized closely to the Ford Escape, it's now in line with the Ford Explorer. Its styling has grown even more rounded but less distinctive, and while the interior feels like a quality piece, it's not a standout in terms of style, either.

According to Edmunds, the 2008 Toyota Highlander has received a "top-to-bottom redesign.” MyRide.com says that it has "a sleeker skin that also makes it easy to distinguish this new Highlander from the boxier outgoing model."

Most car reviewers thought the 2008 Toyota Highlander’s redesign wasn’t an improvement over the previous version. Cars.com says, “To my eyes, Toyota's smaller RAV4 SUV looks better-proportioned, with just enough curves to offset the angles. With its creased headlights, flashy grille and characterless bumper, the Highlander seems a bit too slick — like a convenience store shopper who won't take off his sunglasses.” Popular Mechanics thinks the Highlander is close to “resembling a minivan.”

Edmunds says of the interior, “the control layout remains simple and easy to understand.” However, Cars.com says, “SUVs like the [Mazda] CX-9 and [Hyundai] Veracruz boast some impressively upscale interiors. In comparison, Toyota falls a bit short,” even though “the chrome accents and electroluminescent gauges look terrific.” Popular Mechanics thinks “The layout and detail of the instrument panel tilt toward the functional, with larger dials and clear labeling of controls. We liked the added bonus of the information window that sits atop the IP, relating bits of info on MPG, tire pressure, compass reading, ambient temperature, back-up camera, clock and more.” MyRide adds, “the design is attractive and controls are well-placed and easy to use."

The 2008 Toyota Highlander received excellent reviews from most sites as well as from the experts at TheCarConnection.com. (The 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is covered in a separate review.)

According to Edmunds, the 2008 Toyota Highlander sports "a 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V6" that "delivers strong, smooth acceleration in any situation." Cars.com says, “Acceleration is adequate off the line and stronger as the engine revs. The transmission helps things along, holding gears and rarely shifting prematurely,” but “hard acceleration can prompt some abrupt transitions among lower gears.”

Edmunds indicates that the "Front-wheel-drive models carry an 18 mpg city/24 mpg highway rating...while AWD models rate 17/23." Edmunds further supports that, saying the Highlander is "still easier to drive than most midsize SUVs, even those of the crossover variety." ConsumerGuide claims that the 2008 Toyota Highlander's ride quality is "among the best in class,” and goes on to say, "overall control is fine, and the brake-pedal feel is firm and progressive." Edmunds, meanwhile, states, "steering is light enough to make it easy to maneuver in tight spaces." Cars.com dislikes the “lifeless, artificial steering feel” and the “spongy response” of the brakes. Popular Mechanics also reports the steering “felt numb” but calls the brakes “precise and quick.” The Detroit News says the Highlander has “solid, but not precise, feel.”

With 8.1 inches of ground clearance and available full-time four-wheel drive (with a 50/50 torque split), light off-roading is also part of the 2008 Highlander's repertoire. “The optional four-wheel drive is transparent to the driver,” Cars.com concludes.

TheCarConnection.com tested the 2008 Toyota Highlander extensively and agrees with the sources that feel the Highlander’s handling needs to be sharper. The transmission is a culprit in its somewhat lethargic performance; even in manual mode, it drains some of the zest out of the big V-6. Dynamically, the Sport is the only nonhybrid model in the 2008 Toyota Highlander crossover line that will appeal to enthusiasts. With the Highlander, Toyota’s base and Limited editions are too softly sprung to be interesting on a twisty road. Plus, the electric steering offers zero feedback, and the springs and dampers feel mushy. Most drivers aren't enthusiasts, but all drivers want to feel in control.

Reviews of the 2008 Toyota Highlander for comfort and quality were nearly unanimous, with only a few dissenters.

According to ConsumerGuide, the 2008 "Highlander is a competent, refined, family focused SUV that offers great practicality, cargo and passenger versatility, and evident quality."

ConsumerGuide says it is "redesigned with larger dimensions." Edmunds concurs, saying the Highlander has "more room...and more conveniences than its predecessor" and is "truly optimized for family use."

Cars.com describes the seating offerings in the Toyota: 2008’s version has three standard rows of seats that “accommodate up to seven, though you can drop the third row in order to save a little cash, reducing seating capacity to five.” The Detroit News reports that the second-row seat has “one-touch levers” that “allow a person to lower the second row from the back of the vehicle.” Edmunds adds, “Just as useful is the new 'Center Stow' feature, which allows owners to easily stow the center section of the 40/20/40 second-row bench seat, thus providing walk-through access to the third row. The '20' section simply slides into its own cubby under the front-seat center console.” The Detroit News says the third-row seat isn’t as useful as some claim: “The third row can squeeze in an adult but not two.”

Other interior storage options include a “center console between the front seats has four cupholders and a wide storage bin. Forget laptops; the glove box could fit a small desktop computer.”

ConsumerGuide tends to disagree even with comments on the base Highlander; Toyota’s big crossover has "above-average-grade plastics and comfortable cloth upholstery," although they point out "the fuzzy headliner feels cheap." MyRide.com feels the "interior materials and craftsmanship are generally of a high-quality, though we were a bit disappointed by the amount of hard plastic on the dash." Cars.com says of the big Toyota, 2008’s interior suffers as “most areas are trimmed in hard plastics,” and “the textures lack the appeal of the stuff in several competitors.”

ConsumerGuide goes on to say the ride is "generally quiet, though wind and road noise are noticed at highway speeds." Myride.com agrees, saying that in the Highlander, Toyota has crafted "an interior that's very nearly as quiet as the best luxury crossovers we've driven."

The 2008 Toyota Highlander received the highest marks for safety and has a long list of standard safety equipment.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the 2008 Toyota Highlander five stars for protecting the driver in front impacts, and for all passengers in side impacts. The front passenger gets four-star protection in front impacts. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) also tested the new Highlander; Toyota scores a Top Safety Pick rating from the insurance-industry group.

Cars.com points out that the 2008 Toyota Highlander comes “standard with four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, traction control and an electronic stability system.” In the Highlander, Toyota also installs seven airbags, including a driver-side knee airbag, as standard.

Reviewers agree: The 2008 Toyota Highlander has all the options (and maybe a few more) that almost anyone can ask for.

Edmunds says in the Highlander, Toyota offers "three trim levels -- base, Sport and Limited" that come with an array of standard features that would make a mother proud. The base version has “17-inch alloy wheels, privacy glass, a fold-flat third-row seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, air-conditioning, a CD stereo with an auxiliary input jack and full power accessories.” Sport versions get a CD changer and a rearview camera, along with better seat fabric. And the Limited gets leather, a power driver seat, and wood grain trim.

Cars.com says options are extensive in this Toyota; 2008 versions can include a “navigation system, JBL premium audio, a backseat DVD player, a moonroof, a power tailgate and heated front seats.” The third-row seat can also be deleted to save $740, they note.

ConsumerGuide says that in the Highlander, Toyota molds in "top-notch small item storage includes 10 cupholders and 4 bottle holders, not to mention assorted map pockets and other convenient nooks and crannies."

Buying Tips:

The 2008 Toyota Highlander offers buyers an effective transportation tool with plenty of versatility and value. It's white-bread boring, and that's OK. TheCarConnection.com's editors recommend the Sport edition for its on- and off-road handling.

Other Choices:

  • 2009 Chevrolet Traverse
  • 2009 Honda Pilot
  • 2008 Ford Taurus X
  • 2008 Ford Edge
  • 2008 Mazda CX-9

Reason Why:

The 2008 Toyota Highlander competes against other mid-size SUVs and crossovers, and depending on how the vehicles are categorized, there are dozens of vehicles in this class, ranging from the humble Hyundai Sante Fe (around $30,000) to the blue-blood Audi Q7 and BMW X5 (each over $55,000). Within this mix are larger and smaller vehicles offering different combinations of equipment. If you need room for more than four adults, consider the Chevrolet Traverse or Taurus X. The new-for-2009 Honda Pilot is dynamically refreshing, and it offers seating for eight. If you won't need room for seven, consider the Ford Edge or even Toyota's own RAV4. Lastly, if you're unlikely to ever venture off road, consider the Mazda CX-9, one of TheCarConnection.com's favorite crossovers.

The Bottom Line:

Most Americans prefer mushy white bread, and the 2008 Toyota Highlander is a larger, high-quality "loaf" that will satisfy most every consumer.

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