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Kelley Blue Book ® - 2003 Toyota Highlander Overview

Vehicle Overview from Kelley Blue Book

KBB.com 2003 Toyota Highlander Overview

Room For the Whole Family and it Still Fits in the Garage

Toyota's Highlander is one of a growing number of crossover vehicles. Crossovers have the look, ride height and running gear of an SUV, but are built from passenger car platforms. This design gives vehicles like the Highlander better stability and vastly improved road handling; they also receive the benefits of the government's strict passenger car safety and strength standards, which are far tougher than those for trucks.

The Highlander's makeup is composed of many strands of Toyota DNA. It is adapted from the Lexus RX300 platform, which itself is adapted from the Toyota Camry platform. Toyota streched the Highlander's wheelbase an additional three inches over its Lexus cousin and then eliminated some of the RX300's luxury features; the Highlander also gets a standard four-cylinder engine. Toyota needed to stretch the wheelbase to give the Highlander more backseat legroom as well as additional storage area behind the rear seat, a major concern for the families who Toyota hopes to reach.

So what does Toyota end up with after all this pulling, mixing and reconfiguring? A vehicle that can comfortably carry five adults and their luggage yet has the ability to traverse deep snow and mud with nearly 7 inches of ground clearance. The Highlander can be ordered in front-wheel or full-time 4WD and offers the choice of a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine or a potent 3.0-liter V6. Both power plants are models of efficiency, which means they won't eat you alive at the gas pump.

The Highlander is powered by a workhorse of a four cylinder engine; at 2.4-liters it is one of the largest on the market. Though not as quick as the V6, the base engine's 155 horsepower and 163 lbs.-ft. of torque provide more than adequate power for the front-wheel drive Highlander models. If you really have your heart set on all-wheel drive, you may want to opt for the more powerful V6. At 220 horsepower, the V6 can better deal with the added weight and power requirements of an all-wheel drive system. The Highlander's fulltime 4WD is not the same as a truck or off-road four-wheel drive. It does not have a high and low range transfer case and is not intended for serious off-road use. The system does work extremely well when encountering deep snow, mud, or steep unpaved roads.

On the road, the Highlander feels solid, almost tank-like. Wind and road noise are practically non-existent and the engine emits a sweet, smooth melody as if it were almost delighted to be at your service. The only time you may experience a break in the Highlander's interior lull is if you lower only one of the rear windows. The Highlander's aerodynamic design allows air to rush into the passenger compartment, yet because the Highlander's rear-most glass is sealed, the air has no place to exit. This causes an extreme buffeting sensation that can be both felt and heard. Many newer vehicles experience wind buffeting under these same conditions, but the Highlander seems especially sensitive to this phenomenon. To neutralize the buffeting sensation, you can equalize the air pressure by either opening another window or by venting the sunroof.

The interior layout is typically Toyota; efficient in both its execution and construction. The center dash layout locates the radio and heat/vent controls within easy reach and is angled up slightly, conveniently presenting the gauges to the driver's eye. You may find that in bright daylight, the recessed tach/speedometer/fuel gauge cluster is a bit dark without the aid of the dashboard lights, a situation made worse when wearing dark sunglasses. A standard center console now fills the void between the front seats. The console has two large adjustable cupholders, a deep center storage area and floor-level storage tray. It is clear that Toyota took great pains to insure the comfort of the Highlander's occupants. The supportive front bucket seats have wide seat bottoms and a good amount of lower lumbar support. Rear seat passengers are treated to a standard folding center armrest and large cupholders built into the rear-doors. When not carrying passengers, the rear seats can be folded down to form a perfectly flat floor. About the only other complaints were the noisy blower motor for the ventilation and the position of the foot activated parking brake release, which is too close to the dead pedal foot rest.

The Highlander's standard equipment list is equally as impressive as the vehicle itself. Base models include air conditioning, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, illuminated entry system, AM/FM stereo with cassette and CD, 6-way power driver's seat, 4-speed automatic transmission, power windows and cruise control. Limited models are fully decked out and include automatic air conditioning, a JBL premium audio system, leather-wrapped steering wheel, 8-way power driver's seat, wood trim and alloy wheels. Toyota also provides a number of option packages that feature groups of the most ordered items that are then bundled together and offered at one low price.

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