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Kelley Blue Book ® - 2004 Toyota Highlander Overview

Vehicle Overview from Kelley Blue Book

KBB.com 2004 Toyota Highlander Overview

Room for Seven

For many people, an SUV is a must-have. They need the room, the versatility and in some cases, the foul-weather capabilities of an all-wheel-drive system. The penalty SUV owners sometimes have to live with is somewhat poor fuel economy and less than stellar handling. For 2004, Toyota can now offer many of these shoppers a chance to change their lot. By adding a third-row seat to its popular midsize Highlander, larger families can now enjoy the car-like ride and outstanding reliability that is the hallmark of the Toyota Highlander.

For 2004, the Highlander receives a front-end freshening, with larger lights and grille opening. 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 stretched 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 new 3.3-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 160 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.

The new 3.3-liter V6 bumps horsepower to a whopping 230. Also new this year is the addition of a five-speed automatic transmission with the snow mode throttle control system. Snow mode allows the Highlander to start off in second gear, thus limiting the potential for wheel spin. Though the four-cylinder is certainly capable, the V6 can better deal with the added weight and power requirements of an all-wheel drive system. The Highlander's fulltime four-wheel drive 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 cup holders, 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 cup holders built into the rear-doors. When not carrying passengers, the rear seats can be folded down to form a perfectly flat floor. When equipped with the optional third-row seat, the second-row seat includes a slide forward feature to allow easy entry and exit from the third-row seat.

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.

This year, the optional side-impact airbags come with a side-airbag curtain, but only for the first and second rows. Also new this year is a tire-pressure warning system and a passenger seat sensor that shuts off the airbag when the seat is empty or the person occupying it does not weigh enough to permit a safe deployment.

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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