Since its introduction in 2001, the Toyota Highlander has been a success for Japan's top automaker, with more than 700,000 examples of the unibody midsize SUV sold in North America to date. In 2006, with the model beginning to get a bit long in the tooth, sales dropped for the first time and it became clear that a replacement was due. Enter the all-new 2008 Toyota Highlander, which will be arriving in dealer showrooms in July with a hybrid model due two months later.
The second-generation Highlander now looks more like the RAV4?s big brother instead of the rolling box that was the 2002-2007 model. It uses the same chassis as the 2007 Camry and is bigger than its predecessor in every dimension. Riding on a wheelbase that has grown by just under three inches, the new Highlander is almost four inches longer, just over three inches wider, and an inch taller due to an extra inch of ground clearance.
The increased dimensions allowed Toyota's designers to be more creative with interior space and come up with features such as the "Center Stow" middle seat for the second row that allows the pair of captain's chairs to be converted into a three-seat bench. When not in use, the seat is stored in a compartment under the front center console. The reclining second row also travels 4.7 inches either forward or reverse, allowing more leg room for either second or third row passengers, depending on need. A third-row delete option will also be available for buyers preferring cargo space over people space.
Even bigger than the increase in size is the increase in power. Gone are the four-banger and the 3.3-liter V-6 from the non-hybrid models. Replacing them is Toyota's new 3.5-liter V-6 found in the Camry and Lexus ES that puts out 270 horsepower and 249 lb-ft of torque, giving the 08 Highlander an extra 55 horsepower and 27 lb-ft over the outgoing model. A five-speed automatic is the only transmission available. The Highlander Hybrid's powertrain, a net 270-horsepower, 3.3-liter V-6 mated to an electronic CVT, is largely unchanged from the previous model.
Available in base, Sport and Limited trims - base and Limited for the Hybrid - the 2008 Highlander will come replete with standard features and a comprehensive safety system complete with seven airbags, active head restraints and Toyota's STAR safety system that consists of ABS, traction and stability control, electronic brake-force reduction and brake assist. Sport and Limited models come standard with a standalone backup camera with a multi-information screen. The Highlander also gets a considerable list of options, including a power tailgate, rear-seat entertainment system, nine-speaker JBL Bluetooth-equipped audio system, and three-zone air conditioning.
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