By KBB.com Editors - Updated Date: 11/4/2011
Toyota's 2012 Highlander crossover SUV continues to impress with its abilities, features and resale value. The vehicle that basically invented the segment, the Highlander established its beachhead and never let go. No longer the smallish wagon-like vehicle that was the original Highlander, the 2012 Toyota Highlander SUV has grown in size and sophistication to nearly full-size dimensions, and all that growth translates into a roomy, 7-passenger crossover ideal for growing families. Sharing much of its architecture with the Lexus RX 350 luxury SUV gives the Highlander another leg-up on its competition, as does the vehicle's impressive ability to hold its value, even in dark times. There is a hybrid model that attains best-in-class fuel economy without sacrificing power or interior space. But, as good as the Highlander is, there are alternatives worth considering such as the larger Chevy Traverse, the very affordable Hyundai Veracruz and the more off-road-capable Ford Explorer and Dodge Durango.
There are plenty of midsize crossover SUVs worthy of owning, but when you combine the 2012 Toyota Highlander crossover's wide model range, exceptional resale value and strong owner-satisfaction figures, it gets a bit harder to justify buying anything else.
If you need a crossover or SUV that can be taken off-road, or that can tow more than 5,000 pounds, a Toyota 4Runner or Dodge Durango with a HEMI V8 might be a better choice.
After a modest refresh last year, the 2012 Toyota Highlander Crossover carries on unchanged for 2012.
On our test drive of the 2012 Toyota Highlander Limited 4x4, we encountered brief rain showers that had us traveling over both wet and drive pavement. Such changing road surfaces could instill dread, but the full-time 4-wheel-drive system and electronic traction and stability control on our Highlander inspired full confidence. The 2012 Toyota Highlander crossover SUV's 270-horsepower V6 engine is as smooth as velvet and responds instantly to the slightest request for more power. Our non-scientific 0-60-mph runs showed the Highlander as fast as any mid-size V6 sedan, and with fuel economy ranging between 16 and 20 mpg, we felt the Highlander lived up to its promised efficiency. Those seeking less performance and better mileage should definitely look to the 4-cylinder front-wheel-drive models, which move fuel-economy figures into the low 20s, or if money is no object, shoot for the hybrid.
Center Stow Seat
This clever feature allows the second row of seats to be converted from 3-across to 2-across seating, opening a convenient pass-through area to access the third-row seats. The seat stows easily out of sight in the center console.
Hill-Start and Downhill Assist Control
If you live in rolling terrain, you'll appreciate these features that prevent the Highlander from rolling backward at a stop on steep up-grades and controls downhill speed (on non-hybrid 4-wheel-drive models) during slippery descents.
The 2012 Toyota Highlander SUV has an attractive, if somewhat conservative interior. Big round knobs on the dash for the radio and climate control make them easy to use even when wearing bulky winter gloves. There are loads of little storage spaces thoughtfully placed where kids need them most, and the rear-most occupants get their own climate controls. The 2012 Toyota Highlander crossover SUV features a sliding second-row seat that can move 4.7 inches fore or aft depending on where you need to maximize space. The second row is also equipped with a removable center section to create an easy path to the third-row seat. The Highlander's third-row seat may be its Achilles' heel in that, unlike the Traverse or Durango, there isn't much room for two full-size adults, leaving the rear seating to kids or very agile grown-ups.
The 2012 Toyota Highlander crossover SUV shows a much more sporty and daring design than did the original Highlander. Rather than pushing a macho and rugged SUV-like image, Toyota instead correctly targets buyers who want the functionality of a big SUV in a vehicle that is both strong and intelligent. The Highlander SUV does stand out, but its profile is lower to the ground than a Chevy Traverse or Dodge Durango, which makes sense given it shares a common platform with the Toyota Camry. Large rear doors provide more space to easily access the third-row seat, and the flip-up tailgate opens high to minimize bumping your head on the corners.
The front-wheel-drive 2012 Toyota Highlander crossover SUV rolls on 17-inch alloy wheels and comes with halogen headlights, AM/FM/CD MP3/WMA-capable 6-speaker stereo, tilt/telescope steering wheel, interchangeable Center Stow seat and center console, third-row 50/50 split-bench seat and an aerodynamic rear spoiler. Standard safety features include seven airbags, stability control, traction control and anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution. The Sport trim adds 19-inch wheels/tires, a rearview camera, a USB port, XM Satellite Radio, Bluetooth, leather-wrapped steering wheel, a 6-CD changer and a 3.5-inch multifunction display. The top-of-the-line Limited coddles its owners with full leather and wood-grain trim, power front seats, dual-zone climate control and a "smart" keyless entry and ignition system. The Highlander Hybrid and Hybrid Limited feature standard on-demand 4-wheel drive.
Options available on the 2012 Toyota Highlander crossover include the Tech Audio package that adds a USB port, XM Satellite Radio, Bluetooth, rearview monitor with 3.5-inch multi-information display, an 8-way power driver's seat, a flip-up liftgate window, foglights, upgraded seat fabric and a rear cargo cover. Stepping up to a Sport or Limited brings a much broader spectrum of add-ons, most notably front dual-zone automatic climate control (standard on Limited), automatic rear air conditioning, multistage heated leather front seats, power moonroof, rear-seat entertainment system, power liftgate and a navigation system with premium audio, voice activation and Bluetooth phone connectivity. Four-wheel-drive models are available in all V6 grades, while the front-drive SE can now be ordered with the 4-cylinder engine.
The 2012 Toyota Highlander crossover SUV and front-drive SE model are powered by a 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine, while a larger V6 is optional on the base and standard on the Sport 4WD and Limited trims. The 2.7 liter is near the top of its class in the areas of fuel efficiency and power, with 187 horsepower on tap and upward of 25 mpg in highway driving. The Highlander V6 model packs a 270-horsepower 3.5-liter dual-variable-valve-timing V6 under its sculpted hood. The 4-cylinder engine is mated to a 6-speed gearbox, while the V6 model makes do with an electronically controlled 5-speed automatic transmission with selectable manual shift control. The Highlander Hybrid teams the 3.5-liter V6 with a powerful electric motor for total of 290 net horsepower. The Hybrid also uses a unique on-demand 4-wheel-drive system that includes an electric motor at the rear axle.
2.7-liter in-line 4
187 horsepower @ 5,800 rpm
186 lb-ft of torque @ 4,100 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 20/25
270 horsepower @ 6,200 rpm (For Hybrid: 280 net horsepower)
248 lb-ft of torque @ 4,700 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 18/24 (FWD), 17/22 (4WD), 28/28 (Hybrid)
The 2012 Toyota Highlander SUV starts at a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of about $29,000 and will top $45,000 when fully loaded. The Highlander Hybrid starts close to $40,000 and tops out just over the $48,000 mark fully loaded. We expect our Fair Purchase Price values to reflect real-world transaction prices at or near sticker price, so be prepared to bring your best bargaining tactics. As to its key competitors, there are a number to choose from. Some, like the Hyundai Veracruz, offer a lower price for a comparably equipped model but don't have the Highlander's strong resale value. The V6-powered Honda Pilot is about the closest competitor in the areas of price, resale and features.