The twenty-first-century minivan.
If you’re considering a crossover on practical grounds, it’s hard to do better than the Toyota Highlander. It squeezes three rows of seats into a manageable mid-size package. It outflanks competitors with three powertrain offerings — an in-line four-cylinder, a V-6, and a V-6 hybrid that achieves 28 mpg combined. The conventional six-cylinder likely would get better fuel economy if it, like the 2.7-liter four-cylinder, came with a six-speed automatic transmission rather than a five-speed. The interior, although lacking the pizazz of some newer offerings, remains a strong point, featuring large controls and all the technology buyers in this segment expect. The Highlander’s styling borrows from Toyota’s larger, tougher trucks, but the Highlander isn’t fooling anyone: it’s a minivan for those who don’t want to be seen driving a minivan. There are some features that will please former minivan owners, such as second-row captain’s chairs that can slide together to become a bench seat. A power liftgate is standard on all but base models. Driving dynamics aren’t usually a top consideration in this segment, but we still think Toyota engineers could do better than the Highlander’s limp, numb steering and “safe” handling. In fact, Toyota’s own minivan, the Sienna, is more engaging to drive.
Hyundai Santa Fe
new for 2013
The four-cylinder is now available only in the base model. A touch-screen stereo display is now standard, and Toyota’s Entune infotainment system is optional on the SE.
Front, side, side curtain, and driver’s knee air bags; ABS; traction and stability control; a backup camera; and a tire-pressure monitoring system are standard.
Lots of powertrain options
Hybrid fuel economy
Versatile, user-friendly interior
Numb driving experience
Base Price Range: $29,715–$47,015
DRIVE: Front-wheel, 4-wheel
TRIM LEVELS: Highlander, SE, Limited, Hybrid, Hybrid Limited
BODY STYLE: SUV/crossover, 7-passenger
ENGINES: 2.7L I-4, 187 hp, 186 lb-ft
3.5L V-6, 270 hp, 248 lb-ft
3.5L V-6/electric hybrid, 270 hp, 280 lb-ft
TRANSMISSIONS: 5- or 6-speed automatic, continuously variable
PASSENGER VOLUME: 145.7 cu ft
CAPACITIES: Towing 1500–5000 lb; cargo (behind third/middle/front seats) 10.3/42.3–42.4/94.1–95.4 cu ft