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2008 Toyota Highlander Test Drive Review

Front view of the 2008 Toyota Highlander After a successful 7-year run, the original-recipe Toyota Highlander gets replaced for 2008 by an all-new version that sets the bar ever higher for midsize crossover SUVs.

9.2 /10
Overall Score

Arguably, the Toyota Highlander established the blueprint for all family-sized, 3-row crossover SUVs to follow. Its combination of reliability, quality, performance, and safety ensured that competitors came to the game ready for battle. And now, the redesigned 2008 Toyota Highlander moves the goalposts. It comes in base, Sport, and Limited trim levels, all powered by a V6 engine driving the front or all four wheels.

Look and Feel

9/ 10

Toyota gets the all-new 2008 Highlander’s styling exactly right. Its artfully flared fenders, handsome 19-inch aluminum wheels (Sport and Limited), and refreshing lack of gray plastic cladding give it a clean and modern appearance.

Surface gloss and grain levels are appealing, and clearly marked buttons and oversized stereo and climate control knobs dominate the otherwise minimalistic interior. They're so big, people living in colder climates will have no trouble operating the switchgear while wearing gloves. Gauges are located in deeply recessed housings, and the front passenger airbag is deftly hidden behind a seamless dashboard panel.

Performance

10/ 10

Any 2008 Toyota Highlander that doesn’t have a “Hybrid” badge on the front fender is equipped with a 270-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 bolted to a 5-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive an option.

The Highlander Hybrid returns for 2008, pairing a 3.3-liter V6 with front and rear electric motors to create an electric AWD system. The powertrain uses an electronic continuously variable automatic transmission (e-CVT), which is a power management system that doesn’t work like a traditional CVT. Total output is 270 hp, and while the Highlander Hybrid is heavier than the standard version of the SUV, that weight feels offset, thanks to the instant torque from the electric motors. Toyota also provides an EV driving mode that allows for purely electric operation at lower speeds.

Both Highlanders return respectable fuel economy. The standard version gets as much as 20 mpg in combined driving, while the Hybrid is rated to get 26 mpg in combined driving. That’s fantastic for a 7-passenger midsize SUV, but keep in mind that Toyota wants a minimum of nearly $5,000 extra for the Hybrid version.

Any 2008 Highlander is quick and nimble, but for the greatest athleticism, choose the Highlander Sport for its standard 19-inch wheels and a sport-tuned suspension. Regardless of which version you choose, the Highlander drives more like a car than a truck, which is one reason it’s the standard-bearer in the midsize crossover SUV segment.

Form and Function

10/ 10

Up front, the 2008 Highlander provides comfortable seats wrapped in cloth or leather. Heated seats are available, and with Sport or Limited trim, the driver’s seat supplies 8-way power adjustability, including a power thigh-support adjuster.

A 40/20/40-split second-row seat is standard, offering a Center Stow function that allows a Highlander owner to remove the 20% center section to create a couple of captain’s chairs with a pass-through to the third-row seat. Legroom is generous in the second row, but not in the third-row. Adults can sit here for short trips, but it really is best reserved for children.

You’ll want to keep the third-row seat folded down most of the time anyway because the Highlander only has 10.3 cubic feet of space behind it. When it’s folded down, volume measures 42.3 cubic feet. With the second-row seats folded down, a Highlander swallows up to 95.4 cubic feet, with is downright astounding.

Toyota says the Highlander V6 can tow up to 5,000 pounds, while the Hybrid can manage as much as 3,500 pounds.

Tech Level

10/ 10

Toyota dramatically improves the Highlander’s technology game with the new 2008 model.

Standard equipment isn’t terribly impressive, amounting to a CD/MP3 player and an auxiliary input jack allowing iPod operation through the stereo system. But Sport trim adds a reversing camera that allows a driver to see what’s behind the SUV in addition to a 3.5-inch driver information display screen and a 6-disc CD changer. Limited trim is even more advanced, adding dual-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and keyless push-button engine ignition.

Options include a JBL premium sound system that also adds Bluetooth hands-free calling. With Bluetooth, you can pair your cell phone to the infotainment system and make and receive calls without holding the phone to your ear. The Highlander also offers a navigation system, a triple-zone automatic climate control system, and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system.

Safety

9/ 10

Toyota ups the Highlander’s safety equipment for 2008. Stability control is standard, and Toyota equips every version with dual front, front-seat side-impact, and 3-row side-curtain airbags. Drivers also get a knee airbag, and a reversing camera is standard on all but the base trim with the V6 engine.

In testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Highlander gets Good ratings in all four assessments, including for the seats and head restraints. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) determines the Highlander gets a mix of 4-star and 5-star ratings.

Cost-Effectiveness

7/ 10

A 2008 Toyota Highlander is not cheap, with prices starting at $27,300 for a base-trim front-driver. Choose a Highlander Hybrid Limited, and you’re looking at spending almost $40,000.

Speaking of the Highlander Hybrid, it costs a minimum of $5,000 more than the V6 version, which means it’s going to take forever to recoup the extra investment in terms of savings at the fuel pump. Given the price premium, choosing the hybrid version of this SUV is all about environmentalism and nothing at all about saving money.

Most people will be happiest with the Highlander V6, in Sport or Limited trim. It is decently fuel-efficient and, if history is any indication, will prove exceptionally reliable. But that happiness comes at an up-front cost.

Updated

Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience reviewing cars and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, J.D. Power, the New York Daily News, Autobytel, and Vehix. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.

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Toyota Highlander Questions

40

I Have A 2008 Highlander That Has A C1241 Code

Water Under Carpets, NOT A/C.

Hi, have had wet carpets front and back for a while now. Initially thought it was A/C as did mechanic, but it is not (drain tube works fine). I finally removed carpet to the back seat row to expose ...

2008 Highlander Front Passenger Seat Airbag Light

The front passenger airbag light is saying off even wit a large adult sitting in the seat

20

Can A Gas Cap Be Reinforced?

I keep getting the check engine and VSC light on. I've changed the gas cap, but it still is not tight enough. I think the opening itself might be warped. Is there a way to reinforce the seal with...

2008 Toyota Highlander

I hit a bump as I was coming to a stop, I started driving again the car started wobbling very hard in the rear right side. I turned to drive back home and it seemed to stop but once I tried to driv...