The Toyota Highlander (called the Kluger in Japan and Australia) is a crossover SUV assembled by the Toyota Motor Corporation under the Toyota brand name in its Kyushu, Japan assembly plant. It was announced in April 2000 at the 2000 New York Auto Show and introduced as a 2001 model, arriving in late 2000 in Japan and in January 2001 in North America. Originally filling the market segment between the Toyota RAV4 and the Toyota 4Runner, the Highlander today slots in between the RAV4 and FJ Cruiser and has become Toyota's best-selling SUV.
The Highlander/Kluger shares the Toyota Camry platform with its Lexus RX/Toyota Harrier cousin and comes in 5 and 7-seater configurations.
The Highlander is available in three trim lines in the USA: the Base model, the Sport model, and the Limited model. The Base and Limited models were present when the Highlander was initially introduced, while the Sport model was introduced in March of 2006.
The Kluger is available in three trim lines in Australia: the CV model, the CVX model, and the Grande model. A limited edition CV Sport model was also released in 2006. There is currently no hybrid model available in Australia. The only engine offered is the 3.3L 3MZ-FE V6.
The 3.0 L engine was able to propel the car from 0-60 mph in approximately 8.8 seconds. In 2004 the Highlander was given a new 3.3 L V6 engine to compete with the more powerful V6 offerings from its competitors, mainly the Hyundai Santa Fe and the Honda Pilot. The 3.3 L engine made it possible for the Highlander to reach 0 to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds.
2005 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
In addition to the 3.3 L engine, 2004 V6-powered models were equipped with a new 5-speed automatic transmission, replacing a 4-speed automatic transmission, while the 4-cylinder models continue to use the old 4-speed automatic transmission. This year also saw the introduction of the optional third row seat. The unibody was slightly modified behind the second row seats to include a depression on the trunk floor to accommodate the optional third row seating. On models without third row seating, the depression on the trunk floor was made into a storage compartment. (Prior to 2004 the spare tire was accessible from inside the vehicle where the third row seating would subsequently be located; beginning in 2004 the spare tire is accessible from underneath the vehicle.) Subtle changes to the front grille, front and rear bumpers, and headlights round-out the major changes for 2004.
The Sport and hybrid models each have a distinctive grille design, differentiating themselves from the non-Sport, non-hybrid models. Wheel styling also serves to differentiate the various models -- the hybrid sports a unique twin-spoke design.
The Highlander is available with front-wheel drive or full-time four-wheel drive. Beginning in 2006, U.S.-market 4-cylinder-powered Highlanders are offered only with front-wheel drive, while Highlanders sold in Canada are offered only in a V6 four-wheel drive configuration. Hybrid models are available with part-time four-wheel drive which Toyota refers to as "4WD-i".
Base models are equipped with a limited slip differential, while upscale models have a stability control system.
The Japanese Kluger was released with a center console integrated with the dashboard, while the North American Highlander initially lacked this integrated center console. The integrated center console was introduced in all U.S. Highlanders and in Canadian Limited Highlanders in the 2002 model year, and in all Canadian Highlanders in the 2003 model year. However, for these early Highlanders without the integrated center console, a smaller non-integrated stand-alone center console was available as an option, which was installed at the factory or could be installed by the dealer.
Typical fuel economy using the Australian standard testing regime is 12.3 L/100 km.
Initially, the Highlander/Kluger was a regular, non-hybrid SUV driven by an internal combustion engine, but later Toyota introduced a hybrid version, the Highlander Hybrid that utilizes the company's Hybrid Synergy Drive technology. The Highlander Hybrid was unveiled at the 2004 North American International Auto Show, and was offered to the public in July 2005 as a 2006 model.
The 2006 Highlander Hybrid is priced starting at US$33,030, or US$6,590 more than the price of a similarly-equipped non-hybrid Highlander.