2004 Highlander New Car Test Drive
The 2004 Toyota Highlander comes with more powerful engines, new safety features, and optional seating for up to seven passengers. Styling has been revised slightly for 2004, but the real changes are under the skin.
The four-cylinder engine that comes standard is more powerful and the new V6 is larger and more powerful than before. Adding to the improved responsiveness these changes bring is a new five-speed automatic transmission. The suspension has been revised, producing a very soft ride quality. And minor structural changes have been made to improve space efficiency inside.
In spite of these revisions, the Highlander remains the easiest of motoring companions. Getting in and out couldn't be easier. Its flexible interior makes it easy to various combinations of people and cargo. Seating for five comes standard, but 2004 models offer an optional third-row seat to carry up to seven passengers, though they'd be cramped. The third row folds flat and the second-row seat folds nearly so, revealing 80 cubic feet of cargo space, more than a Toyota 4Runner. The Highlander can swallow impromptu flea-markets buys with ease, and tote them home despite sudden worsening of the weather. New airbag systems for 2004 include optional curtain-style airbags and side airbags designed to protect passengers' heads and torsos in a side impact or rollover.
The Highlander offers a soft, smooth ride and its engines are smooth and quiet. The base model, equipped with the revised 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive, performs well around town and on the open highway, delivering responsive performance when merging into highway traffic. Equipped with the larger 3.3-liter V6 and all-wheel-drive, the Highlander offers strong power and secure handling in nasty weather. Highlander offers much of what made the Lexus RX 300 popular, but without Lexus-sized monthly payments.
The Toyota Highlander is available in base or Limited trim, each with either front-wheel drive or full-time all-wheel drive. A choice of engines is available: A 2.4-liter inline-4 comes standard, revised for 2004 and rated at 160 horsepower. A new 3.3-liter V6 that produces 230 horsepower is optional on the base Highlander and standard on the Limited. All Highlanders come with automatic transmissions.
The base four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive model ($24,080) comes with air conditioning, power windows and door locks, cruise control, cloth upholstery, sophisticated anti-lock brakes, seating for five, and electronic stability control (VSC). The all-wheel-drive model ($25,480) is similarly equipped. The V6 is optional ($1,060), but if you order it on the 4WD model, then you have to take the optional third-row seat as well ($850).
Highlander Limited 2WD ($29,980) and 4WD ($31,380) come standard with V6 and third-row seat as standard equipment. The Limited also gets automatic climate control, an eight-speaker JBL sound system, eight-way power driver's seat with adjustable lumbar support, four-way power passenger seat, 17-inch aluminum wheels, roof rack, fog lights, rear privacy glass, heated mirrors, remote keyless entry with security system and engine immobilizer, wood-grain interior trim, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and other amenities.
Leather seating is available for the Limited ($670) or base model ($2,255). Other options: tilt-and-slide glass sunroof ($900), in-dash six-CD changer ($595). The optional rear-seat DVD system ($1,770) includes two wireless headphones, RCA input jacks for video games, and a household-style 115-volt AC power outlet. GPS navigation ($2,200) is offered on Limited only. A Towing Package ($160) includes trailer wiring plus an upgraded radiator, transmission oil cooler, and 130-amp alternator.
We recommend the optional side-curtain and seat-mounted side-impact airbags ($680), which are designed to protect the heads and torsos of passengers in the first two rows. Highlander's airbags are more sophisticated for 2004. Sensors in both front seats adjust the frontal airbags to react appropriately to the severity of the collision and the weight of the passengers.