Toyota Highlander, 2012: Tackles family, weekend duties with ease

James Raia

The 2012 Toyota Highlander is a three-row crossover that offers a choice between four-cylinder and V6 power, front-wheel drive (FWD) and full-time, four-wheel drive (4WD). The Highlander Hybrid, with EPA fuel economy estimates of 28/28-mpg city/highway, provides a nice blend of performance and fuel economy.

The 2012 Highlander is available in Highlander, SE and Limited grades with either front-wheel drive (FWD) or full-time four-wheel-drive (4WD). A 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 is standard on the Limited grade and available with other models. All Highlander Hybrids are equipped with four-wheel-drive with intelligence and are available in Highlander and Limited grades.

2012 Toyota Highlander Limited

Standard engine for the Base and SE models is a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine which produces 187 horsepower at 5,800 RPM and 186 lb.-ft. of peak torque at 4,100 RPM and offers an EPA-estimated 25 MPG rating in highway driving. The 2.7-liter engine is teamed exclusively with a six-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission.

The available 3.5-liter V6 (standard on Limited) produces 270 horsepower at 6,200 RPM and 248 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,700 RPM. The V6 is also equipped with dual VVT-i and a variable intake manifold. A five-speed, electronically controlled automatic transmission (ECT) offers selectable manual sequential shifting. 

The Highlander Hybrid model’s Hybrid Synergy Drive gained a new, more powerful 3.5-liter V6 in the previous model year, replacing a 3.3-liter V6. The system pairs the gasoline V6 engine with a high-torque electric drive motor-generator for total system output of 280 net horsepower. A second rear-mounted motor provides automatic on-demand four-wheel drive traction.

Exterior design of the Toyota Highlander was freshened for the 2011 model and carries over to 2012. Inside, the redo is more beneficial. Three rows of seats are now standard in all models. Bulky items can be loaded easily onto a flat load surface after the second and third row seats are stowed in the floor.

2012 Toyota Highlander third row seating is standard

The Highlander provides an open, airy and versatile interior with seating for seven or up to 95.4 cubic feet of total cargo capacity (94.1 for Highlander Hybrid). The front seats loft you above the weathered streets and allow you to survey the road ahead with an aristocratic, studied indifference. There are numerous storage compartments throughout the cabin, along with 10 cup holders, four bottle holders, two front and one cargo-area 12-volt auxiliary power outlets and cargo area tie down hooks.

Access to the third-row is made easy by placing the walk-in lever at an easy to reach position at the bottom of the passenger-side second-row seat. Standard one-touch levers inside the cargo area allow the second-row seats to fold forward and flat. The third-row seats function in a similar manner, using a lever in the back of the seat.

The voice activated touch screen DVD Navigation system awaits your commands, and the 9-speaker JBL audio sounds splendid when playing standard XM satellite radio. The Highlander also offers music streaming through Bluetooth wireless technology.

The optional tow package for V6 models enables up to 5,000-pound maximum towing capacity. The four-cylinder tow package enables up to 3,500 pounds of maximum towing capacity. A power liftgate that can be opened and closed with a key fob is an available option on the Base grade and standard on SE and Limited.

2012 Toyota Highlander interior

The Toyota Highlander is a great family car with its third row seating and easy driving feel. The Highlander's core strengths deliver a comfortable, affordable and safe crossover SUV for families.  Of course, it isn’t perfect — competitors offer more cargo space, more comfortable third-row seats and a driving experience that’s more engaging.

2011 Highlander Major Revisions Carried Over to 2012 Model Year

• Revised Styling with New Front Fascia, Hood and Fenders

• New Standard Three-Row Seating with Rear Climate Control

• Four-Cylinder Engine Availability Expanded (Base and SE models)

• More Powerful and Advanced V6 for Highlander Hybrid

• New User Technology

Pros: spacious and airy, flat storage area, 5,000 pound. tow rating

Cons: hit-or-miss remote tailgate release, bug-eye styling, 270 hp not enough for big loads and big hills

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Article Last Updated: January 23, 2012.

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