Hello TN forum - Just bought a 2012 V6 awd SE with metallic Gray/black leather. With the second baby we upgraded to an SUV, I had 2010 VW GTI and a 2010 BMW 328i before.
Currently, my daily drive is a 1995 BMW 525I wagon while wife and kids ride in Highlander. Here's my brief review since we only had the Highlander for about two weeks now. We were all set to pick up the new CRV. We had about 8 cars on our list to test drive - 1- CRV,2- PILOT, 3- Murano, 4- Pathfinder, 5- Highlander, 6- 4-runner, 7- Venza, 8- Outback. We stopped at Toyota dealership first to get it out of our system. While we stood in the parking lot and looked at 20 or so Highlanders/4-runners in all sorts of trims, I was mentally discounting them for being boring and of lower quality interior materials (that all changed after an hour).
The dealership was crowded on Saturday afternoon and I was bit reluctant to look for a sales person and get him to find us a car to test drive. After talking back and forth with my wife we decided to at least test drive it before coming to a conclusion. I found a sales person who found a base model in remote storage garage.
My wife and two kids with their seats sat comfortable in the back. I took the car on a busy road with a lot of construction and then eventually took it to the highway. The suspension was great; it absorbed all bumps and road cracks silently. The V6 pulled effortlessly and the transmission shifted gears butter smooth. I was truly impressed with interior details, storage areas everywhere. There are 12 cup holders in this thing (my BMW has none). The stock stereo which comes with tech package sounded great. The dash layout was simple yet functional; the material quality was Okay in the base model. We couldn't believe that we liked Highlander this much. I drove Venza right after that; I just made a u-turn after driving for a mile as it didn't feel as comfy as Highlander but interior was better appointed with more details but drivetrain noises were more pronounced.
Later that day, we stopped by at Honda dealership and test drove Pilot and CRV. Pilot was big and I liked the interior a lot, the center console was very attractive with nice materials all around. It felt too big on the road, although the comfort level was similar but Highlander felt smoother. The handling had a classic Honda signature; it was not bad at all. It was time for CRV; the interior was very well laid out using good materials. The ride was a lot bumpier and noisier - just like the outgoing CRV, may be a little less. My wife immediately noticed the huge blind spot on the right and was very uncomfortable during her turn of the test drive.
Our initial budget was up to $27K, but after checking out the other options I was all set to buy a bigger SUV.
I test drove Murano and Pathfinder the next day. Both cars were equipped with all options and obviously the ride was great. Wife didn't like the Pathfinder at all, I did because I was in the driver's seat. The rear seat room is nowhere close to a Highlander. Murano's ride was good but it lacked the space we were looking for. Although the discounts were huge on them (I wonder why - long term Murano reviews are not good, people have posted all kinds of problems,CVT, suspension, brakes etc.)
Later, I went to a different dealership after few more days and test drove Highlander again along with a 4-runner. I loved the 4-runner but with kids I couldn't resist Highlander's practicality and easy to drive road manners.
My wife concluded that Highlander is like a bigger GTI but a lot more smoother (of course not as fast as the turbo 2.0L) but it had plenty of power for a primary family hauler.
I bought the car from the first dealership I visited after a week since they had the color in a trim I wanted and gave me a competitive price (I got quotes from 5 different dealers + online resources). Also have them installed the remote starter.
So far we have ~500 miles which consists of 70% city and 30% highway miles. I got the front two windows tinted with Huper Optik 50% film. Future add-ons - I gotta install mudguards and may be a hood protector. I'm not too sure about adding running boards at this point, may be later. I absolutely love the ride, auto rear hatch is amazing (you can't miss on this option; it's really handy as you can open it with remote too, love the way the rear can be converted into two captain chairs, sunroof is another option I didn't want but now that I have it, I think it's a must have, I can leave it open on the highway as very less air draft and makes less noise. The leather quality seems better than in my Autobahn equipped GTI, leather is thicker grade. The big control knobs are fine, back up camera is handy but you really can't depend on it as it doesn't show up those helpful grid lines while pulling out or getting in the parking spot. Dash cluster is simple and easy to read, I like the red and white combination in cluster. The leather wrapped steering feels great. The buttons on the steering wheel are bit awkward though, Toyota should consider roller button for volume or may be add a mute button as well.
Few things I wish were better: placement of Emergency brake - I just don't like EB in the foot area, may be a electrical one should be standard as other car manufacturers are offering these on cheaper models, I wouldn't have mind the pull up lever in the center console either (i know you have to sacrifice space) but I use the parking brake a lot as my driveway is inclined and I donít want to stress my tranny when I park. The other minor issue I see is all window buttons don't illuminate. Other than that, it's a perfect family SUV.
Sounds like yall test drove almost every car in the middle size SUV/CUV class (minus Ford/GM/Chrysler), must have been a busy few days figuring things out.
Personally though, I'm a fan of the parking brake mounted there. I almost always use my PB when I park, and its real quick/convenient being there.
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