2012 Toyota Highlander Reviews and Ratings

Utility 4D Limited 4WD

Consumer Reviews

Own this vehicle? How would you rate it?

My Rating

Fuel Economy
Interior Comfort
Ride Quality
Overall Rating

My Review

Type your review and click the Submit button
600 of 600 character remain

Customer Review

Be the first to review this 2012 Toyota Highlander.

View All Car Reviews

Expert Reviews ( 2 )

2012 Toyota Highlander
New Car Test Drive

The Toyota Highlander is a midsize SUV that's smooth and quiet underway, with a versatile cabin that seats seven. Highlander is a crossover SUV, meaning it's built more like a car than a truck, while feeling nice and big like a truck SUV. It's based on the platform of the Toyota Camry midsize sedan.

All Highlanders were extensively revised for 2011, with freshened styling and upgraded audio and safety systems. There are no additional changes to the 2012 Highlander.

The 2012 Highlander comes with a choice of powerplants. The base 2.7-liter four-cylinder makes 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, and delivers EPA fuel economy ratings of 20/25 mpg City/Highway. It's matched with a 6-speed electronically controlled automatic overdrive transmission, and is available only with two-wheel drive.

The optional 3.5-liter V6 is extremely smooth and delivers 270 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. Also smooth is its 5-speed automatic transmission, which downshifts seamlessly to provide ample punch for passing. Front-wheel-drive Highlanders with the 3.5-liter V6 are EPA-rated at 18/24 mpg City/Highway; Highlander AWD (all-wheel drive) models are rated slightly lower at 17/22 mpg, which is about what we got in the AWD V6 we drove, including a 300-mile freeway run.

There's also a Highlander Hybrid, whose gas/electric powertrain uses three electric motors: One to drive each axle, for AWD, and a third to regulate the electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT). The Highlander Hybrid's gasoline engine is essentially the same 3.5 liter V6, but with port, rather than direct, fuel injection and milder tuning producing 231 horsepower and 215 pound-feet of torque. But add in the additional punch of the electric motors, and the total system horsepower is 280. EPA estimated fuel economy is 28 mpg, city or highway. Unfortunately, we found it difficult to achieve that during our winter test drive using power accessories full blast.

Highlander offers a quiet cabin and a comfortable ride, while being a pleasant way to carry a group of people, with generous space for passengers and cargo. A versatile cabin adds to its attractiveness as a family vehicle. The second row can slide forward and back, and the third-row seat is good for children and capable of carrying adults. Getting in and out of the first two rows is easy, and Toyota provides both a walk-through and a fold-and-slide-forward second-row seat to ease access to the third row. Model Lineup
The 2012 Toyota Highlander offers a choice of three powertrains, three trim levels and front or all-wheel drive. The base Highlander comes with the 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine ($28,090) or a 3.5-liter V6 ($29,245). Highlander SE also comes with either the four-cylinder ($32,695) or 3.5-liter V6 ($33,850). Highlander Limited ($35,595) comes standard with the V6. All of these models are front-wheel drive.

All-wheel-drive models all have the 3.5-liter V6, and are available in base ($30,695), SE ($35,300), and Limited ($37,045) trim. Highlander Hybrid models come standard with all-wheel drive and are available in base ($38,140) and Limited ($43,795) trim only.

Highlander comes standard with air conditioning; cloth upholstery; 40/20/40 second-row seat with a removable center section that can be stowed under the first-row center console; 50/50 third-row seating with rear climate control; AM/FM/CD with six speakers, MP3/WMA playback, and an auxiliary input jack; power windows, door locks, folding mirrors and remote keyless entry; cruise control; variable intermittent wipers front and rear; rear defogger; rear spoiler; tilt/telescope steering wheel; two front and one cargo-area 12-volt power outlets; daytime running lights; and 245/65R17 tires on alloy wheels.

Hybrid models add fog lights; and a 3.5-inch multifunction display screen that includes a rear backup camera, a clock, tire-pressure display, air conditioning readout, and outside temperature and trip computer information, in addition to all the hybrid-related features.

Highlander SE also adds fog lights and a 3.5-inch multifunction display screen, plus leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and display controls; leather seats with heat for the front row; power tilt/slide moonroof; SiriusXM satellite radio, USB port, and other audio upgrades; Homelink universal transceiver; opening glass in the rear hatch; rear tonneau cover; a lever in the cargo area to fold the second-row seats; lighted vanity mirrors; visor extenders; second-row reading lights; heated outside mirrors: and a power liftgate.

Highlander Limited models upgrade with tri-zone automatic climate control; 10-way power driver's seat; four-way power front passenger's seat; Smart Entry; and interior wood trim. The Limited models are distinguished with more chrome and bright trim than other models, and bold 19-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels wearing 245/55R19 tires. Hybrid Limited models come with the same features as the Limited.

The Tech Package ($1835) for base models includes most of the electronic and convenience features from the SE, but skips the leather upholstery and moonroof. A Leather Package ($2305) for the base Hybrid adds leather, the moonroof, and a few additional conveniences. The base Hybrid can also be fitted with 19-inch alloy wheels ($1020). A Cold Weather Package ($60) for either base model adds heated exterior mirrors and a windshield wiper de-icer. A power liftgate ($400) is also available. Hybrid, SE, and Limited models can be ordered with voice-activated navigation ($2650). Hybrids, Limiteds, and Hybrid Limiteds can add rear-seat DVD entertainment, or a premium JBL stereo ($650). Tow packages are available ($200).

Safety features on all models include dual front airbags, front side-impact airbags for thorax protection, head-protecting curtain side airbags that cover all three seating rows, a driver's knee airbag, active front headrests, daytime running lights, tire-pressure monitor, antilock brakes, traction control, antiskid control, and hill-start assist. Smart Stop automatically reduces engine power when the brake and accelerator pedals are applied simultaneously. Downhill assist control is standard on AWD models. Walkaround
The Toyota Highlander is in the heart of the midsize crossover SUV market, and is about the same size as the Honda Pilot. Highlander's 95.4 cubic feet of cargo room is more than all but a handful of competitors in the popular midsize class.

The Highlander fits in the middle of Toyota's four-pronged midsize SUV lineup. It features softer styling than the 4Runner midsize SUV and the retro-styled FJ Cruiser. Truck-based platforms, rugged suspensions and low-range transfer cases make 4Runner and FJ Cruiser highly capable off road. The Highlander is based on the same architecture as that of the Camry and Avalon sedans. Highlander's all-wheel-drive systems are designed for taming slippery pavement and wintry conditions, not for climbing rocks and traversing rough terrain. Likewise, the Toyota Venza is a mid-size vehicle that further blurs the line between wagon and SUV. Also based on the Camry platform, the Venza is even more carlike than the Highlander.

The design of the Highlander is clean, and accented on each side by a character line that leads into pronounced wheel arches. The look is more SUV than station wagon, and the available 19-inch alloy wheels add to the muscular stance.

The Hybrid has its own grille and front bumper fascia: Dominated by horizontal slots, it looks high-tech, maybe even a little futuristic; while the standard Highlander front end prominently features a more truck-traditional, six-sided grille. Both grilles are plastic, as they almost all are nowadays, but the Highlander grilles are clearly so. The foglamps on the SE and Limited have odd silver eyebrows that seem reversed, as they travel toward the center of the car. Makes you want to swap the lights from left to right. Hybrids make the ôeyebrowsö less obvious by having them sweep from the bottom of the lamps; and by tucking the entire foglamp assembly inside a vertical nacelle. Interior
The Highlander has a quality, upscale cabin. The seating position is way up high, and forward visibility excellent, without losing the corners of the car. The seats are comfortable on three-hour trips, but they're pretty flat and could use more body contour.

Fit and finish are excellent and the design is attractive. There are more hard plastic finishes than in a Lexus, but those plastics are nicely grained and assembled with care.

The secondary controls are easy to spot, and they move with precision. A 3.5-inch multi-function screen at top center on the dash displays the trip computer and climate control information; it's optional on the base model and standard on all others. This same screen displays the image from the rear backup camera whenever you shift into reverse. It's the smallest rearview camera screen we've ever seen, except for those tiny ones in the rearview mirror. We watched it carefully as we backed toward a chain-link fence around a driveway one dark night, and if we hadn't stopped and looked over our shoulder to double-check, we would have backed into the fence even with the rearview camera.

With the optional navigation system, the camera is projected onto the larger navigation screen, making the image much easier to see. This is a proper rearview camera. This screen also displays some of the audio controls, adding an extra step or two when changing stations, and adding distraction. The voice navigation messed up big time, when we used it. It misguided us past an easy freeway interchange we knew by heart. And it repeatedly and annoyingly interrupted our radio listening, to warn of traffic delays ahead that didn't exist. Overall, however, the Toyota navigation system works better than most.

Highlander Hybrid models have some exclusive interior touches. The gauges are trimmed in a soothing blue instead of raspy red, and a power meter replaces the tachometer. Displayed either on the small multifunction screen or the navigation screen are Consumption and Energy Monitor information. The Consumption screen displays fuel economy in real time and five-minute increments, and the Energy Monitor screen employs a schematic to show when the gas engine and electric motors are in use. It may be fun to watch these screens, but be careful because they can distract attention from the road.

The elevated ride height and upright seating position give Highlander that desirable SUV trait but with easier step-in than older, truck-based SUVs.

The front seats are comfortable, and visibility is good to all corners. Head and leg room are generous in the first and second rows.

Second-row captain's chairs are comfortable, and the Highlander has a handy removable center seat that can be replaced by a center console. The area between the second-row seats can also be left open to provide a walkthrough to the standard third row. Either the center console or the center seat can be stowed beneath the front seat center console.

Third-row seating is aided by second-row seats that can slide forward. Adults can fit, but the seat cushion is set low, so it's still not ideal for long trips. Access to the third row is easy from the passenger's side, as the second row captain's chair flips and slides forward in one motion. The driver's side chair folds flat, but doesn't slide forward far enough to allow passengers to walk through.

For cargo space, the second- and third-row seats fold flat to open up a very useful 95.4 cubic feet. Tethers and levers are provided in the cargo area to make folding and unfolding the seats a breeze. The available separate opening rear glass is a nice convenience, and the load height is low for an SUV, making it easier to load groceries, duffle bags, and other cargo. Cup holders abound, with 10 cup holders scattered throughout the cabin, with bottle holders in the doors. There's plenty of storage for small items. Driving Impressions
The Toyota Highlander is a pleasant vehicle to drive. Most notable is the ride quality, which is luxurious or soft, depending on your viewpoint. Even with the available 19-inch wheels, the suspension smoothes all but the most jarring bumps. There is a bit of unwanted float on highways and on winding roads, though, and some folks find it too soft. Hybrids have slightly more road feel, but are still quite comfortable, making them a better choice for those who find the standard suspension too soft.

The suspension emphasizes a soft ride over taut handling. All models lean when cornering and braking. Steering feel is light, but the response is somewhat slow. We would not describe the Highlander as nimble. The Nissan Murano offers better handling. Traction control and electronic stability control come standard on the Highlander.

The 3.5-liter V6 propels the Highlander front-wheel-drive models from 0 to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds, 7.8 seconds with all-wheel drive. A manual shift gate allows choosing the gear you want. From inside the cabin, the V6 can barely be heard, emitting only a refined growl under hard acceleration. In all models, wind noise is well-checked, and the only notable interior noise is some tire hum on rough pavement.

The all-wheel-drive system in the gas models provides a full-time 50/50 front/rear torque split. In Hybrid models, the AWD system is front-drive biased, but when it detects slippage, the rear-mounted electric motor can kick in to deliver up to 25 percent of the available power to the rear wheels. Both systems will help you get the kids to school on snowy days, and we did just that.

We tested a Highlander in the Pacific Northwest in the middle of the winter. We drove around for two days on icy roads with our Hybrid, and it performed brilliantly, both to provide traction and to stop the vehicle safely. We tackled steep icy hills and the all-wheel-drive did its thing to keep moving the car forward without noticeable slipping. We charged down those icy hills and floored the brake pedal, and the ABS stopped the Highlander as quickly as possible. We tested the steering during ABS braking by making S turns while it was sliding on the ice. The Highlander's control was perfect.

One of our test vehicles was fitted with Toyo A20 Open Country all-season tires, P245/55R19, not even snow tires, wrapped around handsome 10-spoke 19-inch alloy wheels. We recommend winter tires for the best traction on snow.

We hung it out in icy curves (at relatively slow speeds), and the stability control kept the Highlander true to its intended path. What a wonderful feeling of security on those icy roads: whether accelerating uphill, hard braking, or around curves, the Highlander covered us.

We also drove a V6 Highlander Limited, on the same icy roads a few days later, and it too took everything in stride. It used similar 19-inch Bridgestone tires, the Dueler H/L brand, not the winter Blizzak tires. The anti-lock brakes in the Limited were rougher than on the Hybrid, with more noise and pedal vibration. At one point sliding down a steep icy hill at 3-4 mph, ABS fully engaged, we tried to steer away from the snow-covered ditch at the side of the road, but the front wheels continued to slide and not steer; apparently there is a limit, when they say you can steer with ABS engaged. So we tapped the DAC button by the shift lever, and Downhill Assist Control kicked in. It's standard equipment on AWD models. We totally took our feet off the pedals, the steering in the front wheels came back, and we maintained that safe crawl to the bottom of the icy hill. Look Ma, no feet.

The Hybrid powertrain, called Hybrid Synergy Drive, mates a 3.5-liter V6 with three electric motors for a total of 280 horsepower. The powertrain is a little rougher than the standard V6 but is still quite refined. The transmission is a continuously variable automatic that constantly adjusts gearing ratios instead of changing gears.

Like all hybrids, when you first turn the key, nothing seems to happen. But it is ready and operational. The gas engine just doesn't start until it's needed. However for us it was needed virtually all the time. We drove our Hybrid around town in cold weather for a week, and the gas engine was needed to power the accessories. Stopped at a red light, at the drive-through window at the bank, anywhere: the gas engine kept running. We averaged 18.2 miles per gallon for that week, rarely reaching 35 mph. If the EPA gets 28 mpg in the city, their city must include a lot of 25-mph zones with no stoplights.

Under the right conditions (full battery charge, warm day, not using heat or air conditioning), you can press the EV button and drive the Hybrid up to two miles at less than 25 mph on electric power only. For example, looking for a parking space at the mall. The Highlander Hybrid is the first Toyota hybrid to offer an EV button in the U.S. We suggest using it around town, more than we apparently should have.

The continuously variable transmission feels natural. It has a standard drive mode, which allows the Hybrid to freewheel down hills, as well as a B mode, which uses more engine compression to slow the vehicle when the driver's foot is off the throttle, while recharging the battery pack more aggressively. Summary
The Toyota Highlander offers generous room for people and cargo, a choice of powertrains, ample performance and decent fuel mileage. The V6 engine with 5-speed automatic transmission is extremely smooth, and with fuel mileage nearly as good as the four-cylinder at a price only $1155 more, it's good value. The Hybrid model offers a proven powertrain with increased fuel mileage and lower emissions. With Toyota's reputation for reliability and resale value, the Highlander makes sense for active families.

Sam Moses reported from Oregon's Columbia River Gorge; Kirk Bell reported from Chicago.

Model as tested
Toyota Highlander Limited 4WD ($37,045)
Basic Warranty
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in
Fukuoka, Japan; Princeton, Indiana
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested
Navigation System ($2,650) includes JBL premium audio system with nine speakers, 4CD, compass, Bluetooth hands-free cell phone capability; tow prep package ($220); all-weather floor mats ($245); roof rail crossbars ($229)

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Toyota Highlander ($28,090); Highlander SE ($32,695); Highlander V6 ($29,245); Highlander SE V6 ($33,850); Highlander Limited V6 ($35,595); Highlander AWD V6 ($30,695); Highlander SE AWD V6 ($35,300); Highlander Limited AWD V6 ($37,045); Highlander Hybrid ($38,140); Highlander Hybrid Limited ($43,795)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual front airbags, front side-impact airbags for thorax protection, head-protecting side-curtain airbags that cover all three seating rows, driver's knee airbag, active front headrests, tire-pressure monitor, antilock brakes, traction control, electronic stability control, brake assist, EBD, hill-start assist, Downhill Assist Control (AWD), Smart Stop Technology
Safety equipment (optional)
3.5-liter dohc 24-valve V6
5-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
leather upholstery; three-zone automatic climate control; AM/FM/CD stereo with six speakers, MP3/WMA playback capability, SiriusXM satellite radio (includes 90-day trial subscription,), USB port with iPod connectivity, and automatic sound leveling; Bluetooth hands-free phone and music streaming; 50/50 third row; 40/20/40 second row seat with a removable center section; power moonroof; opening rear glass, cargo cover, cargo area levers to fold the second-row seats; power windows, door locks, liftgate and mirrors; remote keyless entry; cruise control; tilt/telescope steering wheel; three 12-volt power outlets; 3.5-inch multifunction display screen with rearview camera, clock, tire-pressure display, air conditioning readout, and outside temperature and trip computer information; variable intermittent wipers; rear defogger with variable intermittent wiper; rear spoiler; fog lamps

Engine & Transmission
3.5-liter dohc 24-valve V6
Drivetrain type
all-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
270 @ 6200
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)

Brakes, front/rear
vented disc/disc with ABS, EBD, Brake Assist
Suspension, front
independent MacPherson struts with L-shaped lower arms and stabilizer bar
Suspension, rear
dual-link with struts and stabilizer bar

Seating capacity
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear

Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight

2012 Toyota Highlander
NADAguides Test Drive Review
A mid-size crossover, the 2011 Toyota Highlander combines Toyota reliability with the utility of a SUV. Unlike some SUVs, the Highlander feels tight on corners with little sway and top heaviness. The Highlander also maintains safety at all speeds, giving the driver a sense of stability, reaffirmed by the lack of any major blind spots.

Although no major exterior design changes were made for the 2011 model year, the front fascia has been significantly improved, modernizing the vehicle. Overall the exterior is both stylish and attractive for the crossover segment, avoiding a minivan appearance completely. Exterior fittings are tight, designed with quality materials, for a pleasing visual aesthetic. SUV lines and 19-inch wheels gives the current Highlander an aggressive look that its predecessors lacked. Drivers have the option of multiple exterior colors including white, shades of silver, shades of tan, crimson, blue, green and black.

Toyota offers the Highlander with two different engines; a standard 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 187 hp/186 lb-ft of torque and an optional 3.5-liter DOHC V6 engine that yields 270 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque. The V6 engine is mated to a 5-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission that delivers smooth shifting and continuous power when needed. Power is plentiful, making the transition from city to freeway driving a breeze. Electronic steering lacks responsiveness but thanks to power assisted 4-wheel disc brakes the Highlander has reasonable stopping distance and control.

The interior of the car suffers from typical Toyota woes; a basic interior that lacks attention to detail. That being said, all controls are in functional locations and all climate, audio, steering, and mirror settings are incredibly intuitive. Steering wheel mounted controls and a large horn area add to convenience, but a few obstructions on the leather trimmed steering wheel may make it difficult to find a comfortable resting place for your hands. The quality of interior materials is adequate but nowhere near luxury level even though Toyota offers several premium features; voice activated touch-screen navigation, tri-zone climate control, and a nine speaker audio system. Seating, optimal for driver and passenger due to a 10-way power seat (driver) and a 4-way power seat (passenger), is best suited for six, with the option of squeezing in a seventh. Third row accessibility can be troublesome but overall dimensions are spacious. Third row seating is mainly for children while larger adults will fit comfortably in the second row. Both rows can be folded down to provide versatility for more trunk space.

Options are abundant, including hands-free phone capabilities, keyless start, premium sound with satellite radio, and heated front seats. Convenient features include a gas door pop located under the driver’s seat, spare tire (not full size), electronic trunk open/close, and rear-seat DVD entertainment system with wireless headphones to keep the kids occupied. Parking in narrow spaces is relatively easy thanks to a rear parking camera.

Overall the Highlander provides a solid combination of styling and comfort. Features, such as Hill-Start, Downhill Assist Control, Enhanced Vehicle Stability, Traction Control, and Brake Assist, give the driver peace of mind knowing they are wrapped in safety equipment. There may not be any bells or whistles but if you are looking for a reliable, modern, family hauler look no further.

Search car listings & find the right car for you
Click here for 2012 Toyota Highlander Utility 4D Limited 4WD local listings

Vehicle History Report

Get answers to buy with confidence
  • Check for accidents
  • Confirm the reported mileage
  • Purchase multiple reports and save

Car Buying and Selling Resources