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There are numerous aspects that have helped separate Toyota from most of its competitors in the automobile world for more than a decade. To put it simply – they make good cars.

Search up and down the Toyota lineup and there simply isn’t a vehicle that can be deemed a failure. Some models like the Camry sell incredibly well, but even lesser-known vehicles like the Yaris slip into a category that fills a niche for Toyota and are viewed as quality automobiles.

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Personally, the sport utility vehicle offerings by Toyota have always been a favorite. Whether shopping for a compact SUV or a super-sized model, there is something in the Toyota lineup for everyone. If one includes the Venza, which some folks consider a wagon, Toyota has seven SUVs.

The Toyota SUV list includes the RAV4, 4Runner, Highlander, Land Cruiser, Sequoia, Venza, and the somewhat quirky FJ Cruiser. And if one desires a more upscale SUV, Lexus (Toyota’s luxury division) has four more to peruse.

One of the more highly rated Toyota SUVs is the Highlander, a sensible, well designed crossover that has three rows of seating and offers plenty of versatility.

The 2012 Toyota Highlander is a smart choice for a family vehicle and it delivers in many ways. It can haul seven passengers, is fuel-efficient (18-25 mpg), delivers that car-like ride that people expect from a crossover, is an attractive model, and offers a versatile cabin that can refigure itself nicely when the third row isn’t necessary.

And speaking of the Highlander’s third row, it typically gets criticized as being cramped. While there is some truth to the lack of third-row comfort, if one takes the time to learn the setup, the problem can be greatly reduced. By sliding the second row forward (yes, it does move) the third row becomes comfortable enough for even an average-size adult.

Even though the Highlander is an efficient seven-passenger SUV, overall it’s a bit undersized among its competitors, which includes the Honda Pilot, Mazda CX-9, Ford Explorer, Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, and Ford Flex.

The Highlander is a front-wheel drive SUV that naturally can be equipped with all-wheel drive capability. It has three trims – base, SE and Limited. Toyota makes the Highlander Hybrid as well.

The standard engine receives high marks here, a 3.5-liter, V6 that puts out 270 horsepower and has been clocked at 0-60 mph in 7.5 seconds. That’s pretty brisk acceleration for a midsize crossover. The other engine choice is a 2.7-liter, inline-4 that has 187 horsepower. If properly equipped in V6 mode, the Highlander can haul up to 5,000 pounds.

Like most Toyotas, the Highlander’s control panel is smartly arranged and fairly easy to master. Passengers will find that the Highlander delivers both comfortable seating and solid leg and head room. Although the cargo space is definitely lacking if three rows are utilized, the two-row configuration provides good hauling space.

The ride quality is universally considered among the best in class. The Highlander drives smoothly and it’s also easy to maneuver in tight spots and small parking spaces.

Overall, the Highlander is a strong candidate to consider when shopping for a family-friendly SUV. Although it can get pricy – approximately $35,745 for the Limited model – the Highlander delivers in practically every major category.

2012 Toyota Highlander

  • Performance: 2.7-liter, inline-4, 187 horsepower or 3.5-liter, V6, 270 horsepower
  • Mileage estimate: 18-25 mpg
  • Price: $28,240 to $35,745
  • Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles; drivetrain 5 years/60,000 miles; roadside assistance, 2 years/25,000 miles
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