Midsize SUV; Built in Japan
  • 4-door wagon
  • transverse front-engine/front- or all-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $9,700 – $36,500*

2008 Toyota Highlander Front

2008 Toyota Highlander Rear

2008 Toyota Highlander Interior

2008 Toyota Highlander Profile

  • Instruments/controls
  • Passenger and cargo room
  • Ride
  • Fuel economy (Except Hybrid)
  • Rear visibility

Highlander is a refined, family-focused SUV that offers great practicality, cargo and passenger versatility, and evident quality. Versions with the conventional V6 engine best represent Highlander’s attributes. Hybrid models’ higher prices may take years to offset in fuel savings.


Redesigning of Toyota’s midsize crossover sport-utility vehicle for 2008 brought larger dimensions, more standard safety features, and a new engine. For 2008, Highlander grew nearly four inches in length and three inches in width, resulting in more passenger and cargo room. Highlanders seated up to seven with a stowable third-row seat. The second-row buckets offered three-passenger capacity via a detachable padded center section that folded and stowed in a first-row console when not in use. Rivals included the GMC Acadia, Honda Pilot, and Mazda CX-9.

Highlanders could have front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Non-Hybrid Highlanders came in Base, Sport, and Limited models and used a 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine. The AWD-only Hybrid came in Base and Limited trims and used a 3.3-liter V6 teamed with an electric motor for a combined 270 horsepower. Like Toyota’s other hybrids, it could run on either or both of its power sources depending on driving demands, and required no plug-in charging. Hybrids had a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Other Highlanders used a conventional five-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting capability. New for 2008 was the Hybrid’s EV mode that allowed the driver to put Highlander into full-electric drive mode for a limited distance. Also new was a driver-selectable Econ mode that regulated throttle inputs for optimum fuel economy.

Safety features included curtain side airbags with rollover deployment that covered the first two seating rows, front side airbags, a driver’s knee airbag, antilock brakes, traction control, and an antiskid system. Standard on all non-Hybrid AWD models was hill descent control, which helped regulate speed on downhill slopes. Options included a sunroof, DVD entertainment, three-zone climate control, and a navigation system.

Yearly Updates

2009 Highlander
New four-cylinder base models joined the Highlander lineup with a 187-horsepower, 2.7-liter engine and six-speed automatic transmission. The 270-hp 3.5-liter V6 was optional for base models and standard on Sport and Limited editions. Peak towing capacity was 3,500 pounds for the Hybrid and 5,000 for conventional gasoline-engine Highlanders.
2010 Highlander
The 2010 Toyota Highlander was largely unchanged. A rearview camera was newly available on the Base V6.
2011 Highlander
The 2011 Toyota Highlander got freshened styling and a revised gas/electric Hybrid model, which now came with a 3.5-liter V6 as opposed to a 3.3-liter on the 2010 model.
2012 Highlander
The 2012 Toyota Highlander saw only minor changes.
2013 Highlander
The main changes for the 2013 Toyota Highlander involved new infotainment systems and the promotion of an option package to trim-level status. The Highlander Plus, was the new model that slotted above the SE and effectively replaced the previous Tech Package option. The Highlander Hybrid saw only one notable change: a standard navigation system with Toyota’s Entune mobile-multimedia service. It replaced an older-style navigation system that had been optional.


transverse front-engine/front- or all-wheel drive

In regular Highlanders, a 3.5-liter V6 engine that producing 270 horsepower drives a five-speed automatic transmission. A 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine became available for 2009 teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission. Early Highlander Hybrids have a 3.3-liter V6 engine along with an electric motor for a combined 270 horsepower, and have a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). For 2011, Hybrids got a 3.5-liter V6. Gasoline-engine Highlanders may have front-wheel or all-wheel drive, but the Hybrid came only with AWD.

dohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.7/163
Engine HP 187
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 186
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
6-speed automatic


dohc V6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.5/211
Engine HP 270
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 248
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed automatic



dohc V6/electric1
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.3/202
Engine HP 270
Engine Torque (lb-ft) NA
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
CVT automatic


dohc V6/electric
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.5/214
Engine HP 280
Engine Torque (lb-ft) NA
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
CVT automatic


1. Hybrid. Combined gas/electric horsepower is 270.

Road Test

Highlanders with the conventional V6 engine have good all-around power. They’re peppy off the line and competent during midrange passing. Hybrids are nearly as strong; an equivalent Lexus RX 400h accelerated to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds. The responsive CVT helps, though the gas-electric powertrain is prone to subtle but annoying surging and bogging in cruising conditions. The Hybrid’s Econ mode severely limits throttle response from a stop to help save fuel.

Fuel economy falls short, except for the Hybrid. Conventional AWD Highlanders averaged 15.8 mpg in mostly city driving and 20.6 mpg with more highway use. A Lexus RX 400h hybrid averaged 22.7 to 23.5 mpg in a mix of city/highway driving. Conventional Highlanders use regular-grade fuel. Toyota recommends premium for Hybrids.

Ride comfort ranks among the best in class. A test AWD Limited floated smoothly over smaller bumps, though larger ones sometimes pounded through. Note that Sport models have a sport suspension that rides more stiffly.

Handling could be better. Highlanders are pleasant to drive, though not quite car-agile. Cornering lean is evident and steering response a bit slow on Base and Limited models; Sports are only slightly better. Overall control is fine, and brake-pedal feel is firm and progressive.

Highlanders are generally quiet, though wind and road noise are noticed at highway speeds. While accelerating, engines emit a rich, subtle purr, but the Hybrid’s electric motor is annoyingly whiny.

All versions have large, easy-to-read gauges and high-mounted audio and climate controls. The available navigation system is fairly intuitive but absorbs and complicates audio-system adjustments. Hybrids include a fuel-economy indicator gauge behind the steering wheel that shows when it’s being driven most efficiently. The Base model’s interior is fitted with above-average-grade plastics and comfortable cloth upholstery. Only the fuzzy headliner feels cheap. Sport models have good-quality suede and metal trim throughout the cabin. The Limited’s interior adds some unconvincing simulated wood trim.

Front seats are nicely supportive, with ample headroom and legroom. Forward visibility is good, thanks to an elevated seating position. Rear visibility is impaired by second-row headrests and thick rear roof pillars. Entering a Highlander requires only a modest step-up.

Second-row space is ample for two adults on a 40/20/40 split seat that slides fore/aft a few inches to benefit either second- or third-row legroom. The center section of the second-row seat can be configured in one of three ways: as a very narrow, sparsely padded seat; as a console with tray table; or as an empty passageway to the third row. That seat and console are interchangeable; the unused one can be slid into a compartment beneath the front console. The third-row bench can seat adults if the second row is moved forward, though they’ll sit knees-up and find little foot room. Only the passenger side of the second-row seat moves forward to allow third-row access, though children could get back there by climbing through the passageway between the second-row seats.

There’s only grocery-bag space behind the third-row seat, but that stows quickly to create a flat floor. The split second-row seatbacks are more cumbersome to fold and don’t lay quite flat. Sport and Limited models have a useful separate-opening glass in the rear hatch. Top-notch small-items storage includes 10 cupholders and four bottle holders, along with assorted map pockets and other convenient nooks and crannies.


Model Tested: 2009 Toyota Highlander AWD Limited

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.


Acceleration - 6
Fuel Economy - 4
Ride Quality - 7
Steering/Handling - 4
Quietness - 6


Controls/Materials - 7
Room/Comfort Front - 7
Room/Comfort Rear - 7
Cargo Room - 8


Value - 7

Total: 63


4-door wagon
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
109.8 188.4 75.2 69.3
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
95.4 19.2 7
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
40.6 40.1 43.2 38.3
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 2008 Toyota Highlander 4-door wagon


(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - 5
Front Passenger Injury - 4

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - 5
Rear Passenger Injury - 5


(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision N/A
Injury N/A
Theft N/A

Trouble Spots

Cold-starting problems
Description: The engine may not start in very cold (under 15 degrees F) temperatures requiring replacement of the ignition relay. (2006-08)
Exhaust system
Description: The chrome exhaust tip may fall off due to loose clamp. (2008)
Hard starting
Description: The engine may not crank or may start and immediately quit when using the “Push Start” switch and an improved switch is now available. (2008)
Oil leak
Description: Oil may leak from the rear of the engine on hybrid vehicles requiring replacement of an oil galley plug. (2008-09)
Oil pump
Description: The oil filter cover (cap) on hybrid engines is easily damaged unless the special service tool is used to remove it during service. (2008-09)
Audio system
Description: There may be noise in the auxiliary mode of their audio system when using an MP3 player or other audio device when connected to the 12V power port if the vehicle is equipped with the navigation system requiring an improved auxiliary port and in-line filter. (2008)
Description: The moon roof may not auto-close requiring reinitialization of the moon roof. (2006-09)

Recall History

2008 w/third-row seat
Description: Seatbelt’s Automatic Locking Retractor mode may deactivate before webbing is fully retracted, so it will not lock when certain rear-facing child seats are installed.
2008 w/optional stainless steel exhaust tips
Description: Due to improper heat treatment, original clamp used to secure exhaust tip to exhaust pipe may develop microscopic cracks, eventually causing clamp to break.
2008 Highlander and Highlander Hybrid
Description: In the curtain shield airbag (CSA) system, there are two sensors in the airbag sensor assembly which are designed to detect vehicle roll angle. If one of these sensors malfunctions, the airbag warning light (malfunction indicator light: mil) will illuminate and the roll detection system will be suspended; however, the airbag CSA remains available in the event of a side crash. If both sensors fail nearly simultaneously after initial airbag system check, the CSA and the seat belt pretensioner could be inadvertently activated. Inadvertent activation of the CSA and/or the seat belt pretensioner can cause injury to a vehicle occupant. Toyota will replace the airbag sensor assembly with a new one containing improved roll rate sensors, free of charge.
Description: The accelerator pedal can get stuck in the wide-open position due to its being trapped by an unsecured or incompatible driver’s floor mat. This recall is an expansion of a campaign of 3.8 million other Toyota vehicles announced in 2009 for the same issue. Toyota will modify or replace the accelerator pedals on the subject vehicles.
Description: Some vehicles were not equipped with correct load carrying capacity modification labels.
2008-2009 Highlander
Description: Power window master switch assemblies may malfunction and overheat due to irregularities in the lubrication process during assembly.
Description: Certain 2009 through 2013 model Highlander vehicles and 2009 through 2010 Hylander Hybrid vehicles that had accessories including leather seat covers, seat heaters, or headrest-mounted DVD systems installed by Southeast Toyota Distributors, LLC (SET) may not have a properly calibrated occupant sensing system in the passenger-side front seat. This makes it possible that the passenger’s side air bag will not deploy at all or deploy with inappropriate force for the size of the passenger in the seat.
Description: Due to the manner in which the friction lever interacts with the sliding surface of the accelerator pedal inside the pedal sensor assembly, the accelerator pedal may become hard to depress, slow to return to idle, or, in the worst case, mechanically stuck in a partially depressed position, increasing the risk of a crash. Dealers will install a reinforcement bar in the accelerator pedal, which will allow the pedal to operate smoothly.
Description: Certain 2010 through 2013 model Highlander vehicles and 2013 model Highlander Hybrid vehicles sold by Southeast Toyota Distributors, LLC (SET) may have been fitted with labels that inaccurately describe the vehicle’s weight.
Description: Certain 2013 model Toyota highlander vehicles made between March 13, 2013 and August 6, 2013 may have a second row seat on the left-hand side that does not correctly lock in place in all possible positions.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.


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