New Car Review: 2013 Toyota Highlander

Front 3/4 view of the 2013 Toyota Highlander

It's an interesting automotive phenomenon....how certain cars are invisible until you start driving one, and then you notice all the others like it on the road.

For most people it only happens with rentals or every few years when it's trade-in time, but for professional TireKickers like yours truly, it's a weekly occurrence, with an ever-changing group of invisicars drifting into and then falling off the radar.

Which brings us to the Toyota Highlander.  The Highlander has been with us for almost 13 model years now...and part of its relative invisibility might be that it changes relatively little.  For Hyundai and Kia, 13 years would bring at least four full re-designs...but the 2013 Highlander is the Gen 2 model...rolling on essentially unchanged since 2008.

And it's a groundbreaking vehicle, too...the first of the car-based crossovers...intended to eventually replace the truck-based 4Runner (which, rumor has it, may actually happen in the next year or two).

Rear 3/4 view of 2013 Toyota Highlander

Ours for a week was the 2013 Highlander Limited.  $39,400 gets a 3.5 liter V6 engine, 5-speed automatic transmission, full-time four-wheel-drive, 19-inch alloy wheels, all the usual electronic braking and handling assistants, every airbag you could ever want and hope never to need, projector beam headlights, fog lamps, variable wipers front and rear (the front has a de-icer, heated power outside mirrors, a power liftgate and a moonroof.

Interior view of 2013 Toyota Highlander

And that's just outside.  Inside, perforated leather heated 8-way power driver's seat and 4-way power passenger seat, a sliding and reclining 2nd row seat, a 50/50 third-row seat, a nav system, a 9-speaker JBL audio setup with AM/FM/CD/HD/SiriusXM/USB/Bluetooth, smart key, 3-zone climate control, leather-trimmed steering wheel and 3 12-volt outlets.

Ours added only cross bars ($229), door edge guards ($109) and floor and cargo mats ($280) for an as-tested price of $40,863.

Hey, it's nice.  There's not a thing wrong here.

Other than maybe....trying to recognize it in a parking lot.  It's thisclose to be GeneriCar.  Toyota's working to get more emotion into its styling, but they haven't gotten to the Highlander yet.  We're told some of that gets addressed with the 2014 Highlander, but to be honest, the photos we've seen from the auto show circuit look like someone slapped a Tundra grille onto a Venza.

The other downside is mileage.  A V6 with a 5-speed is old school and extra gears would help.  the EPA says 17 city/22 highway....19 combined.  We saw a combined 17.4.

Trouble is, one almost feels disloyal bringing those things up.  Not to Toyota, we have no allegiance to any manufacturer and they're all big boys and girls who can handle criticism, which is why you see us give it freely.

No, the disloyal feeling is for the car itself.  There's nothing wrong with the Highlander, apart from the invisibility and the could-be-better mileage.  It's well-equipped, it drives decently, it does everything it promises and everything any sane person would ask of a mid-sized Toyota crossover. And odds are it will run, largely trouble-free, darn near forever.