One-two punch

A midsize crossover with seating for up to eight people, choice of a 4-cylinder or V6 engine and either front-wheel or all-wheel drive, the 2016 Toyota Highlander fits the bill for a wide range of shoppers. Photo by Metro Creative Graphics
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A midsize crossover with seating for up to eight people, choice of a 4-cylinder or V6 engine and either front-wheel or all-wheel drive, the 2016 Toyota Highlander fits the bill for a wide range of shoppers. Photo by Metro Creative Graphics

Toyota SUVs start small in a big way

Toyota covers the bases when it comes to sport-utility vehicles, from compacts to full sized, from car-like to off-road worthy.

While the Japanese automaker holds onto yesterday with the 4Runner and the Land Cruiser and stays in the large SUV market with the Sequoia, it is the smaller, more refined entries in the lineup that are more often found on city streets. We’re going to take a quick look at two of those 2016 models today — the Highlander and the RAV4 hybrid.

Toyota Highlander

A midsize crossover with seating for up to eight people, choice of a 4-cylinder or V6 engine and either front-wheel or all-wheel drive, the Highlander fits the bill for a wide range of shoppers.

Highlanders come in five trims, plus there is a hybrid version. Pricing starts at $29,990 for an LE with the 185-horsepower, 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive. The top-of-the-line gas engine is a Limited Platinum with the 270-hp, 3.5-liter V6 and all-wheel drive for $44,490. The hybrid price points are $47,870 and $50,485 and only come with all-wheel drive.

We drove an XLE with the V6 engine and AWD that has a base price of $38,275. Maybe this trim isn’t fully loaded, but it is loaded with leather upholstery, sunroof, navigation, heated front bucket seats and pushbutton start. The second-row bench was swapped out for captain’s chairs and folding side table ($275), which reduce the seating to seven people.

Because the Highlander comes in shy of 16 feet, there is only 13.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row seat. That bench, which is best for small passengers, folds flat, however, increasing cargo room to 83.7 cubic feet.

There is a lot to like in the Highlander. It is quiet, rides and handles well, offers good views of the road and doesn’t fill the garage like a Sequoia. The V6 engine combined with a 6-speed automatic transmission won’t give you goosebumps when pushing the accelerator, but it is more than adequate for what will likely be a largely suburban-based clientele.

Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Like the Highlander, the compact RAV4 comes in multiple trims with either front-wheel or all-wheel drive. The beginning price is $24,350. There is also a new hybrid option that comes only with all-wheel drive. We drove the Hybrid SLE that starts at $28,370. A Limited model is priced at $33,610.

What we like about the Highlander — the refinement and carlike handling — comes here in a smaller package.

Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system is paid with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine to produce 194 horsepower. Best of all, mileage goes up by 50 percent in town to 34 mpg thanks to the ability to run on electric only. This is a stellar number for all-wheel drive.

Our lesser of the two Hybrid trims still came with niceties like sunroof, automatic dual-zone climate control, height-adjustable power lift gate, fog lamps and 17-inch alloy wheels in place of steel wheels.

The RAV4 sits lower to the ground than many compact SUVs, which makes step-in height easy but almost sneaks it into hatchback territory. Maneuverability is a plus, although don’t mistake that for whip-like handling. Composed would be a more apt term. Do take note that even though it is a hybrid there is some quickness involved as it is nearly a second faster from 0-60 mph than the regular RAV4.

With only two rows of seats, those folks in the back still have decent room. This also allows for good cargo space — 35.6 cubic feet with seats up and 70.6 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.

Toyota took its time in bringing a hybrid version into the RAV4. The results, and the price, have made the wait worth it.

David Mikesell is a free-lance automotive reviewer based in Indianapolis.


2016 TOYOTA HIGHLANDER XLE AWD

  • Price/As-tested price………………… $38,275/$41,485
  • Mileage…………………………………… 18 mpg/city; 24 mpg/hwy
  • Engine……………………………………… 3.5-liter V6
  • Horsepower…………………………… 270 hp/248 lbs.-ft.
  • Transmission……………………………………… 6-speed automatic
  • Drive wheels……………………………………… All-wheel drive
  • Final assembly point……………………………………… Princeton, Ind.

2016 TOYOTA RAV4 HYBRID XLE AWD

  • Price/As-tested price………………… $28,370/$33,385
  • Mileage…………………………………… 34 mpg/city; 31 mpg/hwy
  • Engine……………………………………… 2.5-liter 4-cylinder/electric
  • Horsepower…………………………… 194 hp
  • Transmission……………………………………… Continuously variable
  • Drive wheels……………………………………… All-wheel drive
  • Final assembly point……………………………………… Obu, Aichi, Japan