Experienced by Kimatni D. Rawlins
When I recently visited family and friends in Charlotte, NC I experienced nothing but southern hospitality from various aspects of the spectrum including my test ride. I felt like an urban cowboy as I rolled through high land in Toyota’s latest AWD SUV. Upon arrival and vehicle pickup my host set the seats to “cool” since it was blazing hot that day, inputted my next destination in the intuitive 8” navigational system and let me ride out in style.
It was a pitch perfect day for cruising since the weather met my expectations. Locals were out riding their mountain bikes and jogging, lunches were served outside on patios and the hustle and bustle of business was taking place at a rapid pace. Charlotte is becoming trendier by the day and the new Highlander fit right in. I must say the Japanese auto brand has become keen on offering Lexus-like amenities in their expansive vehicle lineup. With seating for up to 7 passengers, AWD (Snow Mode), Hill-Start, Downhill Assist Control, a hitch, and cargo cross bars hovering over the one-touch open/close and tilting Moonroof with sunshades, the Japanese SUV offers niceties for active lifestylers such as myself!
The styling is no longer mundane and typical of a mass-market vehicle. Its physique is sleek, chiseled and friendly on the eyes. While passing by Bank of America Stadium I thought to myself how Panthers football players would welcome the Highlander with mutual respect. As a former baller myself, the sport utility is sizeable enough for larger athletes and earns the admiration needed for the status quo. My burgundy hued ride — officially dubbed Ooh LA LA Rouge Mica — was outfitted with jazzy 5-star 19” Chromtec rims tucked in 245/55/19 Bridgestone rubber, stationary running boards, robotic taillamps, and a power tailgate replete with a progressive spoiler and flip-up window to bring freshness to the rear cabin. Small, thoughtful touches include a thin layer of metal along the top of rear bumper to keep scratches away when loading and unloading, blacked-out B and C pillars, wheel well and bumper body cladding, and a hitch which is integrated within a single step platform so you reach the rear rack.
On the road the Highlander is strong enough for quick bursts of acceleration when loaded down and pretty agile for its size. I felt no qualms prancing through traffic during the lunch hour rush hour. The stealthy SUV is backed by a 3.5-liter DOHC V6 engine with a 5,000-lb towing capacity; a 6-speed automatic transmission; and Dynamic Torque Control AWD. With those grippy tires I was assured extended safety knowing all four wheels were being put to work for both safety and convenience.
Step inside the Toyota to welcome yourself to a brave new world of technology and comfort. They loaded the luxuriant cabin with particulars associated with modern times and expectations from savvy customers. It begins with three rows of theater styled seating including middle row captain chairs that recline, side window shades, a middle lunch tray that stores to the side when not needed, a 120V outlet, and large cup holders and storage pockets throughout. All rows fold flat as well. My Highlander’s multi-layered and colored (tan/silver/black) cabin is one of the key attributes that equate it to luxury. Most operations can be ignited from the thick multi-function steering wheel such as audio and phone controls. Your infotainment and visual needs are commanded from the 8” Touchscreen Display including navigation, predictive traffic maps, backup camera, trip stats, audio settings from the Entune JBL system, and other various Apps such as the Eco and Message menus. I am also a fan of the In-Dash shelf which extends the width of the console. I stored all types of items there from my phone to power bars. Lastly, a secondary 4.2” color driver information center sits over the steering wheel and displays inputs from open doors to music selection.
My time was short in North Carolina but it was well spent in the 2015 Toyota Highlander Limited with the Platinum Package (Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert, Driver Technology Package, Heated Steering Wheel, Captain Chairs and Panoramic Roof). MSRP is $43,790 for my particular vehicle and $47,671 total with MPG set at 18 city and 24 highway. Well done Toyota!