Editor’s note: You may also want to read Autotrader’s 2013, 2014, 2015 Toyota Highlander review or the in-depth article, Buying a Used Toyota Highlander: Everything You Need to Know.
Other manufacturers were quick to copy that recipe, but despite the best efforts of the competition, the 2012 Toyota Highlander is still a tough act to beat with its combination of durability, comfort and economy.
There are three trim levels: Base, SE, and Limited. What’s standard and what’s optional depends on which powertrain and trim level you choose.
When comparison-shopping, the Chevrolet Traverse is a capable crossover with more space than the Highlander. The Mazda CX-9 is a better handling SUV, but at the expense of ride comfort. The Kia Sorento offers a third-row seat at a lower price.
The seats in the Highlander won’t wow you with comfort, but they are mounted high, giving you an excellent view of the road ahead.
One thing we don’t like is that the dashboard contains a lot of hard plastic, and the materials are only average quality.
With the second and third row seats folded down and stowed, there’s an immense 94 cubic-feet of cargo space which is impressive for a mid-size SUV that doesn’t feel all that big from behind the wheel.
The driving experience in the Highlander is best described as "Camry-like." The Highlander doesn’t handle quite as crisply as the Mazda CX-9, but it’s refined and completely composed on pavement or rough surfaces.
There’s a 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine, a 3.5-liter V6 and a 3.5-liter V6 gas-electric hybrid to choose from. The 4-cylinder engine comes with a 6-speed automatic transmission, the traditional gasoline V6 comes with a 5 -speed automatic and the hybrid features a continuously variable (CVT) transmission.
The 4-cylinder Highlander is available in front-wheel-drive only. The gasoline V6 comes with a choice of either front- or four-wheel-drive and the hybrid is four-wheel-drive only. Towing capacity tops out at 3,500 pounds for the 4-cylinder Highlander, 5,000 for V6 and hybrid models.
The EPA found that the V6 isn’t much thirstier than the 4-cylinder engine, while the hybrid, as you’d imagine, is the Highlander’s most fuel-efficient model.
Safety equipment abounds in the Highlander, including a full complement of airbags, stability control and active front headrests. Crash test results were good in almost every category of IIHS evaluations.
Just over $28,000 will get you into a 4-cylinder, base Highlander, but if you’ve got your eye on the Hybrid, the price rises to around $38,500. All Highlander models are protected by Toyota’s 5-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty.
The Highlander created a new way of designing midsize SUV’s ten years ago and it’s only gotten better with age. The 2012 Toyota Highlander combines the goodness of the Camry with all the benefits of a sport-utility-vehicle, and that’s a very happy medium.