Comment on new Toyota Highlander (was: Results of Weekend Shopping for a New Car For My Mother)

I actually drove the new Highlander this past weekend and I thought I pass along my impressions:
The good:
- 4 cylinder engine has decent power and it moves the car just fine -
not much different than the V6 Freestyle it replaced, but ....(see below) - Transmission seemed flawless - Great seats, better than the Freestyle - Controls much better than the RAV4's my Sisters own. I think Toyota should fire the guys that did the RAV4 and let the Highlander guys redo them. I do wonder about the Japanese obsession with HUGE control knobs,. Does anyone need a 2.5" diameter knob to tune the radio? It is like something from a WWII Shot Wave Radio (ditto forf the other knobs). (see below) - Third seat is very easy to raise lower, much better than the Freestyles...but (see below). It worked like the third row seat in my 2003 Expedition (but easier to reach, but not split) - Smooth ride but .... (see below) - Interior is ver spacious - For only a couple of thousand more than a similar RAV4, you get a much better vehicle - I wonder how many RAV4 buyer ough to look at the Highlander - I was really happy with how much car my Mother got for the money
The bad:
- The 4 cylinder engine is very noisy - much louder than the V6 in the Freestyle. The engine noise is very noticeable, especially since the vehicle is otherwise very quiet. It is not too bad at a highway cruise, but very noticeable when accelerating. - While the ride is very smooth, the car is awfully "floaty." Reminds me of some of the old Chryler stuff or the Grand Marquis my Mother used to own. This won't be a problem for my Mother but I'd like soemthing a little tighter. Manybe the suspension fior ther "Sport Model" would suit me better. - Although the controls are better than the RAV4's, they could use some improvement. The knobs and buttons for the radio and HVAC are all big and shiny and not particularly well laid out. The industrial designers need to tone this down, Form should follow function. The controls should not look like some bizarre modern art sculpture. This is something the Japanese designers are addicted to and it is starting to influence American designers. The controls in my current (2009) F150 are showing this influence. They are easily the worst I've ever had in a US designed vehcile (but still not as bad as the RAV4s my sisters own). The F150 has two many big knobs arranged in some sort of pattern that is not really related to the function. They are arranged to look cool. And this cool looking arangement is just silly. There are decades of study available on how to do controls and the Toyota designers have tried to ignore all of them (Honda is just as bad, and apparently Ford is copy catting the bad ideas becasue they think it is what sells). - Although the third row seat is much easier to deploy than the seat in the Freestyle my Mother used to own, this ease comes at a price. The Freestyle seat was a complicated arrangement that folded into a well at the rear of the car and it had no significant effect on the cargo load height. When the Freestyle seat was raised, there was a huge well at the rear of the car that my Mother found perfect for groceries. There is no well behind the Highlander's third row seat. It folds on itself (thinner cushions than the Freestyle) and the rear cargo floor is higher than it could have been with the Freestyle type seat. It is a trade off. Given the choice, I'd go with the Highlander stlye seat, but I think my Mother wishes it was more like the one in the Freestyle (which she could not deploy herself...I always had to do it for her). I think the Highlander third seat is potentially more useful, but I doubt it will see much use. Still it is very easy to raise and lower. It would have been nice if it was split so you could raise half at a time, but this is only a minor (very minor) complaint.
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