Given that the first Highlander was a success worthy of Takeshi’s Castle, it was natural that the Toyota Highlander XU40 would follow. But have things gone better with the second generation?

The story begins in 1993 when the japanese had a business party…I mean luncheon and decided to take a Lexus ES and put it on stilts and so came the Lexus RX, an on-road SUV with some off-road capabilities and not vice-versa as was the industry norm at the time. And it was indeed a succes worthy of Takeshi’s Castle and that sparked the flame of the japanese Chelsea Tractor, so the second generation RX soon followed and by 2001 the parent company Toyota decided to have a go at with and came up with the Highlander which was basically the RX’s poorer cousin but that’s like saying you’re Sergio Oliva‘s slightly smaller cousin. You’re still pretty good.


So what about this Highlander? Is it still the RX’s poorer cousin?

  • Yes. But that’s still a good thing because the RX was always taking leaps from generation to generation and the Highlander still got alot of the good toys but only after a few years of the RX being tested in the real world so they would make sure that the Highlander would be good enough to keep up the sales. So what’s new about it?
  • The North American USA and Canada models came exclusively as 7 seaters, as the 5 seater was replaced with the newly released Toyota Venza which was also a huge succes, but now you didn’t have to think too much about it because you knew that if you needed the third row you would’ve gone for the Highlander, if not then go for the Venza. The rest of the world however still got the Highlander in both 5 and 7 seats option.
  • Bigger, heavier, slightly better soundproofed but not quite there yet. And if you think about the quality of the construction, then this 4000 lbs monster is not what you would expect from a Toyota.
  • Switched to Electric Power Assisted Steering and there’s alot of toys brought over from the RX but not too many in order to take the spotlight from the big Lexus.


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Toyota Highlander XU40 Engines


  • 2.7 l-4 1AR-FE of 188 horsepower – Sure it’s reliable and it’s an adequate engine for most cars, but on the 4000+ lbs Highlander it’s like having an asthmatic cough through a straw in order to keep you cool. Not going to work. But atleast you will pass the repair shop often. You won’t be going past it very fast, but you will get there eventually.
  • 3.5 V6 2GR-FE of 270 horsepower – Now we’re talking. This engine was carried over from the previous generation on the premises that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It was also available on the RX, but on the Toyota Highlander XU40 it only got an 5 speed automatic instead of the RX’s 6 speed and it had 7 horsepower less, which makes all the difference at this weight class. Probably. As notable issue would be the plastic oil cooler lines which can crack and/or burst in warm climates so replace them with steel lines. Or you can just check if the lines have been replaced, as it’s a likely scenario. Otherwise it’s just regular maintainance such as spark plugs, coilpacks and water pumps.


  • 3.3 V6 3MZ-FE hybrid of 235 horsepower – Launched in 2005 and kept around until 2010, this hybrid powertain proved it’s worth however I do have some concerns. Not related to the petrol engine which is an anvil of an engine that will bury you, and not even for the hybrid system as a whole because it’s reliable. My only real concern is that the batteries have an average lifespan of 10 years (or atleast that’s how much Toyota and Lexus warrant) so even the newest Highlander XU40’s are now out of warranty and that can get pretty expensive.
  • 3.5 V6 2GR-FXE + Electric of 245 horsepower – But 2010 came along and Toyota decided to bring over the hybrid powertrain from the 450h albeit reduced to 245 horsepower. Which would be fine, if the hybrid didn’t weigh in at 4500 lbs or 2 Paul Wights. I wouldn’t bother too much with a Highlander hybrid because it’s clear that for them the hybrid was more of an afterthought and not the base concept as it was with the RX. As I said with the RX, a FWD, naturally aspirated Highlander makes much more sense even than with the RX. And the batteries are getting old and on their way out.


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Toyota Highlander XU40 Reliability Issues

  • Air conditioning fails. It can clog, it can get smelly, it can stop working altogether. Kind of like me on every single work day.
  • The power tailgate hinges can bend and the tailgate no longer closes properly, and the tailgate also weighs in at 1000 lbs so good luck replacing the hinges by your own.
  • Speaking of power things, the windows can fall inside and the power window is just as useless as a beer dropped on the floor.
  • Don’t floor it in the cold or you will experience engine clatter. You might hear some funny noises on a cold start, but don’t worry too much about it. Just don’t floor it right off the bat.
  • As I mentioned earlier, this generation Highlander is subpar in terms of build quality. Interior rattles, paint thinner than my aspirations in life, that sort of thing. So make sure to test drive it before buying.
  • Still on road oriented and sub par on off-roading, as the australian Toyota Kluger graciously rolled off the gravel test track during the initial tests run by the press. Some say it was a hoax, some say the test mule was rigged. All we know is, you don’t want to try it yourself.


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Toyota Highlander XU40 Verdict

The Toyota Highlander XU40 had abit of a personality crisis and it wasn’t the brightest of the family. But it was necessary step and it’s still a good used buy even today, as long as you either stay away from the hybrid or set money aside for the batteries. It’s bigger, it’s comfier, it’s much more capable in the snow and light off-roading (don’t push it tho). Sure, it has it’s small issues, but don’t we all?


Which engines do I recommend? You can go for either the 2.7 V6 or 3.5 V6 naturally aspirated or one of the hybrids, you can’t really miss it with this Highlander, enginewise atleast. Just note that with the 2.7 you won’t be going fast anywhere.