5 reasons to buy and not to buy the Toyota Highlander III (U50)



The name Highlander has appeared in the line Toyota for the first time at the turn of the millennium. Then marketing experts of the concern were inspired by success of Lexus RX300 and its duplicate Toyota Harrier (which was on sale only in Japan) and the company decided that Toyota range needs middle-sized crossover, first of all – in North American market. Just such a car was built on the K platform (aka Camry platform), and in April 2000 the novelty was unveiled at the New York Auto Show.

The model very quickly overtook the frame SUV Toyota 4Runner in terms of sales. More than 5 years Highlander remained the best-selling SUV brand Toyota, and only in 2006, the palm shifted to a smaller and more budget-friendly RAV4. In 2007, there was a planned change of generations, and again the site for the premiere (built on the same platform K) became an American show, this time in Chicago. However, by this time the concern had tightly aimed not only at the North American, but also immense Chinese market, so the production of the new “Highlander” with a factory code U40 was developed not only in Japan, So, the production of the new “Highlander” (derived from the model name in English) was launched not only in Japan, at the factory Miyata in Fukuoka prefecture, but also in Guangzhou in China (it happened in 2009), and in 2011 assembly line began at the TMMI plant in Princeton, Indiana. But that’s all backstory. We are interested in the third generation of the crossover.

Toyota Highlander (XU40) ‘2007–10

The New York Auto Show, held in March 2013, was once again the premiere venue for the new crossover codec U50. In December, the novelty began to roll off the assembly lines of plants in China and the USA, and in early 2014 official sales began in the main markets, among which was Russia. The cars came to our country from overseas, from the Princeton plant, and they differed in a number of ways.

First of all, capacity of the base engine, 3,5 litre V6 2GR-FE, has been reduced from 290 to 249 bhp for better conformity with the Russian tax laws. At the same time, the 2.7-liter turbo engine 8AR-FTS became the main engine for Chinese market, and the version equipped with 2.7-liter 187 hp 1AR-Fe became quite popular in the USA. All engine variants were combined with Aisin U660 six-speed hydromechanics. In the US, the car could have either three or two rows of seats and drive both the front and both axles, but in Russia only the seven-seat all-wheel drive versions were supplied.

Toyota Highlander (XU50) ‘2014–17

Our publication has reported in some detail on this car shortly after its introduction to the market, including the electronic systems that Japanese engineers have fitted to the car.

At the turn of 2016-2017, the car underwent a restyling, which resulted in a number of exterior changes to both the front and rear of the car. But the main technical change was the introduction of the improved 2GR-FXS engine and the Aisin UA80E/F eight-speed automatic under the bonnet. We also told about these innovations in the editorial tests.

With the new Highlander codenamed U60 entering the scene in 2020, the previous generation has moved into the aftermarket. It’s a good time to see what its owners are writing about this car…

Hate #5: Price

A person who is going to buy a Toyota Highlander III generation in the secondary market is probably aware of its merits. But he will inevitably face one, but very important disadvantage: as the author of one Internet review put it, “this car costs like an island in a warm ocean”. Indeed, new cars cost a lot, and the reliability and relatively low maintenance costs mean that residual values drop quite slowly.

As a result, prices for used U50 Highlanders start at between 1,850,000 and 1,950,000, and these will be cars imported into Russia in 2014, well for three-year-olds they ask between 3.2 and 3.6 million. Yes, all these cars will be equipped with a 3.5-litre engine and automatic transmission, not badly packed, but for the same money you can buy, for example, a brand new Chevrolet Traverse or VW Teramont. For a quite comparable three-year-old third-generation Honda Pilot, sellers want only about 2.2 million, for the 2017 Ford Explorer 2.3-2.8 million. Second-generation Pilots will also be cheaper: cars of 2014-2015 production year cost 1.5-1.7 million rubles at the secondary market.

And we are speaking only about the situation, when a person knows exactly, that he wants to buy a big all-wheel-drive crossover, as a level of ride comfort and manageability of frame models does not suit him. Otherwise, the choice becomes even more difficult…

Toyota Highlander (XU50) ‘2014–17

Love #5: The cost of maintenance

However, there’s every reason to believe that the mental anguish caused by the black hole in the budget that arose after buying a Highlander will seriously subside after your first visit to the service station. And why? Yes because the service of this automobile really costs not the biggest sums: according to owners, average cost of visit for service maintenance makes 10,000-15,000 roubles.

If one compares these figures with cost of maintenance of cars of premium-class brands, it turns out absolutely hefty: “I shall tell you right away – my favorite car is Mercedes GL (166). My cousin has one. I often drive it, I like everything, except for reliability and price (we got the car new, but something always breaks: handle, pads, power windows, fuel pump… I believe, it’s not normal at this price) and service cost (maintenance for 90 ths. km cost 170 ths. rub, further – more)”.

In many responses the authors note, that Highlander has not required any intervention from service maintenance up to service maintenance, even it was not required to top up oil: “It does not eat oil at all. Unlike Germans. I used to drive Q5 – constantly added oil and, in general, all my Germans required constant care and pulled the money”. Accordingly, owners estimate cost of service maintenance as “kopeck” and the fact that Highlander does not demand big expenses for service (even taking into account the interval of service in 10 000 km), attribute to its unconditional advantages.

Toyota Highlander (XU50) ‘2014–17

Of course, you have to love the car, so it’s worth implementing a number of small improvements. For example, owners recommend installing a fine mesh mesh under the radiator grille and on the cabin air intakes under the bonnet, and then regularly cleaning them with a hoover, otherwise the cabin filter will be clogged with leaves and debris, and you’ll start having problems with the air quality in the cabin. But, you’ve got to admit, it’s a minor thing…

Hate #4: Manoeuvrability in the city and weak brakes.

Highlander is the automobile rather large. Certainly, this automobile is big! In spite of the fact that its dimensions do not reach the size of a minibus, 4865 mm from bumper to bumper and 2790 mm of wheelbase create certain difficulties, especially in the conditions of close city parkings. Turn radius of the automobile is like a cruise liner…

So, the owners write in responses: “I’m used to feel myself as a school bus driver”. Certainly, one can get used to dimensions; parktronic and back view camera help to maneuver in cramped conditions. Only in bad weather it becomes dirty at once, the image on the screen turns into abstract mishmash of muddy spots, so, you have to get out of the car and wipe the lens… Not so convenient, to say directly.

The Highlander is the car is rather heavy: curb weight is more than two tons, and full weight exceeds 2,5 tons. But its brakes are rather sluggish, and it forces drivers to keep distance. But that is half the trouble. The trouble is that brakes are inclined to overheat, and if one gets carried away too much and abuses intensive acceleration and braking, brake disks will “hang”, that one will feel at once by beating on a rudder. There is only one cure – disc replacement. Many owners have tried to solve this problem by selecting brake pads but they have not achieved any success: “I was using a metal-ceramic – discs quickly blew. I used ordinary soft ones – brakes became sharper, but they didn’t help”. In a word, vox populi says, that one should drive this car without frequent braking at high speed, lasso, in spite of the fact that it has enough power and it is really possible to drive it. But as a whole, lack of drive and weak brakes are put by the owners in the list of serious lacks.

Toyota Highlander (XU50) ‘2014–17

Love #4: Size and roominess

Large dimensions are not only a serious disadvantage, but also a huge plus, especially for a family car. And this is exactly the quality that people buy Toyota Highlander for. Therefore, the huge interior with three rows of seats gets into number of the main advantages of the model without any doubts. Thus a very important factor is comfort on the second row of seats. Even the 185 cm tall driver sits comfortably behind himself, and the width of the rear sofa is large enough to accommodate three respectable adults or three child seats.

Toyota Highlander (XU50) ‘2014–17

“Very comfortable car for a big family”, “There is so much space that you can fit the whole family of five people with all the necessary things in the boot”, “Five adults and a dog in the boot ride comfortably”… As for the third row, not everyone uses it. Moreover, the fact, that third row is not equipped with “Isofix” fasteners arouses bewilderment: “It is strange, the car is family one – it would be there for kids to sit… But, alas. And with two child seats on the second row, you cannot get into the third one. However, if kids are older, one may use all seats: “I fooled around once – I loaded 9 sixth-graders. We went for a school picnic, everybody was pleased and sang songs”. But if the third row is not needed, it is completely hidden under the luggage compartment floor.

Owners say the boot is easy to access, there’s room for a cargo guard and toolbox, and you can only open the rear window without opening the whole door. But there may be problems with it in winter: “It would be nice to do something with boot window, it is scary to open it in winter, you are afraid of chipping off”, and the fifth door may start to make a mess: “The boot lid has been making a mess all winter (only in frost), it wouldn’t open or close. I sprinkled silicone – nothing helps”, “The boot lid drive has a life of its own – it opens not completely, or just beeps”. But everybody is happy about ergonomics of the interior and about variety of vessels for small things. A huge two-tiered armrest and a traditional for the model shelf on the dashboard are at the disposal of the crew: “I still can’t rejoice at a shelf under the torpedo – it’s just an incredible thing! Phones, sweets, tissues… When we drive far away, it holds just about everything we need on the road!”. By the way, the owners say that the shelf easily accommodates not only the phone, but also a tablet with a diagonal of 8 inches…

Hate #3: Saving on the little things

There are a number of features in the Highlander that frustrate owners, but not per se, only against the backdrop of the car’s price. For example, the bonnet without pneumatic protectors. The usual “stick” holds it in open position and the bonnet is rather heavy. Thus, pneumatic stoppers are not a special high-tech and they cost inexpensively. Here the owners note: “I bought the airbags for 2500 and installed them in 10 minutes. I can’t understand, why Toyota has economized on it…”, “I installed Avtoupor bonnet shock absorbers (the price is a penny, they are made in Mother Russia, quality is excellent). Now it is much more convenient to open the bonnet.

A lot of sarcastic words are written about the only automatic windshield lifter in a driver’s door: “The button “Auto” on the button of a driver’s window is a song at all. It makes me laugh every time I get in the car and see this button: consumption of 20 litres per 100 is normal, “it’s a premium class”, and $30 to buy all buttons Auto is “what for female gadgets in a brutal car?

Manually opening sunroof shutter is from the same series: “To make a glass roof in a car for over 2 million and at the same time you have to move the shutter, which will shut out the sun, by hands… Foolish!”.

Toyota Highlander (XU50) ‘2014–17

Love #3: Dynamics, Stability, Passability

Specially for deliveries to the Russian Federation, Japanese designers have de-energized the engine by hp, having “driven”, thus, the automobile in optimum tax zone. Nevertheless, 249 hp and 337 nm of torque together with quite adequate work of automatic gearboxes (both 6-speed U660E/760E and 8-speed UA80E/F) turns out quite enough that the owner has no problems with overtaking in all range of available speeds.

“The power reserve of the engine is simply atomic, you do not notice overtaking maneuver”, “I am satisfied with the connection of the engine – box, the car goes without hesitations and any delays, even with a trailer”, “The Highlander overtakes rather actively, even one should be cautious with its élan”, “It does not go more than 170 (limiter), but on a motorway it is quite enough. At any speed the car accelerates almost without a delay” – such statements are heard almost in each review. Thus the owners mark, that the car perfectly holds the motion path in any weather and in any season, without pitching and yawing. But it does not suit as the generator of adrenaline: as we have already written, the car does not endure intensive braking, does not like fast turns, bends, and the driver begins to slide on wide and flat, without the slightest hint on lateral support, armchairs in “American style”. However, it is suitable especially for family trips for long distances: “We were in Carpathians this winter, 6 adults + things in Thule box on the roof. No problems, no fatigue. In the snow, driving is a breeze. Drove out everywhere, very pleased with cross-country ability (at least went where X5 couldn’t). From home (where we lived) to the slope loaded skis / boards in Thule and rode 3 km for 10-13 people – in close quarters, but better than on foot!

Toyota Highlander (XU50)

However, the Highlander’s off-road mobility is not to everyone’s satisfaction. There are such testimonies: “Once I got stuck in snow and the geometry was a bit broken. I couldn’t close the boot until I got on a level road, and I got out by pushing…”. But there are absolutely other models for storming extreme lack of roads, including in Toyota’s range; for “Highlander” it is enough that it allows driving up to curbs and not paying attention to quality of our roads. True, one should drive off asphalt, and the driver begins to feel every bump and pothole on a steering wheel – but one should just take it as the given.

Hate #2: Multimedia and noise isolation

The harshest criticism to Toyota Highlander U50 sounds from close ranks of music lovers and fans of auto sound. Here are those who are not shy in expressions! They do not like a lot of things: “Disgusting multimedia in the automobile for 60 thousand euro! Navigation is useless (well, it’s not necessary as there is Yandex), the sound is awful, DVD doesn’t read, music data on the flash drive is displayed only in the form of list of performers or albums, folders are not available, uncompressed formats are not readable. Picture quality on the monitor is a 3 minus. This is Toyota’s misfortune. Unfortunately, the head unit software is a long-standing disadvantage of the brand, which they admit themselves. We lag 5-7 years behind of modern trends”, “The music does not correspond to the class even with 12 speakers”… Besides, in their words, the head unit suffers from absence of communication with any external mobile devices, Bluetooth connection periodically “drops” for no apparent reason and itself and it is not clear how it is restored. In a word, it is not clear who designed this hoover.

Even the loud name of JBL does not save the situation: “Weak for JBL, especially considering the way they make concert equipment for small and large venues. Obviously, those for whom music on the road is not just a distraction, don’t want to put up with this state of affairs. Some of them put a head unit with Android, the others seriously modify the existing acoustics: “I connected an Eton Stage 6 DSP amplifier to the car head, added a subwoofer and made up the doors. Since the quality of the signal from the head left much to be desired, besides it doesn’t read flac, ran a coaxial cable from the amplifier to the shelf to connect my Fiio X5 player (I install it into the phone holder). Installed a button to switch between sources in a free space in the button block to the left of the steering wheel, and voila – perfect sound!

Toyota Highlander (XU50)

By the way, there is no unanimity of opinions concerning installation of additional sound insulation. Someone thinks that the noise insulation needs to be improved, someone thinks that it is not too noisy in the car, but one would still like to improve it, and someone is quite satisfied with life and considers acoustic comfort among model’s advantages.

Love #2: Comfort

What do owners of an expensive family car want to get from their vehicle, well, apart from prestige? Naturally, comfort and again comfort, and also it is a question of comfort of the interior, and about a drive comfort. Here Highlander acts in all glory. Yes, seats are completely deprived of lateral support. But punched eco leather with the system of ventilation “will make happy” your back (well, and those places where it loses its noble name) even in extreme heat. A set of convenient capacities, pockets and shelves solve a question of placing a heap of trifles. Two heater and heated steering wheel will ease life in the harsh Russian winters: many owners note that, despite the volume, the cabin warms up very quickly.

The second row passengers won’t suffer from lack of comfort – there is enough space, heated seats, adjustable backrest tilt and microclimate: “The child on the back row (11 years) claimed independence and adjusts the temperature and heating of the seat at his own discretion. But the main thing is perhaps the ride comfort and convenience of long-distance trips: “When travelling long distances, you don’t feel that you are not in a sedan”, “I went to Krasnodar and back (about 1200 km in one direction – no back fatigue, no puffy legs”, “We like driving in the family on long-distance trips, it is very comfortable and convenient”. By all accounts, the Highlander literally floats like a ship on the highway, while remaining fast and dynamic.

Toyota Highlander (XU50)

To make life even easier for the driver, the Highlander is equipped with a suite of electronic aids including Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Traction Control System (TCS), Downhill Assist Control (DAC), Hill Assist Control (HAC), Lane Departure Prevention (LKA), Adaptive Cruise Control (ACCS), automatic high beam control system, blind spot monitoring system, and many more. It is clear that the active driver who thirsts for emotions at every turn will look at all these “helpers”, as Lenin on world bourgeoisie: he does not need it all. But if you need to get from point A to point B with a maximum of comfort, safety and minimum effort, it will all come in handy.

Hate #1: Fuel consumption

The economy of the third-generation Toyota Highlander proves to be the most controversial characteristic of this car. Wow, the controversy boils around it in the forums, with virtual grabbing of lapels, poking in the chest and exclamations of “Who are you?”. Some people assert with bubbles that the consumption in a city does not fall lower than 20 liters per 100 kilometers (and at some people it reaches the frightening number 37), and the car eats 13-16 litres per one hundred. It is clear, that the fuel tank of 72 liters volume seems ridiculously small in such conditions and the only rescue is to transfer glutton on gas.

Others vehemently object: “The fuel consumption is very surprising! When buying a car I was ready for the consumption in the city in the range of 14-16 litres depending on the season and 10-11 litres on the highway! Imagine my surprise when driving in dry weather with a speed up to 120 km / h posted consumption of 8.9 litres per hundred! In the city, the average consumption has not yet increased over 14 litres, but the main indicator of consumption is still within 12 litres per one hundredth”, “Some people write here that a lot of gasoline … Not true! Simply the one who has never owned this car. It’s the second year my finances sing the song, I’ve adjusted to drive quietly, the consumption is about 9 liters per 100 km! And the speed limit is up to 130 km/hour”.

Toyota Highlander (XU50) ‘2014–17

The truth is, of course, out there. The author of one of reviews describes his experiments to achieve maximum economy of fuel: “Somehow I tried on purpose to drive at 100-110 km/h, having dropped average consumption. After such nightmarish drive with 80-100km run the ECU showed 11 litres per one hundredth. I don’t think it is possible to go lower, if only to drive with a hill…”. But as a whole, one can count on 9-10 l/100 km on a motorway in a quiet mode and 13-15 l/100 km in a city and in any case, take solace in the fact that a 3.5-liter V6, both in 2GR-FE and modified 2GR-FKS variants, easily digests domestic 92 petrol. Someone will consider such expense quite acceptable, someone will consider it too high, but here already all depends on personal reference point and driving manner.

Love #1: Reliability.

In this respect Highlander does not present any surprises. “There are no caveats, obscure breakages and other miscommunications (as it sometimes happens with Germans)”, “No problems with technical condition of the car were observed. With careful attitude to service, an “eternal” resource is guaranteed not only for the engine, but also for the main units and assemblies”, “I recommend to those who need a reliable car. Surprises in the form of various breakages are hardly to be expected”, “The unbreakable car”, “The one who will buy this car and can carefully maintain it, will not see problems for 10 years” – there are not simply many, but very many statements.

Moreover, everybody understands that the expression “Toyotas do not break down” is just a figure of speech – any complex technical device may break down. But serious breakage of Toyota Highlander causes the most real surprise: “The box on 120 thousand km run is dead, that is very unusual for Toyota. But, on the other hand, I’ve got a new box now!

Toyota Highlander (XU50) ‘2014–17


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