2008 Toyota Highlander (and Hybrid)

Toyota unveiled the all-new next-generation Highlander and Highlander Hybrid mid-size sport utility vehicles at a press conference today at the 2007 Chicago Auto Show. The 2008 Highlander is significantly larger, quieter, roomier and more powerful than the vehicle it replaces. Yet its fuel efficiency will be virtually unchanged, Toyota says.

As with all Toyota SUVs for the last three years, Highlander will provide Toyota's STAR safety system, featuring: anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, and for the first time, enhanced vehicle stability control with electronic power steering.

On all models except the base models, it will provide a stand-alone backup camera with a multi-information screen, not tied to a navigation system. And, Highlander will have the distinction of being the first Toyota division vehicle to feature both active head restraints and a new hood and fender system designed to crumple on impact with a pedestrian.

Highlander rides on an all-new chassis derived from the current Camry and Avalon. It is nearly four inches longer and three inches wider, with an inch more ground clearance and three inches of additional wheelbase.

The Highlander's second-row features captain's chairs with armrests that, if needed, can be converted to a bench seat for three passengers. A "Center Stow" seat, when not in use, is hidden in a compartment under the front center console. In its place, passengers can easily snap in the provided center stow center console or choose to leave the area open as a walk-through to the third row. The second row also slides forward and back 4.7 inches and reclines.

Standard features include: a third-row bench seat with foldable headrests for a flat rear cargo area; a rear glass hatch for quick access to the back (optional on base grades); and Smart Start and Entry for Limited and all hybrid models.

When Highlander arrives in July, it will be offered in Base, Sport and Limited grades. All three grades will be powered by a new 3.5-liter V6 that delivers an impressive 270 horsepower -- a 55 horsepower gain over the previous generation's 3.3-liter engine.

Two months later, the all-new Highlander Hybrid will arrive at dealerships. Offered in both Base and Limited grades, all Highlander hybrids will feature Toyota's advanced VDIM stability system. The system integrates: full-time four-wheel drive with intelligence; electronic brake and throttle control, with true electronically-controlled active steering.

The new Highlander gained about 500 pounds, growing significantly in every dimension and receiving extensive body and chassis reinforcement, aimed specifically at achieving best-in-class crash ratings. Not only were engineers able to increase output to 270 net horsepower, they were able to maintain Highlander Hybrid's impressive fuel economy at 31 city and 27 highway.

Nineteen-inch alloy wheels will be standard on both Sport and Limited gas models and both hybrid models.

An array of options and accessories will be offered, such as a power backdoor that can be opened and closed with a key fob, a navigation system with an eight-inch screen, a rear-seat entertainment system with a nine-inch screen, and three-zone air conditioning.

Other options include: JBL audio with six-disc changer and nine speakers with Bluetooth; third-row seat delete to create a second-row model; leather seat trim and heated seats; and a tow package with a 5000-lbs. maximum towing capacity (class-leading for car & van-based mid SUVs).