Will It Wasteland? 2016 Toyota Highlander

Here we go again: the shit has hit the fan, it’s time got to grab my bugout bag and my cat and evac on the way out of a world gone mad, and I’ve got the keys to…a 2016 Toyota Highlander.

How screwed am I?

I’ll admit, I haven’t tended to take the Toyota Highlander particularly seriously. It’s always presented itself as a Camry with a thyroid problem and all-wheel drive, not much more. There’s been a bit of a metamorphosis in recent years, though, and I might have to revise that impression. As I throw my survival gear and the things I just can’t live without into the new Highlander, I notice the buttons on the console controlling the all-wheel drive’s lockable differential and downhill assist control, and a not-insignificant amount of space in the back, and it would appear that the Highlander has leveled up.

DSC_2531With room inside for myself, the cat and three other adults as well as cargo, the Highlander further makes its case with confident urge from the 270-horsepower 3.5 liter V6 engine. This crossover isn’t known for toughness, but it’s beginning to act a lot like the mousy guy who turns out to be a hardbitten survivor when the chips are down. The transmission’s a six-speed automatic with instant kickdown. The Highlander puts the power down eagerly, and there’s a lot of immediate power on tap when it’s prodded into a downshift.

So a good 0-60 run for its size is fine and dandy, but what happens when the normal rules of surburban life give way to post-apocalyptic freeway anarchy? Surprise, surprise; the Highlander comports itself quite well, it turns out. The suspension is more sophisticated than average, with MacPherson struts up front and double wishbones at the rear. The steering is responsive, and it’s easy to place the Highlander on the road. That means I can thread this large vehicle though narrow gaps without knocking the mirrors off. The two-ton curb weight provides some heft. When bumping over curbs, the Highlander doesn’t feel fragile; Toyota has imparted some of the feeling of inherent strength that permeates its pickup truck line, and the result is a steely, purposeful glint behind the Highlander’s soccer-mom exterior.

The good news is that I’ll be able to carry a fair amount of stuff with me. The Highlander will seat up to eight, and still carries a car’s trunk worth of stuff even with all of those seats occupied. If I decide to just make it me and the cat, cargo volume ascends to minivan levels. However many refugees I grab, the Highlander’s driver’s seat is comfortable and the front of the cabin’s set up to be an effective command center, with a big console, power outlets and even a clever shelf that runs from wall to wall under the dash. Acoustic glass helps to mute sounds from outside—which might seem unimportant during an apocalypse, until I need to sleep in the car, and then the Highlander will offer some peace and quiet. If it’s not safe, I can crack open the panoramic glass roof, the better to hear approaching bad guys.

The fancy navigation system and LED lighting won’t do much when it comes down to it, but when one has a Blu-ray/DVD player for rear-seat passengers, one does not complain.

Which is not to say it isn’t going to get bashed up, after all. When fighting out of a congested urban area, I imagine the Highlander’s shockingly swanky styling is going to draw a lot of eyes and a lot of abuse from drivers thinking that Toyota’s crossover’s milquetoast reputation will make it easy pickings. Toyota’s prettified the Highlander with a new, smooth front end, a large grille and long, lean flanks that make it a bit like the descendant of classic station wagons. Flashy looks aside, there’s still a feeling of toughness here. The seat of my pants says that there’s a good chance the Highlander will power through, even if it loses an aerodynamic bumper cover or two in the process.

 

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