2019 Toyota Highlander AWD: When a bad music experience becomes a metaphor …
Sell it to you at a reduced price? $48,319 (no options on test vehicle). Top of the line, here; it starts under $32,000.
Advertising signs that con? “Turn every outing into an adventure.”
Idiot wind? Motor Trend calls it “Aging but capable.”
Reality: … it’s almost like an ’80s Dylan album.
New Morning: I woke to another soggy spring day and hopped in the Highlander to head off to school. Further dampening my mood, I couldn’t get iPhone to connect to the car. I spied the CD slot and thought, “It’s retro, but it’ll do.”
So, back to the dark den, fumbling around for music not on my playlist — some less-than-optimum choices. But how bad could this 1980s Dylan selection be? It features some stellar musicians, such as the Heartbreakers, Ronnie Wood, Al Kooper, Jim Keltner.
But it all came together like — a 20-year career deep in a funk of uncertainty. And, thus, a Highlander metaphor was born.
First debuting in 2001, the smallish three-row SUV feels like something that hasn’t changed much along the way. For an SUV — like the famous musician, who just marked in 78th birthday — that can have its ups and downs.
Handle with Care: The worst part about the Highlander — it handles like a 1980s American sedan. Worse, really. I even postponed a trip to visit Sturgis Grandma 1.0 simply because I didn’t feel like bobbing and weaving through Pennsylvania back roads for 100 miles each way.
Down the Highway: The Highlander gets its power From a Toyota 6 (3.5 liters), not a four-cylinder like many competitors. Its 0-60 is a slowish 7.2 seconds, according to Motor Trend, but it feels sprightly.
But floor it at your own risk. Under duress, the Highlander lists from side to side like an old Econoline.
Desolation Row: Forget about shifting your own gears; Toyota doesn’t want you to. The transmission functions well, though.
Tight Connection to My Heart: But after a while, one’s ears become accustomed to the bad ‘80s production values, and the heart of the songs can shine through.
Just as the comfy Highlander seats and simple controls make the Highlander not that hard to live with. Still, those seats meant sitting on, not sinking in.
Honest with Me: Serving Dylan’s opening sound check for years, this 2001 song features a spectrum of guitar sounds and indifferent recorded production, and I use it for my stereo tests. Like most Toyotas, the Highlander has too much treble to overcome, even with bass and midrange cranked up to 11.
Controls feature volume and tuning knobs that are wide but jut out only minimally, so they can be hard to grasp.
Clean-Cut Kid: Sturgis Kid 4.0 isn’t going to fit into the third row at all, and the second row only snugly. But, of course, he’s a 6-foot-2, long-haired 18-year-old, so the Highlander was not designed around him.
Too Much of Nothing: With just 13.8 cubic feet behind the third row, seven people had better travel way light. Picture a small sedan trunk standing on end — and it unloads like a cartoon closet if you’re not careful. But with 42.3 cubes behind the second row and 83.7 behind the first, things open up nicely.
Rainy Day Women: In slick weather, the all-wheel drive will certainly bail you out. But the big 245/55/19 tires felt like balloons on road, and wet surfaces seemed to make the Highlander float away.
Summer Days: The heater controls are also shallow knobs that can be hard to grasp. Seat heaters and coolers are old-style roller dials that work well but seem as out of place in 2019 as a harmonica did in 1985.
Trust Yourself: The lane-departure warning is an obnoxious chime, so off it went. Stay in your own lane.
When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky: The interior lights are too bright to use while moving. The headlamps do a nice job of keeping the road in view, though.
Fuel economy: (Dang, just couldn’t find an appropriate Dylan song title.) I averaged just under 20 mpg in an indifferent week of driving. Feed the Highlander whatever.
Union Sundown: Bob may have lamented globalization way back in 1983, but the Highlander is built in Princeton, Ind.
Everything Is Broken: Not in Toyotas, usually. The Highlander gets a 5 out of 5 from Consumer Reports.
Seeing the Real You at Last: In the end, the Highlander is a decent enough package that buyers know is tried and true, and will probably be indestructible, just like the Bard of Hibbing himself, who just keeps on touring.
Bob leaves hope for a better Highlander future; he eventually got out of his 1980s funk and came back with a 1997 release called “Time Out of Mind.” Its closing number? The 13-minute epic titled “Highlands.” We’ll see how the redesigned 2020 model measures up.