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2003 Toyota Highlander Mid-Size Crossover SUV

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Toyota's newest wagon applies the muscle of a V6 engine not to rear wheels like a conventional truck-based SUV but to the rollers up front -- the ones that also steer. This ability to both steer and pull the vehicle puts the cushy Highlander in an unusual category. Its structure and chassis differ from the body-on-frame arrangement used by the typical SUV because Highlander has a unitized framework derived from a sedan oriented with a FWD format, plus car-like mechanical components that eliminate hassles associated with SUVs. The concise structure with an elongated wheelbase but squatty stance sets up a people-friendly interior environment that's as easy to enter as a passenger car. The suspension system, independent at all corners, delivers the uncommonly smooth ride quality of a sedan with rather nimble and easy-to-drive manners. Because of these car-like structural components, Highlander amounts to a cross between a rugged sport-ute and a refined sedan, bringing the best attributes of both. Optional mechanical gear for safety includes traction control and a lateral VSC device, limited-slip rear differential for 4WD editions without the VSC equipment, and side-impact air bags. The 2.4-liter in-line four-cylinder engine for Highlander's price-leader musters 155 hp. An optional 3.0-liter V6 brings a robust 220 hp. Highlander's cabin is an impressive space with generous space for five passengers. Standard equipment on all editions includes air conditioning, floor and ceiling consoles, a tilting steering wheel and cruise control, height-adjustable headrests for all seat positions, and a stereo sound kit.