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2003 Toyota Highlander 3.0L V6 4WD

Updated on May 11, 2015

2003 Toyota Highlander V6 4WD

2003 Toyota Highlander
2003 Toyota Highlander | Source

The Numbers

The Highlander is a small family crossover. The 2003 Highlander had two engine options and two drive types.

The first engine drivetrain option for the lower trim leveled Highlanders was a 2.4 Liter 4-Cylinder engine with front wheel drive. The front wheel drive 4-Cylinder Highlanders had fuel economy numbers of 19 in the city and 25 on the highway.

The second engine drivetrain option was the 3.0 Liter 6-Cylinder engine mated to a front wheel drive drive train. The front wheel drive Highlander with the 6-Cylinder had fuel economy numbers of 17 city and 21 highway.

The third engine drivetrain option is the 2.4 Liter 4-Cylinder engine with Toyota full time 4-Wheel Drive. The 4-Wheel Drive version of the 4-Cylinder has fuel economy ratings of 17 miles per gallon in the city and 22 miles per gallon on the highway.

The fourth and final engine and drivetrain option is the 3.0 Liter 6-Cylinder engine mated to the Toyota full time 4-Wheel Drive system. The 6-Cylinder 4-Wheel Drive combination yields EPA fuel ratings of 16 miles per gallon in the city and 21 miles per gallon on the highway.

All engine and drivetrain combinations are mated to the same 4-Speed Automatic Transmission.

What is it?

The 2003 Toyota Highlander, is a Crossover SUV that is produced on the widely loved Toyota Camry platform. The Highlander is an SUV marketed towards younger couples or young families.

The vehicle offers a lot of opportunity for young couples. In a road trip, you can load all your stuff in the back, put the kids in the back seat, and hop in the front, and still have room to spare.

Have a trailer that needs towing? Another one of the helpful hands the Highlander lends, is its utility. The Highlander can tow your trailer while carefully carrying your goods on the roof rack.

The Review Numbers

Our review car, is the 2003 Toyota Highlander with a 3.0 Liter 6-Cylinder engine with the Toyota full time 4-Wheel Drive and the 4-Speed Automatic. The Highlander also has a 19.8 gallon fuel tank.

Though the particular Highlander I have is rated at 16 miles per gallon in the city and 21 miles per gallon on the highway. Over the last 2,305 miles, I have only averaged 16.2 miles per gallon average. Over the last 9,816 miles, I have been able to average 18.1 miles per gallon average. These numbers may seem great, but that is 58% highway miles that have been traveled.

On this Highlander as with all the Highlander models, it has a 106.9 inch wheelbase. The front wheel track of the Highlander, is 62 inches, while the rear wheel track of the vehicle is 61.2 inches.

The Highlander has an overall width of 71.9 inches, and an overall height of 66.5 inches. It has an overall length of 184.4 inches, and 7.3 inches of ground clearance.

What I found while driving the Highlander, is the lack of space on the interior for any of a normal size or bigger. Being that I am a baseball and football player, I have knee issue and a hard time finding a car that doesn't hit my knee and bother it.

As with many other cars before, the Highlander has the same problem as all the others. When my leg was resting, the center console was coming right across the part of my knee that hurt the most.

The interior dimensions for being an SUV is rather small. The Highlander only offers 40 inches of headroom in the front and 39.8 inches of headroom in the rear. In the front, the Highlander offers front hip room of 55.1 inches, and in the rear offers 54.9 inches of hip room. In the front of the vehicle, you have 40.7 inches of leg room, and in the rear 36.4 inches of leg room. Shoulder room in the front of the vehicle is 57.9 inches, and in the rear 57 inches.

Towing capacity of this particular 6-Cylinder Highlander is 3,500 pounds. While the maximum payload is 1,105 pounds. The Highlander has a curb weight of 3,880 pounds.

Cargo capacity of the Highlander with the seats up is 38.5 cubic feet of storage. When all the seats are laid flat, the maximum cargo capacity increase to 81.4 cubic feet.

The 3.0 Liter 6-Cylinder engine that is found in my Highlander, is a double overhead cam engine. It also comes with variable valve timing. The engine has a 24 valves and a discplacement of 3.0 Liters. The engine produces 220 horsepowers at 5,800 RPM, and 222 ft-lbs of torque at 4,400 RPM. The Highlander has a car like 37.4 foot turning radius.

The Highlander comes with a 3 year/36,000 mile basic warranty, and a 5 year/60,000 mile drivetrain warranty.

2003 Toyota Highlander Interior
2003 Toyota Highlander Interior | Source


Our 2003 Toyota Highlander was a Base level trim package. Though it was a base model Highlander, it was optioned out with almost every option you would find on the Limited trim level Highlander.

The base model Highlander comes standard with cloth seats, power mirrors, tachometer, driver and passenger armrest, CD player. It also comes with cruise control, air conditioning, split folding rear seats, power steering, and tilt adjustable steering wheel.

Along with the basic equipment the car came with it was also very well optioned out. One of the options that this vehicle came with is the 3.0 Liter 6-Cylinder engine and the Toyota full time 4-Wheel Drive system. Being that base Highlanders come with the 2.4 Liter 4-Cylinder engine and the Front Wheel Drive.

Another option that was included on this vehicle was Power Heated Mirrors. Something up here in Vermont you don't take for granted on those cold mornings when the windows and mirrors have frost on them.

This base Highlander also came with the optional Tape Deck Player in conjunction with its normal CD Player and 6 Pre-Set Radio. Being such an older and base model car, there was no type of USB for iPod, but having the Tape Deck, allows you to buy a monster Cassette Tape that has a headphone jack on it so you can listen to you iPod through the radio.

Being that the Highlander has the 3.0 Liter 6-Cylinder, it was also equipped with the Roof Rack and Tow Package. Having the trailer hitch installed on the Highlander gave us the ability to tow up to 3,500 pounds. The roof rack is great for carrying a christmas tree, or if you are a skier, then you can load your equipment right up on the roof.

2003 Toyota Highlander 3.0 Liter V-Form 6-Cylinder
2003 Toyota Highlander 3.0 Liter V-Form 6-Cylinder | Source

Towing Performance

Now we know that a person who buys a Highlander is more than like to be a soccer mom, or a family that lives in the city. The fact of who will buy this car, should not over power the capability this vehicle has.

Our vehicle has the 3.0 Liter 6-Cylinder with Toyota full time 4-Wheel Drive system. The vehicle also has the Trailer Tow Package. Having this combination gives you the ability to tow around up to 3,500 pounds.

We did a lot of towing with the vehicle last summer, between buying and picking up our new boat, and bringing it back and forth from the boat launch. We have a 1995 Bayliner Jet Boat, that weighs roughly 1,500 pounds. Even though this is 2,000 pounds below the max towing capacity, it is still no small weight to pull around.

The Highlander handled towing the boat amazingly and with such finesse. Towing a trailer around Vermont can be extremely challenging due to our less than stellar road conditions. Every bump that jolted the boat, the Highlander was there to say no no back in line.

Another area the Highlander have no issues with was launching the boat. Bringing the boat down the ramp until the rear of the car was in water, was no problem for this little tank. Then were most vehicles really have problems, the Highlander chewed it up and spit it out. Loading the boat back on the trailer and then pulling it out of the water and up the ramp is a hard and big task. The water wants to keep a connection to the boat, and you trailer fills with water. The Highlander muscled right up.

For a small family SUV that is based on the Toyota Camry, Toyota has made this car a major performer when it comes to towing.

On Road Performance and Comfort

The Highlander is a very heavy vehicle for its size. The vehicle ways 3,880 pounds, this is a lot of weight for a vehicle that only has a wheel base of 106.6 inches.

In reality 3,880 pounds for an SUV is not a lot. However the Highlander is built on a car platform. The 2.4 Liter 4-Cylinder engine only puts out 155 horsepower at 5,600 RPM and 163 Ft-Lbs of Torque at 4,000 RPM. The 3.0 Liter 6-Cylinder engine only puts out 220 horsepower at 5,800 RPM and 222 Ft.-Lbs. of Torque at 4,400 RPM.

For a vehicle of this size, these engines seem no be very underpowered. Our vehicle has the 3.0 Liter 6-Cylinder in it so we don't know how the 4-Cylinder handles the weight.

The 6-Cylinder engine handled the weight of the vehicle beautifully. When you are driving the vehicle, you would never think that it weighs almost 2 tons. With the engine producing its peak torque at 4,400 RPM, you could never tell. Off of the line, the vehicle picks up and moves its self out of the way. On the Highway, the power comes on in a weird way. It takes the car a lot to put the RPMs where they need to be in order to get any power to the wheels for passing other vehicles.

In the corners you can definitely tell you are driving an SUV. On the other hand though, if you are brave, the Highlander will allow you to throw it into corners, and feel the Gs as long as you don't push it past its point of tipping. The car is phenomenal in the corners with its grip, but does give you a lot of body roll, and this can cause you to be weary of the car going hard in the corners.

In the snow, is where the Highlander really excels. Here in Vermont, I run four studded snows on my Highlander, and I have never gotten stuck. The Highlander is in its natural element when it is in the snow. Flick the steering wheel and let the tail end come out about, and have some fun. While drifting the Highlander on snowy Vermont roads, the vehicle remained very composed while flying sideways through the turns. It required very little input from to keep controlled and going the right way. Even with the ability to go sideways through the turns, the Highlander keeps its self going straight unless you tell it to do something else.

The Highlander can be a very comfortable vehicle depending on the body type of the driver and passengers. I have good length legs, and my right leg comes right into contact with the center console causing a lot of pain in my knee. The seats in the car, aren't very supportive or comfortable. The back seat does not have a lot of leg room, once a driver who is my height of 5'7" has adjusted the front seat for them.

Fully capable 6-Cylinder with Toyota 4-Wheel Drive
Fully capable 6-Cylinder with Toyota 4-Wheel Drive

Off Road Ability

Our Highlander being a 4-Wheel Drive vehicle, offers some very good off road abilities. Compared to a lot of SUVs, the Toyota Highlander does not offer a significant amount of ground clearance that you would get in a full size SUV or pick up truck.

For what what the Highlander is advertised as, it is a very capable off road vehicle. Being that it is ment to be a suburban family vehicle.

Toyota has managed to design a 4-Wheel Drive system that is as capable as any off road designed vehicle you would buy, such as the Toyota 4Runner and the Toyota FJ Cruiser.

The Highlander instilled a lot of confidence on us no matter what terrain we were traveling on. We recently had a temperature rise here in Vermont, and my road to get to my house now has mud and ruts up too 8-9 inches deep. The Highlander looks at it and laughs as it destroys the muddy terrain and moves on to the next task.

Durring our last snowstorm, our roads became sheets of ice and snow. While driving a long I saw pick up trucks and other 4-Wheel Drive vehicles from the competitors that were off road. Not once did I think, or was I nervous that the Highlander was not able to handle the conditions. I was able to cruise along, and when the Highlander started to go sideways, it was easy to keep it under control and it was even a little fun, drifting around the empty streets.

Final Thoughts

The Toyota Highlander, is a comfortable on road family SUV. At the same time the Highlander is a competent vehicle when it comes to off road conditions. Weather your hauling the kids to soccer practice, bringing the boat to the lake, or driving home in a blizzard with your family, the Highlander will be there to do it for you.

The Highlander is a fantastic vehicle for anyone. My Highlander was my first car, that was passed down to me from my grandmother. At 241,000 miles, my rig is still running strong.

Not only does the Highlander offer fantastic family carrying abilities, trailering abilities, and off road abilities, but the Highlander also holds its value better than any car on the road. When it comes to reliability and resale value, there is no going wrong with a Toyota.


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