Almost 1 year ago I was in Mongolia with my wife and kids enjoying a nice vacation. My father in law had just bought himself a 2011 Toyota Highlander imported from the U.S. I was planning on writing about it (I took hundreds of pictures) but got caught up in life. Now that I’m not working I finally have a little more time to work on some articles (but still not a lot of time since the kids are busy with schoolwork all day).
This Toyota is the mid level SE trim. I can’t tell what it’s missing from the top of the line Limited trim. It has leather heated seats, premium audio, sunroof, safety nannies, and all kinds of cool features that I’ve long since forgotten. For Mongolia the most important feature is the all wheel drive.
It was showing 75,000 miles on the odometer and looked like it had been garaged its whole life. We added about 2,000 miles while we were there. We took it to the Gobi and back (it’s all highway now), to the old capital of Kharakhorum, and to all the “mountains” surrounding Ulaanbaatar.
The most interesting thing to me was how much this felt and drove just like a station wagon or minivan. Sure, you sat up a bit higher but otherwise it was a Toyota. Visibility is excellent and it doesn’t feel that big. Driving and parking in the city was easy.
Another surprise was just how quick it was, especially when passing. This is the 3.5 V6 model so with that extra power comes pathetic fuel economy. We were seeing 12 to 17 mpgs on the highway (versus the 22 claimed). This is mostly because Mongolian highways are still 2 lane roads. All the slowing down, speeding up and passing really hurts. In stop and go city traffic mpgs went down into the single digits! We ended up driving the Prius in the city.
The craziest things is, before driving one of these I didn’t think I’d like an SUV. But other that the gas mileage there’s not much to dislike. It’s a big, over-sized station wagon. It’s a 7 passenger minivan with less convenient doors. With AWD it can do some light off-roading. It’s a totally practical family vehicle and I think we’re going to end up replacing our minivan with one.