Someone being disappointed with a Highlander doesn't surprise me. We test drove the Highlander before buying our domestic SUV and out of 8 SUV's we drove, the V-6 Highlander was the slowest, poorest handling, and had terrible interior fit and finish. It was so slow merging onto the freeway that it was scary, and the brakes on the one we drove caused the car to lurch violently to the left every time they were applied. Since then I have read tons of horror stories about the Highlander having defective brakes (the one we drove certainly did!!), defective air bags, defective transmissions and accelerators that stick on the floor. Since the Highlander is basically the problem-prone and underpowered Camry with a much heavier body I guess the awful performance is understandable. I thank my lucky stars every day that we bought a reliable, truck based domestic SUV. In 60,000 miles it has never had a single problem of any kind, it has plenty of power for merging onto freeways, and it gets better mpg than the V-6 Highlander on the highway (24 versus 17).
We got our '04 Highlander in April of '04. V6, AWD, 7 passenger seating, retractable sunroof, etc. Guess we got a good one. Haven't had any issues so far. Have over 53K miles on it. Only real issue was "Tires For Life" scam. We followed service stickers and brought vehicle in at mileage on window. Because we brought it in once at 3K miles instead of 5K miles, we were rejected when tires were needed. We weren't the only ones. Dealer no longer offers this because of issues with 3rd party vendors that handle "T-F-L".
I have a 07 Highlander FWD, 4cyl, now up to 75K miles and 4 years, so I can confirm a lot of this review. (There are way too many obvious, illegitimate posts by GM or Ford-backers ruining the usefulness of this site IMO).
I've had none of the repairs this poster needed. I've had nothing at all ever need a repair, just replaced tires, oil, wiper inserts.
Window noise - true (you have to find certain sweet spots, eg, only 1-in open, that do not make noise). I've never tried using those window deflectors to see if that helps. Summer here is too short for this to be a big concern to me. But a strange design that was never corrected in 7 years of this model.
Handles like a truck - generally it's very smooth and quiet, but on certain uneven roads it goes into pitching gyrations). Like almost everyone else, I only use this as a car, not to ford streams on logging roads or something.
Instrument panel is dark - true. Often I need to turn on the parking lights during the day to read the gauges. Surprisingly poor design, and out of date. I think they were going for some kind of old Jeep macho look on this.
Rear spoiler came on mine. Looks sort of cool, but it prevents automatic non-touch car wash jet sprays from properly cleaning the rear of the car (spray from above is blocked by the spoiler).
Upholstery - I agree. It's not as utilitarian as it could be. I think they were going for some kind of soccer Mom designer look. Upholstery that actually works well and holds up is not marketable I guess.
The other design idea I could do without is the center console. I'd prefer just an open area there. The console makes the space tight and isn't that useful IMO.
Overall, I think this is one of the best cars I could buy compared to everything else out there, and I probably will buy another, used FWD 4cyl, for my children to drive. -ws.