While there are several paths to take when redesigning an suv or crossover, the tried and true route seems to be make it bigger and more comfortable. And that’s the approach that Toyota has taken with the 3rd generation of their largest crossover, the very successful highlander. Let’s see if it still rates high on our list.
The Highlander has indeed been a very successful family-sized crossover for Toyota and that will more than likely remain the case for the 2014 edition.
But, not willing to take any chances, Toyota has equipped the new Highlander with a more sophisticated design and added additional features to keep suburban households in their corner.
While everyone likes to talk practicality and even fuel economy when making everyday vehicle decisions, most buyers still consider the right appearance a strong suit. The Highlander’s slicker sheet metal will help put that situation in its favor.
Body panels are more sculpted than before and there’s almost 3 additional inches of length to play with that gives it much more presence.
Up front, there’s a larger trapezoidal grille, reminiscent of the one sported by the athletic new Corolla; and redesigned A pillars that along with larger rear quarter windows allow for better all-around visibility.
Substantial 18-inch alloy wheels come standard with 19’s available.
Engines are carryover, however, but the all-wheel-drive V6 is more fuel efficient thanks to updates for the 6-speed automatic transmission. Government Fuel Economy Ratings are now 18-City, 24-Highway, and 20-Combined.
Energy Impact Score comes in average at 16.5-barrels of oil use per year with 7.2 tons of CO2 emitted.
We spent time in all powertrain options at the press launch in Carmel, California. And, as you might expect, the V6 with its 270-horsepower and 248 lb-ft. of torque was our preferred option. It’s both strong and more refined than the base 2.7-liter I4. The V6-based hybrid is also highly desirable with even more power and efficiency, but it still comes with a substantial sticker price penalty.
Regardless of powertrain, on the road Highlander feel both more comfortable and polished. And thanks to additional body sealing, added sound deadening materials, and rerouting of the exhaust system, the ride is quieter and smoother, moving Highlander closer to luxury utility ranks.
Dynamic Torque Control all-wheel-drive defaults to front drive until slip is detected, then up to 50% of power heads rearward. You also get torque shift for added grip under heavy acceleration and handling loads. Indeed, when the turns got extra twisty, we felt it helping us through the corners.
Inside there are new soft touch materials, primarily on the dash. But the more time you spend inside the cabin, the more you feel like Toyota could have spread the softness around a little more.
As before, three row seating is standard, but the third row is now wider allowing for 3 across and for first time 8-passenger capacity. Still, the shorter your legs, the more comfort you’ll be. Third row access is easier with a one touch sliding function for the second row.
Where there’s adequate room for just about anyone, whether you opt for bench seating for 3 or Captain’s chairs for 2.
Cargo space behind the 3rd row is up as well, to 13.8 cubic-ft. But, behind the 2nd row, space remains the same as last year at 42.3 cubic-ft. And, surprisingly, max. cargo with all rows folded is actually down a bit to 83.7 cubic-ft.
On the new features front, there’s available Dynamic Radar Cruise Control with Pre-Collision, Blind Spot Monitoring, and Lane Departure Warning.
The Highlander adds a useful shelf that spans the dash and is a great place for electronics and knick knacks that seem to always find their way into the cup holders.
Toyota has stepped things up in connectivity too, with the latest version of Entune standard, as is Bluetooth with audio streaming.
4 trim levels are available starting with the LE at $30,075. Limited models start at $40,500 with LE Plus and XLE in between. All-wheel-drive is available on all models, but the 4-cylider is only available in LE trim, and hybrid only as a Limited.
While the 2014 Toyota Highlander has indeed achieved a loftier status thanks to additional features, more passenger space, and increased refinement; in most ways, it’s still the same great family crossover as before. So while the Highlander is indeed new, it is also totally familiar. And that will please the Toyota faithful to a “T”.
Engine: All-wheel-drive V6
Torque: 248 lb-ft.
EPA: 18 mpg city/ 24 mpg highway
Energy Impact: 16.5 barrels of oil/yr
CO2 Emissions: 7.2 tons/yr