Family-focused crossovers aren’t the most electrifying vehicles on the road. They’re typically ponderous, overweight and thirstier than they should be. Is this a description of a car or your eccentric uncle?
|1. Three different powertrains are offered including a 2.7L 4-cylinder, a 3.5L V6 and a hybrid.
2. Our 2014 Highlander Limited AWD tester is powered by a 270 hp. V6 engine and uses a 6-speed automatic transmission.
3. Base price is just about $30,000 for an entry-level Highlander, including destination and delivery charges.
4. V6 AWD Highlanders are rated at 18 MPG city and 24 mpg highway.
Injecting some much appreciated visual flair into Toyota showrooms across the country is the completely redesigned 2014 Highlander. One of the first things you’ll probably notice about this all-new three-row people hauler is its expressive new body. This crossover makes quite a statement, with its gaping, almost Lexus-like grille.
And it ought to look nice; the first design company stylists came up with was scrapped because it just wasn’t good enough. The result of that mulligan is dramatically more interesting than today’s model, though from the rear it does look like it’s got a load in its diaper.
Of course the new Highlander is more than just a pretty face. This vehicle offers a lot of family-friendly features in a spacious but not-too-large package.
The third-generation Highlander targets active, “sporty” families in need of practical transportation. It competes with products like Nissan’s Pathfinder, the Ford Explorer and Chevrolet Traverse to name but a few of its rivals. Toyota’s offering competes in a crowded segment rife with well-thought-out vehicles that literally give customers a run for their money.
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Playing the field, the new Highlander is offered in four different trims ranging from the entry-level LE model, to mid-level LE Plus and XLE versions, to the range-topping Limited flavor. Once again a hybrid is on the menu, though it’s only available in highfaluting Limited trim; if you want to save money at the pump you’ve got to shell out a big ol’ bag of Benjamins up front.
Base price for a stripped-down entry-level version is right about $30,000, including 860 bucks in freight charges. Likewise, Limited models start around 40 grand. Across the board prices have gone up, in some instances by more than 15-hundred dollars but that delta is offset my more standard equipment.
Depending on the model you opt for this sporty looking utility vehicle will seat between seven and eight passengers, perfect for weekend runs to the highland games for a quick caber toss or hammer throw, though the newly improved third-row seat is still best left to children.
Start Your Engine
As for powertrains two are available in non-hybrid models. The base engine is a 2.7-liter four-banger providing 185 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. It’s only expected to account for between 5 and 10 percent of sales; really it’s the value leader and probably only exists so Toyota can claim the Highlander starts at less than 30 grand.
The overwhelming majority of these vehicles will be powered by a familiar 3.5-liter V6, the efficient and ubiquitous 2GR-FE. It delivers a smooth 270 ponies with 248 lb-ft of twist. Unlike today’s model a six-speed automatic transmission is standard with both engines.
Naturally fuel economy is a subject on everyone’s mind, from consumers and dealers to engineers and designers. Reduced consumption was a key goal with the 2014 Highlander and the vehicle’s scores are up compared to the previous generation. Front-wheel-drive V6 models sticker at 19 miles per gallon city and 25 highway, which results in a combined score of 21 MPG.
Disappointingly the four-cylinder model is barely more efficient than that. They’re expected to stretch a gallon of gasoline 20 miles in urban driving and up to 25 on the interstate; combined they ought to hit 22 MPG.
Naturally, all-wheel drive is also on the menu, though it’s only available on six-cylinder models. About 60 percent of buyers are expected to opt for this traction-boosting technology, though it cuts into efficiency by 1 MPG in each category.
When properly equipped the 2014 Highlander can tow up to 5,000 pounds, which is theoretically enough to drag the Loch Ness Monster from her murky lair.
Highlanders with the four-banger are only rated to tow 1,500 pounds; mid-range and hybrid versions fall somewhere in between. Bringing a merciful dash of common sense to the automotive industry these figures are SAE certified (J2807). This is a hot topic in the pickup segment.
Cargo-ing, Going, Going
Despite its thorough overhaul the Highlander still has the same wheelbase as today’s model, though it’s got a wider track and longer body. In part that translates to a more spacious third-row seat and more cargo room.
In fact behind the back-most bench there’s nearly 14 cubic feet of space, which is sufficient for at least a gross of kilts or enough haggis to feed the Orkney Islands for half a year!
Aft of the first row chairs the Highlander tallies more than 83 cubic feet of storage volume. Just imagine all of the stuff you could pile in there. It’s practically roomy enough to light off your own Fourth of July fireworks and still be able to board a mini horse.
The vehicle’s entire cabin has been redesigned. It’s more attractive, more useful and a lot more refined. The look borrows cues from the new Avalon sedan, which isn’t a bad thing.
Squishy plastics abound on the dashboard and door panels. There’s even an integrated storage cubby that runs across the dash. It’s nicely padded and is a perfect place to stash your smartphone for a quick recharge while driving.
There’s also plenty of technology. The new Highlander is available with the latest driver assistance systems, things like blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alter. Additionally a backup camera is standard, which is a handy addition. Bluetooth connectivity and heated side-view mirrors are also included at no extra charge.
When it comes to storage front-seat riders are treated to a massive center console between the seats. It’ll hold 24.5-liters of junk, which is equivalent to at least 58 children’s juice boxes. In adult terms that’s approximately a week’s supply of single-malt Scotch whiskey, though I don’t recommend you test that out, ESPECIALLY while underway…
Like most new vehicles on the market today it’s hard to find fault with the way Toyota’s Highlander carries itself. The vehicle is sturdy and composed at all times with no immediately obvious shortcomings.
It rides on a stiff new structure and engineers paid particular attention to NVH, that’s shorthand for noise, vibration and harshness. To combat this annoying trio they focused on a number of things like optimizing the sound-absorbing insulation behind the dashboard and strategically applying spray foam to certain parts of the vehicle body, and it worked. The Highlander is serene inside.
As for steering feel, it’s not too bad. The electrically-boosted tiller is nicely weighted – light at low speeds and heavier at higher velocities – it’s also reasonably precise. The Highlander is no Mazda Miata or Audi R8 but the way it drives is perfectly fine for what it is.
Unfortunately the powertrain’s performance isn’t as laudable. Toyota’s 3.5-liter bent six is as silky as ever but it just isn’t up to the task of lugging the Highlander around with any enthusiasm. Now, to be fair we were testing the vehicle at altitude in the mountains around Monterey, California. The thinned air undoubtedly reduced its stable of ponies but still, it did not feel as responsive as we had hoped. Perhaps 270 horsepower isn’t as much as it used to be, or more likely the Limited all-wheel-drive model’s 4,508-pound curb weight dragged things down.
As with previous generations, the new Highlander is an efficient, functional vehicle that’s perfect for families that don’t want a minivan. The 2014 model is also nicer looking and better to drive than ever; in classic Toyota fashion it will probably withstand the test of time for a very long time.
But is all of that enough? The Nissan Pathfinder is just as stylish and versatile; Mazda’s CX-9 is likely more entertaining to drive (though rather dated now) and the Ford Explorer offers a bonkers 365 horsepower EcoBoost V6. Viewed through the lens of competition the Highlander is still pretty cautious.
However, if any company has proven that conservative sells it’s Toyota. Look at how many Camrys they deliver each year. Executives project the company will sell 140,000 of these new Highlanders in the United States next year. And that sounds totally reasonable; through November of this year they’ve delivered more than 115,000 copies of the outgoing model.