2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWDPosted on August 21st, 2014
Newest eight-passenger crossover is family friendly
By Nina Russin
The Highlander crossover and its hybrid variant are among Toyota’s greatest success stories. Although the 2001 Highlander wasn’t the first crossover to hit the market, its combination of rock-solid reliability and versatility struck a chord with families needing a functional alternative to minivans and full-sized SUVs.
Fifteen years later, Toyota has re-engineered the formula, making the Highlander a more spacious, quieter car, with some unique features such as driver easy speak that enables the driver to talk with kids in back using the microphone in the rearview mirror.
The new car is longer and wider than the outgoing model and comes with a choice of four-cylinder, V-6 or hybrid V-6 powertrains. The hybrid model utilizes the same Hybrid Synergy Drive system as the Toyota Prius to boost gas mileage to 28 miles-per-gallon.
Product planners expanded the number of trim levels, going to more of a monospec pricing strategy. Pricing for the front-wheel drive four-cylinder LE starts at $29,215. All grades are available with all-wheel drive, but only upscale grades come with three rows of seating.
In keeping with tradition, the hybrid is only available as the fully loaded Limited and Limited Platinum, priced from $47,300 and $49,790 respectively. The platinum package adds pre-collision, dynamic radar cruise control, automatic high beam headlamps, a panoramic sunroof, heated steering wheel and heated second-row captain’s chairs. Other options on the test car include carpeted floor mats and a glass breakage sensor. Final MSRP, including the $860 delivery charge, is $51,174.
Test drive in Arizona
I drove the 2014 Highlander gasoline models at a media event in Santa Barbara, California last year, but I had yet to try out the hybrid model. I was anxious to live with the Highlander for a week and see if its fuel economy met the manufacturer’s claims.
Overall, the Highlander remains a great package. Toyota has a talent for making vehicles that are easy to live with and at the end of the day, that’s what most buyers, especially those with growing families, are looking for. The newest Highlander is stylish and versatile, with enough towing capacity to haul a trailer. Buyers wanting a more stylish alternative to traditional minivans can find that in the Highlander, without compromising seating or cargo capacity.
The hybrid technology is seamless. Were it not for the EV light and fuel economy indicator on the gauge cluster, the driver would think he was in a traditional gasoline-powered car. Engineers wisely use an electric air conditioning compressor that stays on when the engine cuts out at idle, so the interior stays blissfully cool at the height of a Phoenix, Arizona summer.
Because electric motors develop peak torque at very low engine speeds, acceleration off the line and in the 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range is exceptionally good. Fuel economy during my 140-mile test drive was not as good as advertised: 24.7 miles-per-gallon according to the driver information screen.
Engineers modified the suspension of the new model. A double wishbone design replaces the rear multilink system on the former model, so the back wheels track better. The all-wheel drive system can send up to 100 percent of engine power to the wheels with the best traction: a feature that came in handy during one of our seasonal rainstorms.
On-center response from the electric power steering system is not particularly good. It isn’t noticeable during normal driving conditions, but could affect the driver’s ability to control the vehicle during an emergency maneuver. On the other hand, low-speed maneuverability is exceptionally good, with a 38.7-foot turning circle. Typically, a car with a 110-inch wheelbase would have a turning circle of about 40 feet. The fact that the Highlander’s is better makes it possible to perform the occasional U-turn on wider surface streets.
The Highlander has a high beltline and relatively small rear glass. A standard rearview camera eliminates blind spots in the back corners, projecting a wide-angle view to the rear onto the center stack screen. Blind spot monitoring illuminates LED signals in the rearview mirrors when vehicles in adjacent lanes pass through the driver’s blind spots. I had no problems monitoring traffic merging onto the freeway or on the freeway itself.
Four-wheel disc brakes stop the Highlander in firm, linear fashion.
Inside, the Highlander rivals a minivan for spaciousness and versatility. I appreciate the huge new center console bin that is big enough to hold a large purse. Access and egress to the third row has also been improved with a one-step sliding second-row seat. Buyers who purchase the captains chairs get an additional path to the back between the seats.
Keyless entry and start on the test car saves the driver from fumbling for the key fob. Equally important is the power tailgate, so owners can easily load cargo into the back.
Two-position driver’s seat memory enables multiple family members to share the driving. I found seat controls easy to use, and I was able to move the seat high enough for a clear forward view.
A driver information screen in the gauge cluster allows the driver to scroll through information such as driving range, average fuel economy, a compass and speedometer.
The center stack screen is large with good graphics, but because there is no hood, images wash out completely in bright sunlight. Wearing polarized glasses seems to make the situation worse. To see the rearview camera image I had to take off my sunglasses.
The Toyota Highlander Hybrid comes with front, side, side curtain, driver’s knee and front passenger seat cushion airbags, whiplash reducing front seats, daytime running lamps, traction control, stability control, antilock brakes, tire pressure monitoring and child protector rear door locks.
All hybrid components are covered by an eight-year/100,000 mile warranty. The factory 3 year/36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty includes two years of complimentary roadside assistance.
The all-new Highlander Hybrid is on display at Toyota dealerships nationwide.
Like: A stylish, versatile crossover with the same hybrid technology as the Toyota Prius.
Dislike: Center stack screen is difficult to read in bright sunlight.
Model: Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum
Base price: $49,790
As tested: $51,174
Horsepower*: 270 Hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque*: 248 lbs.-ft. @ 4700 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 27/28 mpg city/highway
Comment:* Horsepower and torque ratings are for the V-6 gasoline engine only and do not include the electric motors.2014, Green Hybrid, Luxury 2014, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, performance, pricing, standard safety, Toyota
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