2014 Toyota HighlanderPosted on January 27th, 2014
Mid-sized crossover now seats up to eight passengers
By Nina Russin
The Highlander is the volume leader in Toyota’s crossover lineup, with sales in 2014 expected to approach 140,000 units. The vehicle that began as a variant of the 4Runner in 2001 has passed the SUV in popularity, reflecting a shift in purchase preferences among families with active lifestyles.
The 2014 Highlander is the third all-new iteration of the crossover. Although it rides on the same size wheelbase as the outgoing model, the newest Highlander is three inches longer and half an inch wider. This, in combination with a more compact rear suspension has increased room in the third row of seating, so the midsized crossover can now hold up to eight passengers.
There are four grades of naturally aspirated models, powered by a choice of 2.7-liter four-cylinder or 3.5-liter V-6 engines and a six-speed automatic transmission. The Highlander hybrid comes only as the upscale Limited grade with an available platinum option package.
Pricing for the base front-wheel drive Highlander LE four-cylinder model starts at $29,215, excluding delivery charges. A fully loaded Highlander Hybrid with the platinum option package costs just under $50,000.
Test drive in Santa Barbara
This week I had the opportunity to drive both XLE and Limited Highlander models equipped with the V-6 engine and all-wheel drive in Santa Barbara: a southern California haven for active families. Our drive routes included streets in the downtown area, a two-lane road along the shore, some rural roads through surrounding canyons and a short stretch of the 101 freeway.
The new car looks significantly different than the second-generation model. Designers integrated Toyota’s new trapezoidal grille design into the front end, in similar fashion to the newest Corolla model. The back end is also more angular and in this writer’s opinion, more distinctive.
The roofline is lower to reduce the car’s coefficient of drag and extend gas mileage. Optional roof rails are flush against the rooftop for the same reason. It’s an attractive change from a design stance, but decreases the size of the car’s greenhouse, creating larger blind spots below the rear glass. Fortunately a rearview camera is now standard equipment.
The V-6 engine is a strong performer, and the six-speed automatic has effectively stretched the Highlander’s fuel economy up to 24 miles-per-gallon on the highway for the V-6 all-wheel drive model. Engineers added sound-deadening measures throughout the car, including an acoustic windshield and thicker bulkhead.
This, together with the optional panoramic sunroof, significantly increases the car’s mass. The Limited V-6 all-wheel drive car weighs 4500 pounds without the glass roof panel listed above, passengers or cargo. As a result, the power-to-weight ratio of the larger engine is not as positive as it once was. I noticed that the transmission hunted a lot on the hilly canyon roads: something that will be even more noticeable when the vehicle is towing a trailer.
The redesigned rear suspension is a big improvement. Transitioning from a multi-link to a double wishbone design enabled engineers to better control the way the rear wheels track. This gives the car crisper performance, although the ride still feels quite comfortable.
The electric power steering system has the advantage of producing a 38.7-foot turning circle: quite good for a car of this size. There is ample assist at low speeds for maneuverability, with a heavier feel on the highway.
On-center response is very soft. I didn’t feel disconnected from the wheels, but the fact that I could wiggle the steering wheel back and forth without any effect on the tires was disconcerting.
Four-wheel disc brakes stop the car in firm, linear fashion.
The all-wheel drive system can now send up to 100 percent of engine power to the front wheels, boosting fuel economy when the car is cruising at steady speeds on the highway. On wet roads, wheel sensors determine which tires have the best traction. The on-board computer can send up to fifty percent of engine power to the rear axle in slippery conditions.
Visibility out the front is good, but thick B pillar limit over-the-shoulder visibility and thick D pillars create large blind spots in the back corners. The optional blind spot monitoring system is a worthwhile investment for those buyers who plan to commute in the vehicle.
Interior quiet has always been a hallmark of the Toyota brand. Engineers benchmarked luxury brands when tuning the 2014 Highlander interior. In addition to the new windshield and bulkhead, they separated the carpeting and padding into two separate layers, enabling air trapped in between to act as a sound deadener.
Families who utilize all three rows of seating should appreciate this. A new feature called driver easy speak enables the driver to use the microphone in the rearview mirror to amplify his or her voice in the second and third rows, just in case the kids in back get rowdy.
Seating for up to eight passengers
Buyers familiar with the second-generation Highlander will see a big difference inside the 2014 models. Although the car has always had excellent fit and finish, it is even better, with nicer upholstery materials and some clever new storage options. A new shelf that runs along the length of the instrument panel is a handy place to stash cell phones and portable music players. The redesigned center console bin is now large enough to hold a big purse.
Second-row passengers have significantly more legroom. Adults of all sizes should feel quiet comfortable, even on long road trips.
The new Highlander comes with the latest version of Entune, including apps such as Pandora, Bing, MovieTickets, iHeartRadio and more. Updated voice recognition uses artificial intelligence to learn new dialects.
Upscale models get a new 8-inch touchscreen with bigger graphics. Unfortunately, there is no hood over the screen and it tends to wash out badly in bright sunlight. Wearing sunglasses with polarized lenses, I couldn’t see the screen at all.
Cargo space with the third row of seating in place is somewhat scant, although holding the weekly groceries or smaller luggage won’t be a problem. The liftgate has a height adjustment, making it easier for smaller drivers to reach and preventing it from hitting a lower garage door.
The cargo area is well equipped with hooks and tie-downs for larger items, a cargo light and 12-volt power outlet.
The newest Highlander has received the Top Safety Pick Plus rating from the IIHS. All models come with eight standard airbags, antilock brakes, traction control, stability control, a rearview camera and hill start assist.
Buyers can add adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, automatic high beam headlights and pre-collision assist that automatically applies the brakes when a collision is unavoidable.
Toyota builds the Highlander in its Princeton, Indiana assembly plant.
Like: A spacious three-row crossover vehicle with seating for up to eight passengers, luxury amenities, a quiet interior and high level of standard safety features.
Dislike: Automatic transmission tends to hunt on hills. Electric power steering system has poor on-center response.
Base price: $29,215
As tested: N/A
Horsepower: 270 Hp @ 6200 rpm (3.5L V-6)
Torque: 248 lbs.-ft. @ 4700 rpm (3.5L V-6)
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 18/24 mpg city/highway (V-6 AWD)2014, Best Value 2014, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, performance, pricing, standard safety, Toyota
One response to “2014 Toyota Highlander”
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