- Four-cylinder, six-cylinder, or hybrid
- Second-row flexibility
- Better connectivity features
- Better third-row access
- Powertrains running in place
- Will hybrid's real-world mileage vary?
- Dash can look busy
- New design is better, but by how much?
The 2014 Toyota Highlander covers familiar territory, without straying too far into Adventure Land.
Toyota’s Highlander sits in a convenient place in Toyota’s crossover/SUV range, offering a more car-like alternative to the true SUV of the 4Runner, and a larger alternative to the very car-like RAV4. Over its two generations, the Highlander has filled many roles for many people, from family wagon to hybrid halo car.
This year, the 2014 Highlander renews its lease on that space with what Toyota promises is more refinement and strength--and what we sense is some subtle repositioning. For one, Toyota calls the car-based Highlander an SUV, and for two, from the outside, it's made it look more like one than ever.
The Highlander's been reimagined before, from its spartan wagon roots into the current, girthy, second edition. For its third take, the big utility vehicle adopts a new look that owes some of its cues to a slew of competitive vehicles that occupy the grey area between crossovers and SUVs. We see some Durango and X5 in the side view--and oddly enough, lots of Mitsubishi in the maw of its deep new grille and in the exaggerations around its wheel wells and at the sills. The cabin skips that ambiguity--it's all car, and it's directly inspired by the cockpit in the current RAV4. There's some Teutonic-themed dash action, and a pleasing jumble of lines and textures.
Toyota Highlander performance
As was the case with the RAV4, the Highlander's powertrains are carried over from the previous generation. One's an overlap: the 2.7-liter four-cylinder in base models is the only engine found in the smaller RAV4. Coupled to a six-speed automatic and offered only with front-wheel drive, the engine turns in 185 horsepower and acceptable acceleration that gets strained easily past legal highway speeds and loads of more than two passengers.
Two V-6 models return. The standard 270-hp six teams up with a six-speed automatic and a choice of front- or all-wheel drive for good, not great, acceleration. The Hybrid six pairs with an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (eCVT) and through-the-road all-wheel drive for a net 280 hp that feels strained, thanks to an additional 350 pounds of curb weight.
The Highlander's driving dynamics were long overdue for attention, and the front-strut and independent-rear suspension are tuned for less lean and more ride firmness that doesn't lapse into Euro caricature. Electric power steering is now standard, and the all-wheel-drive system can ship around torque from front to rear when the vehicle's yaw sensors detect a more engaged driver. Eighteen-inch and 19-inch wheels will be on the order sheet, for those more adventurous types.
The Highlander also can be rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds, so long as the V-6 engine is installed.
Toyota Highlander comfort and utility
At 191.1 inches long, on a 109.8-inch wheelbase, the Highlander's stretched by three inches over the prior version, but none of it comes between the wheels. There's a half-inch more width, in what was already a fairly large vehicle--though one that's still noticeably smaller than competitors like the new Nissan Pathfinder.
The Highlander can seat up to eight passengers. Behind the front buckets, separated by a tambour-covered console, the Highlander totes five or six. The second row's either a three-person split-bench seat with a recline feature, or a pair of captain's chairs. There's no "Center Stow" seat anymore, just a flip-up cupholder tray, but the second-row bench seat does now slide to expand access to the reclining third-row seat, which has 4.3 inches more width for better comfort but a dearth of headroom. Toyota's also carved out more space behind the third-row bench for cargo and slotted in a tray along the dash that's truly useful--if you've already filled the gym-bag-sized console.
The Highlander's cabin is much quieter and calmer than before. Thicker acoustic glass damps powertrain noise, and insulation in the floor blots out vibrations, suspension chatter, and tire squawk.
Toyota Highlander safety
The 2014 Highlander will boost its standard safety equipment with a total of eight airbags and a newly standard rearview camera. Hill-start assist is also included. The IIHS already calls it a Top Safety Pick+, and it's earned a five-star overall score in federal testing (albeit not with five stars in all categories).
Among the new safety options are blind-spot monitors, a lane-departure warning system, and parking sensors. Visibility is better, thanks to repositioned pillars and bigger rear-quarter windows.
Toyota Highlander features and pricing
All 2014 Toyota Highlanders come with an Entune connectivity kit, and Bluetooth to go with the usual power features and conveniences, all for a base price of just under $30,000 before destination.
Higher trim levels package in features like automatic high-beam headlights; heated and ventilated front seats; heated second-row captain's chairs; a JBL audio system; a navigation system; a power tailgate with a programmable lift height; and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with gaming inputs.Highlander Limited crossovers approach $45,000; the Hybrid Limited peaks near $50,000.