2014 Toyota Highlander Review

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The Car Connection
2018
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
August 7, 2014

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.

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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.
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2014 Toyota Highlander

Styling

Sleeker from the side than the front, the Highlander's big, stylish transition takes place inside.

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. It's a shift toward a 4Runner-ish, SUV-ish style that runs exactly opposite to the trend in most other big crossovers--Santa Fe, Flex, Traverse. That switchup works better than it did on the Honda Pilot, and the Highlander's broader shoulders neatly avoid the more cartoonish aspects that the 4Runner rolls around in.

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. The lines may sweep away from driver to passenger, but the focus is clearly on the left side passenger--big gauges and big climate-control knobs are a welcome sight. A large touchscreen factors in on navigation-equipped models, but doesn't upset the cockpit's visual clarity, since most climate and auxiliary functions still have hard buttons, not virtual on-screen ones.

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2014 Toyota Highlander

Performance

Powertrains are carried over, but this Highlander's less floaty and more connected than before.

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 184 pound-feet of torque.

Toyota says only about five percent of you will be interested in this base version. It's a price leader, mostly. While the four-cylinder Highlander accelerates reasonably and smoothly, it's configured without many of the features and options found on the V-6 models--features like all-wheel drive. Gas mileage is barely better than the V-6, too.

Of those, the far more common version will be the standard 3.5-liter six, with 270 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque, also teamed up with a six-speed automatic and in this case, a choice of front- or all-wheel drive. It's not the quickest alternative in the class--a turbocharged Ford Flex will blow all four doors off--but the Highlander's V-6 a smooth, fairly quiet commodity, uncontroversial in every dimension, with gas mileage that's no penalty versus the four-cylinder.

The Highlander we'd choose least often is the Hybrid. Compiled from a 231-hp version of the 3.5-liter V-6 and a pair of motors in front and one in back, the Hybrid nets 280 hp and pairs with an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (eCVT). All versions have through-the-road all-wheel drive, which means the gas power goes to the front wheels, while electric power passes only to the rear wheels. Adding 350 pounds of mechanical gear drags on the Hybrid's acceleration, putting it in four-cylinder territory--while we've struggled to hit any of its estimated fuel-economy figures in previous-generation Highlanders.

The Highlander's driving dynamics were long overdue for attention. The last edition had copious body roll and uncommunicative steering. Toyota has reworked the front-strut and independent-rear suspension for better handling, and much of the Highlander's substantial body lean has been tuned out. Ride quality is no longer cushy, but it's on the correct side of firm for a vehicle in this size class, though we'd avoid the optional 19-inch wheels to keep road ruts in check.

The Highlander's firmer-feeling electric power steering can even be called pleasant. It's as if all the invisible handling screws have been tightened a few complete turns, without ruining its family-wagon fundamentals.

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The Highlander also can be rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds, so long as the non-Hybrid V-6 engine is installed; four-cylinder versions are rated at a puny 1,500 pounds.
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2014 Toyota Highlander

Comfort & Quality

We prefer the cloth seats and appreciate the added cargo room, but it's the finer finishes that call out the new Highlander best.

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. In front, the chairs are like many we've sat in recently: better in softer, plusher fabric than in their leather-wrapped cousins, especially when ventilation is factored in. As much as we love the cooling effect, the feature takes the place of some valuable padding. To get power adjustment on both front chairs, by the way, you'll have to spend for the priciest Limited edition.

Behind the front buckets, separated by a tambour-covered console almost big enough for a gym bag, 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. The recline function's a good thing for tall passengers--we had to set the seatback at a slight angle to create headroom under one Highlander's standard power sunroof.

We admit we'll miss the "Center Stow" seat Toyota has offered in the past Highlander. It had a section in the middle bench seat that tucked away into the console, creating a pass-through to the third row. There's a flip-up cupholder tray to fill the space left behind, between captain's chairs. The new seat's less functional in that way, but it does slide on a track for good adjustability.

It can either nibble away its own leg room or increase it, taking up space from the reclining third-row seat, which has 4.3 inches more width for better comfort but hardly any more headroom, rendering it a place for tweens and kids, and not many other people.

It's more critical that Toyota has carved out more space behind the third-row bench for cargo. The third row folds flat, and out of the way so the crossover can be loaded up: there's up to 13.8 cubic feet behind the third row, 42.3 behind the second row, and 83.7 behind the front two seats--enough for a set of bunk beds or a round of extreme couponing.

The desire to put a Highlander through those paces is diminished, though. With each generation it's become nicer, quieter, calmer, and the leap in this generation's more marked than the last. Thicker acoustic glass damps powertrain noise, and insulation in the floor blots out vibrations, suspension chatter, and tire squawk. The soft-touch materials on the dash are rich, the woodgrain convincing, the tray formed into the dash a truly useful spot for all kinds of small electronics. It's come a long way from the boxy, utility-drawer 2001 Highlander.

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2014 Toyota Highlander

Safety

It's an IIHS Top Safety Pick+, and the new Highlander comes with a standard rearview camera.

The 2014 Highlander boosts its standard safety equipment with a total of eight airbags and a newly standard rearview camera. Hill-start assist is also included.

Among the new safety options are blind-spot monitors, a lane-departure warning system, and parking sensors. Also bundled into a Driver Technology Package is a pre-collision system coupled to adaptive cruise control.

That forward-collision warning system is the feature that puts the Highlander into the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's good graces. This year, the IIHS demands those systems for vehicles it includes on its Top Safety Pick+ list--which the Highlander makes, thanks also to an "acceptable" score on the IIHS' new small-overlap crash test.

In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) testing, the Highlander has earned a five-star overall score, with four stars for frontal crash and five stars in side-impact testing.

Visibility is better with the new Highlander, thanks to repositioned pillars and bigger rear-quarter windows.

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9

2014 Toyota Highlander

Features

Toyota's Entune system is standard, along with Bluetooth and audio streaming; the plushest Hybrid Limited versions push $50,000.

The 2014 Toyota Highlander offers up a rich list of features, even in base four-cylinder models priced at about $30,000. All versions have premium cloth interiors, an Entune connectivity kit, and Bluetooth to go with the usual power features and conveniences. A rearview camera's also standard, as are a USB port, 18-inch wheels, and split-folding second- and third-row seats.

Add the Plus package and you'll get a power driver seat; satellite radio; three-zone automatic climate control; and a power tailgate with a flip-up glass window.

Highlander XLE crossovers come with pushbutton start; leather; heated front seats; a sunroof; navigation; Homelink garage door opener; and 5,000 pounds of towing capacity thanks to the standard V-6 engine. The second-row bench seat can be changed out for captain's chairs. A Blu-Ray DVD entertainment system is an option. A feature called Driver Easy Speak pipes in front-seat voices to back-seat voices in Highlander XLE and higher trims--making a shout at third-row kids a little less strained, if no less necessary.

Limited Highlanders get 19-inch wheels; rear parking sensors and blind-spot monitors; second-row captain's chairs; heating and ventilation for the front seats; a power front passenger seat; and premium audio. At this equipment level, gas-only Highlanders are priced right around $45,000--and Hybrids, $50,000.

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2014 Toyota Highlander

Fuel Economy

Gas mileage is par for the course; the Hybrid's better numbers are iffy prospects in the real world.

The Highlander sets no fuel-economy records, but it's generally in line with other seven-passenger crossover SUVs.

The most frugal version of the Highlander, the four-cylinder model with front-wheel drive, doesn't fare much better than a Ford Flex with a V-6, though. The base Highlander's rated at 20 miles per gallon city, 25 mpg highway, and 22 mpg combined.

Highlander V-6s come with either front- or all-wheel drive. The front-drive model's pegged at 19/25 mpg, or 21 mpg, by the EPA. The all-wheel-drive version is rated at 18/24 mpg, or 20 mpg combined.

The most planet-conscious Highlander Hybrid fares much better, at least according to its EPA ratings of 27/28 mpg or 28 mpg combined. They're nearly identical to the prior Hybrid, though, and we've had trouble observing those figures in real-world driving.

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May 25, 2015
2014 Toyota Highlander FWD 4-Door V6 Limited (Natl)

Best car I have owned.

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I now have 25,000 miles on my 2014 Highlander Limited Platinum model. This car is as as good my previous car which was a 2002 Lexus RX300 that I drove for 12 years and 225,000 miles. My son currently drives... + More »
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April 14, 2015
For 2014 Toyota Highlander

My third review

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I now have 28k on this Highlander XKE I purchased in mid-January, 2014. We have gone coast to coast a couple of times and a number of extended weekend trips. The car is great on the highway, quiet and... + More »
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