Last Update: Wednesday, August 27, 2014
|2014 Highlander: Toyota's Credible Crossover Gets Beefy Styling, More Room, Clever Extras|
|Written by Mark Maynard | Creative Syndicate|
|Wednesday, 21 May 2014 18:16|
Photo Credit Creative Syndicate
Highlander is also available in all-wheel drive and as a gasoline-electric hybrid.
The midsize, three-row crossover is the minivan of 21st century. The sleek SUV-lite is not as good at moving people or their stuff, but the selling points are no sliding doors, no boxy shape, no unflattering social labels.
Most crossovers have styling attitude, like an angry bird or brooding parent. And the redesigned 2014 Toyota Highlander joins the flock.
Now in its third generation, the Highlander has morphed over the years from a simple, family vehicle to a credible three-row midsize crossover with seats for seven or eight and V-6 guts to pull a 5,000 pound trailer.
The biggest changes to the 2014 Highlander are in its beefy styling and a little more thirdrow elbowroom, a new sixspeed automatic plus some nifty new features and more cabin refinement.
Sizewise, the new Highlander has the same-length wheelbase (109.8 inches) but the body is 2.7 inches longer, about a half inch wider and about the same height, at 70 inches with the shark fin antenna.
There are now four trim levels or "grades" -- LE, LE Plus, XLE and Limited - in front- or all-wheel-drive. And as before there are three engine choices: 185-horsepower, 2.7-liter fourcylinder; 270-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6; and gasolineelectric hybrid, available in the Limited grade only.
Pricing starts at about $30,000 for the LE with four-cylinder engine and goes to $50,650 for the Hybrid Limited Platinum. The Limited Platinum (gas engine) tester was $42,990, including the $860 freight charge from Princeton, Ind. It had no options.
A new six-speed automatic replaces a five-speed in V-6 models and gives a 1 mpg improvement in city and highway mileage. The V-6 is rated 19/25/21 city/highway/ combined. I was getting around 21.3 mpg combined in my week of driving.
AWD decreases fuel economy by just 1 mpg in both categories. The gasoline electric hybrid is rated 27/28/28, which Toyota says is best-in-class for a midsize, three-row vehicle.
While the trend in these $30,000 to $40,000 crossovers is to create a "premium" appearance to the interior accommodations -- certainly so in the Hyundai Santa Fe and Nissan Pathfinder -- the Highlander still appears valueoriented and sturdy.
But many amenities have been added and soundproofing was emphasized, including acoustic-type glass for the windshield. There is a new dash pad silencer, enhancements to body sealing and hydraulic engine mounts. And despite all this, I still had to crank the radio volume at highway speeds to cover ambient noise.
A roll-top center console is a clever way to dig into the depths of storage or access the 12-volt plug. Handy shelf space built into the lower face of the instrument panel is meant to lay a cellphone, with a cutout to run the charging cable to a choice of ports just below. But there's no option for Toyota's phonecharging mat.
The Limited's front seats are heated and cooled and the second-row captain's chairs have heaters and a collapsible side tray with cup holders. There is a new fabric headliner and optional second-row sunshades.
Getting into the third row is fairly simple for the children who will ride back there. The second-row seats slide and have a one-step folding function. There is generous footroom and up to 38.4 inches of legroom, which can vary depending on who is in the front or third-row seats. The second-row floor is flat so three-across in an eightpassenger configuration will be as comfortable as possible.
The 60/40 split third-row has 3.7 inches more width and reclining seat backs. But there are no temp or fan controls, as there are in the second row. The third row folds flat into the floor and can be pulled back into position with little effort. Space behind the third row is a little larger now and there is some basement storage.
The V-6 performance is tirespinning strong. There's no problem getting up to cruising speed, as there can be in the Santa Fe and the Pathfinder -- and the Highlander is no lightweight at 4,354 pounds. AWD gas models have ondemand four-wheel traction (Dynamic Torque Control), differential lock, hill-start assist and downhill assist.
Ride quality can feel trucky, but the suspension is firm for good control without wallow.
Safety features include eight air bags, including a driver's knee bag and front passenger seat cushion. Four-wheel disc brakes are large enough to control the mass -- twin-piston 12.9-inch vented discs front; single piston, 12.2-inch solid discs rear, which are slightly larger than those of some competitors.
The Platinum model includes the Driver Technology Package, which adds a precollision system with dynamic radar cruise control and lane departure alert with automatic high beam headlights.
The Highlander owner who is ready to trade in will find many likeable additions -- at a higher price. The tester was $3,300 more than a comparable Santa Fe, which has a significantly longer warranty.
Overall, the 2014 Highlander is a good catch-up remodel but it won't outpace the competition.