Los Angeles, CA - Even though minivans are still the most efficient family vehicles on the plant thus far, popular opinion drives Toyota to make the newest Highlander a better family SUV for up to 8 people. These would be 6 adults and two children without car seats but still, 8 bodies in relative comfort. In fact, great effort was taken to give more adjustment to the middle and third seats for loading, unloading, and lounging on the road. We found the front and middle seats supportive with better bolsters, with improved comfort over the last generation Highlander. The third row seats are also more suitable for persons over 80 pounds.
The lengthened Highlander platform has been stretched by more than 3 inches. The stylish body lines and the lower roofline make the Highlander look even longer. Overall length is now 191.1 inches compared to the 2014 Nissan Pathfinder at 197.2 inches. Even though the Highlander is only one-half inch wider on the exterior, Toyota has reengineered the door panels and sound insulation to widen the interior dimensions by a whole 3.7 inches, giving this Highlander a much more open ambiance for all three rows of passengers. The A-pillar to the C-pillar windows reveal a glasshouse feeling while the third row and cargo area receives lots of space and smaller windows.
Rear visibility is better than many modern crossovers but still less than the large boxier SUV trucks from GM. Toyota has intentionally increased the size and girth of the Highlander where one could speculate this model as a Sequoia replacement in years to come. The high-strength steel unibody construction is stiffer and lighter. Toyota claims a 30% increase in structural rigidity and less vibration. Our Highlander LE Plus V6 came in with a curb weight (2WD) of just 4,244 lbs. and a towing capacity of just 2,000 pounds. The upper level models can be equipped with a towing package that allows for 5,000 pound trailers.
The third-generation Highlander will come in four models: LE, LE Plus, XLE and Limited. With the exception of this year, people who live in the sunbelt will be satisfied with the Highlander FWD. Snow and ice are handled better with the electronically controlled permanent AWD traction system that monitors wheel speed continuously and shifts from mostly front wheel power to all four wheels instantly. The AWD models include this Dynamic Torque Control for improved dry pavement cornering as part of the computer controlled traction enhancement.
After some hard freeway miles and stop-n-go traffic, we averaged 25.8 mpg. All around driving averaged out to 22.2 mpg and beat the 21 mpg estimated overall mileage without any pampering from me. All Highlanders feature a 3.5-liter V6 engine and a new six-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission. There is selectable manual sequential shifting, ideal for downhill braking. The LE is also available with a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine and the Limited grade is available with a hybrid powertrain. The gas powered four-cylinder pumps out 185 hp @ 5,800 while the gas-powered V6 gets 270 hp @ 6,200 rpm. The real difference between the two non-hybrid engines is found in the V6 powertrains 248 lb-ft. of torque which propelled us up every grade of road. There is no need for a V8 in this vehicle, even with a trailer in tow.
The ride is very controlled and the big SUV corners with slight body lean. The standard 18-inch all-season tires gripped the pavement without hesitation but they also produce some road noise. Toyota has calibrated the suspension on the new Highlander to be stiffer than I would expect for their marketed target. Mom's might wish for a smoother ride but generally, the feel on typical pavement is dampened. Like most new electric-assist power steering systems, Highlander's gives very little feedback. Most will love the easy steering at low speeds and increased maneuverability in parking lots.
The adjustable power liftgate is included in the LE Plus package. The rear window opens separate from the liftgate- rare for SUV's and wagons nowadays. However, the window is so high off the ground that only persons 6 feet tall can reach packages through the window opening. The Highlander has 13.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third seat. If all seats are folded flat, owners get 83.7 cubic feet of usable space in the LE and LE Plus (without the moonroof). This tops the 2014 Nissan Pathfinder's 79.8 cubic ft. but not the 2014 Honda Pilot's 87 cubic feet of squared off space.
Our test vehicle came as the 2014 Highlander LE Plus with standard goodies like Toyota's Entune® Audio system with a very readable 6.1-inch touchscreen center dash. The standard Bluetooth® phone system worked flawlessly, as did all digital music hookups. Also standard on this base model is a backup camera, heated mirrors with turn signals, and a nifty roll-top center console. A nice storage shelf is very handy for cell phones, sunglasses, etc. and includes USB ports just below. I also liked the supportive seats covered with a superior cloth material.
Standard equipment added with the LE Plus package includes fog lights, 8-way power driver seat with lumbar support, upgraded audio with XM & HD radio, three-zone automatic climate control, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. The overall cabin has been refined by reduced wind noise and a quiet cabin. Toyota has incorporated some acoustic glass for the windshield and in the new panoramic moonroof design.
Many will choose the more expensive XLE model which adds a smart key with push button start, leather-trimmed and heated front seats, roof rails and a tilt-slide moonroof, second-row integrated sun shades, Navigation, and an “App Suite” with an eight-inch touch screen. Options include seating for seven with second-row captain's chairs, and a rear-seat Blu-ray® DVD entertainment system. For those with unlimited budgets, there is a 2014 Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum AWD-i CVT-E which starts at $49,790. We drove the LE Plus model for 800+ miles with an MSRP of $33,600. It operated just the way an owner would want a larger SUV to transport their family.
Toyota looks to make the Highlander an executive shuttle on the highways and back roads of countries like Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. They intend to export approximately 29,000 units annually from Toyota's manufacturing plant in Princeton, Indiana.
2014 Highlander Product Information
2.7-liter, four-cylinder, double- overhead cam, 16-valve with Dual VVT-i
Compression Ratio 10.0:1 10.8:1
Horsepower 185 hp @ 5,800
Torque 184 lb-ft @ 4,200 rpm
Ignition System Electronic, Toyota Direct Ignition (TDI)
3.5-liter, six-cylinder, double-overhead cam, 24-valve with Dual VVT-I
Horsepower 270 hp @ 6,200 rpm
Torque 248 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm
Electronic, Toyota Direct Ignition (TDI)
Fuel System EFI
Recommended Fuel 87-octane unleaded or higher
Emission Certification ULEV-II
EPA Estimated Fuel Economy
2.7 Liter 20/25/22 (2WD) (AWD) Not an option.
3.5 Liter 19/25/21 (2WD) 18/24/20 (AWD)