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January 23, 2014

All-New Family Friendly 2014 Toyota Highlander Travels the High Road

2014_Toyota_Highlander_frontviewBy Sue Mead

I had a difficult choice to make recently: to travel to Detroit, Michigan, in the dead of winter to hear some new car news and attend a few holiday parties, or travel to sunny Carmel Valley, California, to try out the all-new 2014 Toyota Highlander

Hailing from a cold clime, of course the warmth of coastal California appealed to me, but I was also very excited to take a look at the third-generation Highlander, a mid-sized crossover SUV made by the Japanese brand that has become known for quality and dependability.

2014_Toyota_Highlander_rearviewWhen it originally came to the U.S. market in 2000, the Highlander was the first of its kind--a sport utility vehicle that was spawned from a car platform. What does this mean? Until that time, SUVs were placed on top of truck frames. This made them durable, but heavy and less fuel efficient; taller and harder to get in and out of; and they drove more like trucks than cars, which is a consideration that has always been important for women, as female buyers want to know how easy is it to maneuver their vehicle, especially when carrying precious cargo. The Highlander has always been built on the Toyota Camry platform and that gives it more “car-like” handling. Now, almost all automakers have followed suit, as many consumers-particularly women-have voted with their purse!

2014_Toyota_Highlander_front_seatsWelcome now to the third-generation model of the Toyota Highlander that has been made longer and wider, and is styled less boxy. What this means is it has more of the looks of a longish minivan. It seats up to eight, gets updates under the hood and on the inside, and it has a batch of new, advanced safety features and technologies onboard. On sale now, with a hybrid version joining the lineup in mid-February, it competes with the Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder, Honda Pilot, and Hyundai Santa Fe. It starts at an MSPR of $29,215, excluding the $860 destination and handling. You’ll find these vehicles similar in some ways, but each has its own personality and special features, as well as pricing differences!

2014_Toyota_Highlander_rear_seatsThe new Highlander has three rows of seats, a wide array of standard features, and increased cargo capacity that appeals to active families. Updates include 4.3-inches of added width space on the interior, soft-touch materials on the instrument panel, lane-departure warning, pre-collision warning and blind spot monitoring systems. HD Radio and Bluetooth are now standard on all trims as well as Toyota's Entune multimedia system, along with a 6.1-inch touchscreen display audio system. An eight-inch touchscreen system and Toyota's Entune app suite with12 JBL speakers will be offered as an option.

2014_Toyota_Highlander_dashThere are three engine or ‘powertrain’ choices: a fuel-efficient 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine, with a six-speed transmission; a more powerful 3.5-liter V-6 that gets up to 270 horsepower with a new six-speed transmission; and a V-6-powered Hybrid Synergy Drive model that is matched to a eCVT that gets segment-leading miles-per-gallon for a three-row mid-sized SUV, says Toyota; it is also more earth-friendly. The four-cylinder comes as a front-drive model; the V-6 as either FWD or all-wheel drive; and the hybrid is AWD-only. The EPA-rated fuel economy is 20 mpg in the city, 25 mpg on the highway, and 22 mpg combined for the four-cylinder FWD, while it is 19 mpg city/25 mpg highway/21 mpg combined on 6-cylinder FWD models and 18/24/20 for AWD. The hybrid gets a net 280 horsepower and is rated at 27 mpg city/28mpg highway/28 mpg combined.

2014_Toyota_Highlander_sideviewOutside, you’ll find a sleek profile, with a lower roofline for improved aerodynamics, and sculptured side-door panels.  The Highlander is lengthened by approximately three inches, with a width that has increased one-half inch, which gives it a slightly stronger look, but also adds more elbow room inside! In front is a redesigned trapezoidal grille, wraparound headlamps and carved fenders and sculptured wheel wells. In back is a newly-designed, height-adjustable rear liftgate, with an available one-touch power open/close and driver-selectable memory height settings. The body is made of high-strength steel that has been used in the front pillars for better rigidity, as well as crash-worthiness. 

2014_Toyota_Highlander_center_consoleStepping inside, you’ll find an upgraded cabin, with new premium fabrics; available perforated leather-trim seats, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; high quality knit roof lining; ambient lighting around the front dash and doors; and available second-row sunshades, depending on the trim. A new, large roll-top center console has a comfortable armrest; when it is fully opened, it can hold a large handbag!  All trims get a newly designed LCD in-meter-cluster Multi-Information Display that is available in 3.5-inch black & white or 4.2-inch color display. 

The second row comes with bench-seating for three or two captain’s seats, with a cool, collapsible side tray with cup holders for young ones or other riders wanting to work, eat, or play!  Getting into the third-row is now easier with the addition of a one-step second-row sliding seat function on both driver and passenger sides that gives nearly three more inches of space for easier entry and exit to the third-row.  An interior width increase of 3.7 inches in the third-row and a standard recline function creates mean more comfort for up to three in the back.  Like the second-row bench, the third-row can be 60/40 split for passenger and storage flexibility and convenience.  The rear cargo space behind the third-row has also grown by 34 percent for added storage. With special modifications, the interior can even hold an 800-gallon fish tank!

2014_Toyota_Highlander_sunroofAdditional available convenience features include an Automatic High Beam Headlight System, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Smart Key, driver’s seat memory, heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row captain’s seats, and a heated steering wheel.

What we noticed first during a day-long ride and drive along the famed Pacific Coast Highway was the Highlander’s improved visibility, as a result of repositioning the front A-pillars and increasing the size of the rear quarter glass. The new model has also been made quieter (and the moonroof is quieter, when opened, too!). This created a great driving experience, especially with the V-6 models and the Hybrid; while we liked the four-cylinder for slower, around-town motoring and fuel economy, we would recommend the V6 for families that travel on the highways for commutes or trips, or carry a full load.

2014_Toyota_Highlander_cargo_behind_3rd_rowHighlander comes in four grades, or trim levels: LE, LE Plus, XLE and Limited--all come in both front-wheel (FWD) or all-wheel-drive (AWD).  AWD gas models get standard Dynamic Torque Control. The LE grade features standard 18-inch alloy wheels, Entune Audio featuring a 6.1-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth phone and music streaming, an integrated backup camera, seating for eight with second- and third-row 60/40 split fold-flat seats, heated side mirrors with turn signal indicators, smart storage compartments like the roll-top center console, an in-dash shelf with easy access to power and USB ports, a windshield wiper de-icer, among other items. Stepping up to higher trim levels adds even more convenience and safety features.

Options for both gas and hybrid Limited grade models include a rear-seat Blu-ray DVD entertainment system, Driver Technology Package, and Platinum Package. The Driver Technology Package includes: Safety Connect (includes Emergency Assistance, Stolen Vehicle Locator, Roadside Assistance and Automatic Collision Notification. Available by subscription), Pre-Collision System with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Automatic High Beam Headlights. The Platinum Package includes: Driver Technology Package, Panoramic Moonroof, heated steering wheel and heated second-row Captain’s Chairs.

2014_Toyota_Highlander_cargo_all_seats_downAll Highlanders get a MacPherson strut front suspension/double-wishbone rear, four-wheel disc brakes, 18-inch alloy wheels and available 19-inch alloys, which are standard on the hybrid. Dynamic Torque Control All-Wheel Drive (AWD) has enhanced suspension performance and optimized electric power steering. A sophisticated, high-speed interactive management system coordinates the Dynamic Torque Control AWD, Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and Electric Power Steering (EPS) systems to enhance performance, handling and safety.

All Highlanders have eight standard airbags and come with Toyota’s standard Star Safety System, which includes Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, Brake Assist, an Anti-lock Braking System, and Smart Stop Technology, as well as a standard backup camera and Hill-start Assist Control.  All AWD gas models will have an AWD LOCK switch.  Newly available safety and convenience features include rear parking sonar, Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Alert with Automatic High Beam Headlights, and a Pre-collision System with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.

Features Ladies will Love on the 2014 Toyota Highlander

•Second-row collapsible side tray with cup holders for young ones or other riders wanting to work, eat, or play.
•Ample pockets and cubbies, including space in the center console to hold your purse.
•Three rows of flexible seating and cargo options that allow room for up to eight passengers with 13.8 cubic feet of storage behind the third row, or seating for two with a whopping 83.2 cubic feet behind the first row.
• Smart Key System on front doors and liftgate with Push Button Start and remote keyless entry system with illuminated entry to light the space around the minivan when you approach it in the dark.

Highlander LE will range from $29,215 for the LE four-cylinder FWD to $43,590 for the Limited V6 AWD with Platinum Package.  The Highlander Hybrid Limited will start at $47,300, with the Hybrid Limited with Platinum Package carrying an MSRP of $49,790. The 2014 Toyota Highlander also comes standard with Toyota Care, a complimentary plan covering normal factory-scheduled maintenance and 24-hour roadside assistance for two years or 25,000 miles, whichever comes first.



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