The 2014 Toyota Highlander represents the pinnacle of the brand's crossover pantheon, and this year's redesign is intended to put the Highlander back in contention in a market that has seen an outburst of brand-new competitors. The full-size Toyota Highlander is tuned for the urban jungle, not the mud pit, but that's a distinction that's increasingly irrelevant when looking at a sport-utility vehicle that will be used primarily to haul the brood from shopping mall, to swim practice, and to the cottage on the weekend.
Let's take a look at 10 things you need to know about the 2014 Toyota Highlander and see what improvements have been made to this latest edition of the full-size crossover.
01. The 2014 Toyota Highlander Is A Brand New Design
The 2014 Toyota Highlander benefits from a serious re-styling effort that is aimed at quelling critics who have long thought the crossover to be too visually conservative. A broad grille, reminiscent of that found on both the Toyota Tundra pickup and the Toyota 4Runner SUV, is now front-and-center on the Toyota Highlander, and its bold impression is matched by surging rear flanks that accentuate the rake of the crossover and give it a presence that was completely absent from last year's model. The tailgate, however, is instantly recognizable as belonging to the Highlander family, as is the vehicle's greenhouse.
02. The 2014 Toyota Highlander Maintains Its Three Rows Of Seating
The 2014 Toyota Highlander is three inches longer than the model it replaces, and it's also a teensy bit wider. The Toyota Highlander boasts greater leg room for those riding in its second and third rows, and in total, eight passengers can now be stuffed inside of the crossover (one more than in 2013). Thanks to some changes to the Highlander's chassis, it also introduces an additional 34 percent more cargo space behind the third row (13.8 cubic feet), which of course folds down in conjunction with the second set of accommodations in order to haul larger items inside the vehicle and make 83.7 cubic feet in total available to owners. In addition, there's an enormous center console up front that provides an extra 6.4 cubic feet of storage space.
03. The 2014 Toyota Highlander Features Upgraded Interior Trappings
Cognizant of the fact that the 2014 Toyota Highlander had fallen a bit behind in terms of its interior fit and finish, the new model improves on the quality of the materials found throughout its cabin. Softer plastics abound inside the Toyota Highlander, a welcome change from the 2013 model's more utilitarian digs. These updates are joined by efforts to reduce the amount of noise that makes it into the Highlander's cabin, whether from the outside world (new body panel sound insulation and sound-proof glass in the windshield) or the crossover's own engine bay (hydraulic engine mounts that reduce sound transmission through the chassis).
04. The 2014 Toyota Highlander Offers A Pair Of Engine Choices
The 2014 Toyota Highlander continues to offer a four-cylinder engine in its base model. Rated at 185 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, the 2.7-liter mill strains somewhat when pulling along the larger crossover. A better choice is the vehicle's optional 3.5-liter V-6, which grinds out 270 horses and 248 lb-ft of twist. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard with each engine, while all-wheel drive can be added to vehicles featuring the six-cylinder mill. Fuel mileage for the 2.7-liter motor is just barely ahead of the V-6, showing as 20-mpg in city driving and 25-mpg on the highway.
05. The 2014 Toyota Highlander Comes In A Hybrid Edition
If fuel consumption is your primary concern when shopping for a three-row crossover vehicle, then the 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid should definitely catch your attention. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid pairs a 3.5-liter V-6 with a single electric motor in order to generate 280 horsepower. Not only is the Highlander Hybrid more robust than its gas-only sibling, but it also turns in much better fuel mileage, with an EPA rating of 27-mpg in stop and go driving and 28-mpg during highway cruising. A continuously-variable automatic transmission handles the gear shifting duties for the gasoline/electric model.
06. The 2014 Toyota Highlander Delivers Revised Handling
The 2014 Toyota Highlander doesn’t just look better than last year's model, but it also rides a lot smoother. The Toyota Highlander has had attention paid to its steering system so that it offers a more direct feeling than in 2013, and the crossover's suspension has been retuned in order to provide better comfort than ever before. The Highlander certainly isn't a sports car - think large sedan - but it's also less truck-like than one would expect from a vehicle that can tip the scales at over 4,500 lbs. When ordered in all-wheel drive trim, drivers also benefit from a system that can shuttle torque to the rear wheels under hard acceleration in order to improve grip and maximize forward momentum.
07. The 2014 Toyota Highlander Provides Four Trim Levels
The 2014 Toyota Highlander starts out in LE trim, which offers Bluetooth connectivity, a touchscreen entertainment system featuring the Entune interface, heated mirrors, a rearview camera, and 18-inch rims. Stepping up to the LE Plus introduces fog lights, a power liftgate, a power driver's seat, satellite radio, three zones of automatic climate control, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The Highlander XLE installs heated leather seats, a moonroof, a push button starter, a navigation system, a larger LCD screen for the center stack, and a towing package, while the Limited goes whole-hog with 19-inch rims, a blind spot monitoring system, cooled seats up front (with memory feature for the driver), a power passenger seat, a louder stereo system, parking assistance, and a pair of captain's chairs to replace the second row bench (reducing seating capacity from eight to seven).
08. The 2014 Toyota Highlander Offers A Novel Intercom Feature
Hot on the heels of the Honda Odyssey's available integrated vacuum comes the 2014 Toyota Highlander's Driver Easy Speak system. 'Driver Easy Speak' is a fancy way of saying 'intercom,' and the feature connects those riding up front with passengers sitting in the Highlander's third row via a one-way microphone and speaker setup. The Easy Speak is controlled by using the Highlander's touchscreen, and it's aimed primarily at parents who want to quell unrest amongst children too far out of reach to be dealt with more directly. Some would argue that the Highlander isn't quite big enough to require its own in-car communications system, but Toyota is touting the safety aspect of not having to divert one's attention from the road ahead (i.e., turn around) when speaking with children.
# 09. The 2014 Toyota Highlander Is A Safe Family Option
The 2014 Toyota Highlander is stuffed with a number of class-competitive safety features. Toyota uses the Highlander's Star Safety System as a primary selling point, which is the term applied to the vehicle's electronic stability control and traction control system as well as its brake assist, anti-lock braking, and 'Smart Stop' features. The latter cuts engine power should the gas and the brake pedal be depressed simultaneously. The Highlander also comes with dual forward airbags, side impact airbags for front passengers, side curtain airbags that deploy along the entire length of the cabin, and a pair of knee airbags for forward occupants. Toyota additionally offers a blind spot monitoring system, a lane departure warning system, and a collision mitigation system that works together with the vehicle's optional adaptive cruise control feature.
10. The 2014 Toyota Highlander Competes Harder Against Revised Competitors
10. The 2014 Toyota Highlander Competes Harder Against Revised Competitors
The 2014 Toyota Highlander needed to change with the times due to the pressures brought about by brand-new versions of the Ford Explorer, the Nissan Pathfinder, and even the updated Dodge Durango. The Toyota Highlander's one additional seating space and roomier cabin once again place it in the conversation with the large crossover space's leading luminaries, but although its hybrid option gives it an efficiency leg-up over most rivals, it still features a relatively modest level of power from its gas-only engine lineup. Still, the Toyota Highlander has long traded on its reputation for reliability, and now that it's got the styling chops and extra size to enhance its practical attributes, it should be able to broaden its audience with families seeking a minivan alternative.