With SUVs and crossovers outselling all other vehicles according to IHS Automotive, it’s no wonder Toyota introduced a slightly larger and redesigned AWD Highlander SUV as they likely saw this segment growth.
This stretch added an inch of legroom in front and second row seats and the third row was widened by almost 4 inches giving Highlander an eight passenger capacity if opting for a bench second row seat instead of bucket seats.
The midsize three-row Highlander falls between Toyota’s compact RAV4 and full-size Sequoia SUVs. It comes in LE, LE Plus, XLE (tested) and top-line Limited models. There’s also a hybrid version of the Highlander with V6 engine and electric motor.
While a 2.7L, 185-hp four-cylinder is standard on the base LE, the XLE gets a 3.5L, 270-hp V6 (248 lb/ft of torque) that is optional on the LE. At 4,490 pounds curb weight, it seems the four-banger would be too little for this hefty SUV.
The 3.5L is connected to a new 6-speed automatic transmission that replaced a 5-speed. The combination provides robust performance from a standing stop to highway passing maneuvers. It has been 0-60 timed at 7.3 seconds.
And while EPA rated the XLE at 18 city, 24-highway mpg, this isn’t too bad considering the hulk it’s moving, especially since the 2014 model is about 200 pounds heavier than the 2013.
Styling wise, Toyota designers smoothed the exterior with rounded flowing lines and a grille that maintains a family resemblance. And it sets itself apart from its sister car, the luxurious Lexus RX350, that sells for about $6K more.
Highlander’s interior, after a 19.5-inch step-in, received upgrades with a comfy cockpit whose front seats have just the right amount of lateral support and the driver’s seat is height adjustable.
The dash sports a 7.5-inch LCD screen that aside from displaying audio functions and GPS nav, has split-screen ability whereupon audio selections are displayed on the left of the screen while nav is displayed on the right. Included too are recent Weather Channel fed weather conditions. There’s also a nifty display between the speedometer and tach for driver information including local filling stations and restaurants.
Highlander’s console box is unique in that it has a two-part sliding top and once fully opened, twelve, 16-ounce water bottles will fit. The box’s depth ranges from 12 inches at the highest point to 9 inches at its lowest. Also neat was the almost full-length shelf along the middle of the dash. It blends nicely with the entire interior design and can hold a myriad of small items.
The second-row seats split and slide fore and aft for either more or less third row legroom. The third row is mainly for kids as ingress/egress is a bit of a squeeze.
Cargo space is ample and rated at 83.7 cubic feet or more meaningful, it measures 18 inches deep, 46 wide and 31.5 high with all three rows upright. Flip the third row and depth extends to 44 inches. Fold all rows and there’s an almost minivan-like 77 inches of depth. Beneath the cargo floor is a storage bin for small items.
Highlander handles with ease and is relatively easy to park for an SUV. The ride on 18-inch Michelin tires was smooth and quiet with nary any outside road noise. And the heavy vehicle had good stopping distance to boot.
Since the XLE comes standard with a host of amenities and safety features, the test car carried a base price of $37,500. But adding a few optional items like carpeted floor and cargo mats ($225), rear bumper appliqué ($69), cargo net ($49) and delivery ($860), the bottom line reflected $38,703.
With a generous amount of content, XLE is attractively priced. Added to this, NHTSA gave Highlander five stars for overall crash ratings while the Institute for Highway Safety gave it a “Good” rating in frontal-offset, side impact and roof strength tests. The vehicle comes with front-seat side airbags, driver’s knee airbag, front passenger seat cushion airbag and full-length side curtain airbags.