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First Drive: 2014 Toyota Highlander

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2014 Toyota Highlander

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Toyota recently strutted its stuff for the automotive press as it rolled out the 2014 Highlander in gas and hybrid form and it appears designers and engineers actually listened as they ironed out all the little kinks and quips with the previous generation model.

The 2014 Highlander maintains the same wheelbase but grows in length overall by about three inches and is a smidge wider but the big news is that thanks to re-engineering the rear suspension the third row seat can now accommodate three passengers for a total occupancy inside of up to eight. Granted, that third row is not for anyone you wish to impress as seating is tight but active families will appreciate the alternate choice to the ubiquitous minivan or behemoth SUV here.

For those who state Highlander is still not a “real” sport utility you are correct as the architecture remains of unibody form but Toyota states they have a dual-prong approach to the mid-size consumer in the form of its 4Runner SUV for the more adventurous crowd who might otherwise quickly exceed Highlander’s capabilities.

The 2014 Highlander is offered in front and all-wheel drive formats on each of four new grades: LE, LE Plus, XLE and Limited. Consumers will also have a choice of three powertrains in the form of 185hp gas 2.7-liter four-cylinder, 270hp gas 3.5-liter V-6 and 280hp Hybrid Synergy Drive that utilizes the V-6 and high-torque electric drive motor-generator. Fuel economy is up across the board in the new Highlander models with the Hybrid delivering a combined 28 mpg.

While pricing begins at under $30,000 for the 2014, Toyota marketing personnel are confident buyers will gravitate towards the mid- to upper-range with some spending nearly 50 grand for their new Highlander stating research has shown the market trending in this direction.

However they choose to outfit their new model, buyers will get the best-looking Highlander to date along with a surprisingly nice interior package that offers a device shelf center dash that runs from the just below the radio to over the glove box. This is in addition to an interior that is significantly quieter and offers more amenities than ever before and features new technology such as rear parking sonar, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure alert, automatic high beam headlights, pre-collision system with automatic brake control and dynamic radar cruise control.

All of this is good and fine but the proof is in the pudding as they say and Toyota served up a lot of pudding in southern California demonstrating Highlander’s on-road attributes. The test models featured the V-6 and Hybrid powertrains and, perhaps best of all, the new six-speed automatic gearbox capable of keeping up with a very competitive crowd in this segment.

The 2014 Highlander delivered as promised on long stretches of highway and tight, twisty mountain roads alike and the passing lane found a new friend. Never once did a voice need to be raised to carry a conversation despite the road surface condition underneath and wind noise has been reduced thanks to new mirror design and a more integrated roof rail system overhead. The new model handles itself very well and is quite agile in town while offering a very stable ride on the open road.

The 2014 Toyota Highlander is the dynamic, sleek and sophisticated new sport ute the automaker has made it out to be and for this model line certainly proves the third time is definitely the charm.

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