There aren’t many crossovers that can be categorized as sexy but the 2014 Toyota Highlander somehow fits the bill. The crossover whose previous boxy and dud spud design has been given the old heave ho, now has ‘body-ody,’ butch, bulging and bold exterior looks. The third generation Highlander has received mixed reviews but with its wraparound head and taillights and trapezoidal grill, so reminiscent of its Tundra kinfolk, bold shoulder line, solid aerodynamic stance and altogether stylish looks, the Highlander is indeed quite a looker.
The up to eight passenger (seven in the Limited with second-row captain’s chairs) vehicle is half an inch wider and just under three-inches longer and the extra oomph has certainly been put to good use. The Highlander’s well-built interior gets a nod, as all body types will sit pretty in a cabin that offers comfort, ample support and just the right feel-good ergonomics for those long family road trips. Leg and headroom is more than sufficient front and back, and back some more in the vehicle, with a third row that is nearly adult-friendly by those other than grade schoolers. However, if you’re north of 5’10” you might not want to risk the third row. The sliding second-row entry that gives it 4.3-inches of added width space is the kind of news growing families want to know about.
Toyota’s blueprint for seating is comfort, never cutting corners, as far as bolstering/padding and this move is pretty evident in the primo seats offered in the Highlander. And speaking of seating, if you stash both the second and third rows on the family hauler, you are left with up to 83.7 cubes for hauling stuff and then some.
Packrats will love all of the Highlander’s nooks and crannies, especially the roll top center console where you can stash things like a purse or tablet within the 24.5 liters of space that also contains a 12-volt outlet. Kicked-to-the-curb is the once ho-hum, hard plastics that have been replaced with soft-to-the-touch surfaces with fancy stitching. The snazzier dash looks up-to-date and is punched up by a central touchscreen that is a smooth operation with easy to see graphics.
The Highlander’s technology offerings have been kicked up a notch, thereby giving the tech-obsessed consumer all they’ll ever need behind the wheel. The base LE model has a 6.1-inch touchscreen display complete with USB port, iPod connectivity, voice recognition, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, and a backup camera. LE Plus trims are equipped with Entune Audio Plus system, a higher resolution 6.1-inch display with HD Radio and a 90-day subscription.
Entune Premium Audio with Navigation and App Suite is available as you climb up the trims. This comes with an 8-inch touchscreen display and app suite complete with Yelp, Pandora, and Facebook integration through a smartphone. And for the rowdy crew in the third row, Mom and Dad can now really let ‘er rip with a new feature called Driver Easy Speak that pipes the drivers voice from the front seat all the way to the folks in the third row.
But how does the Highlander behave on the road?
The solid-feel crossover (test vehicle, the Limited V6) is remarkably composed as far as handling, really effortless. It is quickly apparent, the Highlander is no wimp, maneuvering its beefy steering wheel, definitely inspires confidence, particularly when taking sharp corners. The Highlander tackles road thuds like a big bucks ride and all in a cabin that is completely hushed. Despite its size, the Highlander is capable and then some, of providing adequate acceleration, springing into highway work mode, as she merges. The brakes on the mid-sized crossover are pretty intuitive as well.
The intro Highlander, the LE, gets the ball rolling with a 2.7-liter, four-cylinder engine that offers 187 horses and 184 lb-ft of torque. Moving up the ranks, optional on the LE and standard on the other trims is a more powerful 3.5-liter, V6 engine that cranks out 270 horses and 248 lb-ft of torque. There is also a hybrid powertrain.
The range of safety features in the Highlander will make your head spin. Just to name a few, the standard safety offerings in the Toyota midsized crossover are traction and electronic stability control, rearview camera, antilock brakes, driver knee airbags, side airbags: head curtain airbags for all three rows of seats and front seat-mounted torso airbags. The 2014 Highlander earned the huge deal honor of being a “Top Safety Pick+” for its high level of protection in crashes and the availability of front crash prevention technology to avoid many collisions in the first place.
True dat, the 2014 Toyota Highlander is in a crowded category but it can certainly hold its own. The people hauler with premium pizzazz is just the right crossover for family centric buyers, who are looking to move their brood about in a vehicle that offers impressive looks, a safe environment and surprising maneuverability.
Prices start for the 2014 Toyota Highlander start at $29,215. Need more info? www.Toyota.com