The Toyota Highlander has undergone a major makeover for the 2014 model year.
While the base platform and majority of the drivetrain are carried over, it has grown in length and width and boasts new styling inside and out.
Toyota President Akio Toyoda has declared the company must display more passion in its vehicles. A key part of this directive is design.
The first results appeared in the new Corolla and now the new Highlander joins in.
While still rather conservative, the new look features a huge gaping grill that widens from top to bottom.
The prominent Toyota logo is flanked by chrome strips that blend into the headlights. The side profile is distinctly SUV other than the bulging rear tail lights.
The window on the rear hatch opens separately, a rare feature these days.
The interior has been noticeably upgraded in both appearance and features. Contrasting stitching and soft touch materials abound.
The cabin is much quieter thanks to thicker acoustic glass and additional insulation and sound deadening materials.
The instrument panel consists of a pair of large legible analogue dials flanking a small, driver-adjustable digital readout.
The center stack is dominated by large 11-cm full-colour screen which incorporates the view from the now standard rear-view camera.
A neat touch is a parcel shelf that runs two-thirds of the width of the vehicle below the dash. Another is the shades on the rear windows to block the sun.
While the 2014 Highlander has grown by 7.5 cm in length, none of that appears between the front and rear wheels. It is also a bit (1.2 cm) wider.
The new Highlander is actually slightly smaller inside than outgoing version in terms of cubic measure, but you won’t notice because the design and engineering teams worked magic in terms of space utilization.
One area of note is the 3.5 cubic feet of additional cargo space behind the third row of seats, a sore spot on the old Highlander.
That third row folds flat and out of the way revealing 42.3 cubic feet of space. With both second and third rows down there is 83.7 cubic feet.
On the topic of seats, the second row slides fore and aft so you can chose between second or third row legroom.
The third row seat has an extra 11 cm of width compared to the old Highlander, and belts for three occupants. But they had better be really small and not very tall.
Access is however, relatively easy thanks to a clever flip and slide second-row mechanism.
The ride and handling balance was an issue with the older Highlander, It was rather ponderous and lacked the prowess of newer competitors.
That has been addressed for the new version. Additional chassis stiffness and retuned suspension components have resulted in less body roll and a slightly, but not unpleasantly so, stiffer ride.
The electric power steering provides a modicum of feel and some newfound heft.
The 3.5-litre engine is carried over. Paired with a six-speed automatic, it provides decent if not impressive performance and fuel economy.
The all-wheel-drive system apportions torque front-to-rear according to need, remaining primarily in FWD mode for fuel efficiency purposes.
The information screen can be set to show that power distribution. The system now incorporates ‘snow’ and ‘lock’ modes for those special occasions!
The Highlander is rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds.
There are now three models, a lower base price and numerous updates and added features. The third generation Highlander comes in LE, XL and Limited trim levels.
The base LE comes in FWD and the rest in AWD only. The base can be equipped with the AWD system. The only engine available is the ubiquitous 3.5-litre corporate V6, paired with a new six-speed automatic.
Our neighbours to the south get a four-cylinder entry level model.
Standard equipment on the XL test model included: power steering, windows and mirrors (heated), sunroof, cruise, tilt and telescope steering wheel, three zone climate control, leather seats, wireless connectivity, voice recognition, satellite radio and remote keyless entry.
As families continue to switch from minivans to crossovers, the new Highlander is positioned to meet their needs.
2014 Toyota Highlander XLE AWD
- Price: $39,900 base and as tested plus $1,690 (freight)
- Engine: 3.5-litre DOHC V6, 270-HP, 248 lb-ft of torque
- Transmission: six-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive