Originally posted on: February 14, 2014
I had to chance to take a trek to Charleston, South Carolina for an adventure in the all-new 2014 Toyota Highlander. The folks at Toyota provided me a new Lexus RX350 F-Sport to take a trip down during the winter vortex to avoid extensive flight delays. It was an interesting beginning to what proved to be an enjoyable trip despite the questionable weather at times. My trip set off in a new Lexus RX naturally raised my expectations for the all-new 2014 Highlander, considering how the Lexus was the familiar ‘luxury’ crossover that the Highlander strived to be in the minds of some consumers in the two previous generations of the Highlander’s existence.
Getting in Charleston around 4pm I had a bit of time to digest the warm welcome of locals who were hunkered down for the light ice-covered roads while schools were canceled and many businesses were on a temporarily hiatus. After a quick presentation of what the new 2014 Highlander was all about, Toyota was eager to get me behind the wheel of their latest crossover creation, which now can seat up to 8 passengers. Not only that, but new design language and a sportier driving aptitude were all purposefully incorporated in the 2014 Highlander to better conciliate a wider audience who may expect a Lexus-level of refinement. Did they pull it off. In my opinion they did.
The all-new 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, which I first took a drive down the old Charleston ice-paved roads, puts its utilitarian foot right in front of its eco-minded demeanor. The new 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid separates itself from the pack with its electric motor feeding additional power to the 3.5-liter V6 engine through a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) in a harmony to all 4-wheels (total of 280 horsepower). Although I am not a fan of CVTs, the unit in the new Highlander hybrid makes sense for all of the behind-the-scenes tasks of power management all in an economical fashion. Testing out the all-wheel-drive system on a few patches of ice was actually reassuring of how well planted the new Highlander hybrid is. Even though I didn’t get real-world fuel consumption numbers from my limited drive, the system performed flawlessly without any abrupt transitions from the engine power to electric or use of the start-stop technology. I thought of it like an over-powered Toyota Prius that grew a couple times bigger to seat 8 people with a bit of storage room to spare. Only, the new Highlander hybrid had a fun side with its new chiseled looks and sportier character on the road.
On my next adventure on a much longer route I took out the new 2014 Toyota Highlander Limited loaded up with all of the available amenities including radar cruise control (also features collision warning and mitigation), lane departure warning, blind spot notification, 2nd row captain’s chairs (7-passenger configuration), powered a 270 horsepower V6 engine with 248 ft-lbs. of torque transmitted to all wheels through an electronic differential and a 6-speed automatic transmission. Having actual gears in the new Highlander as opposed to a CVT found in some of its direct competition, really adds some value for light-hearted enthusiasts considering how much of a deal-breaker CVTs are. Though, in the Highlander Hybrid the CVT is more of a technical necessity to achieve an EPA estimated 27 mpg city and 28 mpg on the highway. The V6 models get 19 mpg city and 25 mpg highway for the front-wheel-drive configuration and 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway for the all-wheel-drive models.
Driving the new Highlander Limited started me off on an adventure around the old country of Charleston down back roads. Some of the most noticeable changes and improvements on the Highlander was how quiet the cabin is and how well dampened the chassis felt on those back roads. Many new aspects of the Highlander shined during my drive through the city exuding many traits from Lexus SUV vehicles. The 3.5-liter V6 proved its willingness to put things in motion without much drama or lack of power. However, the all-wheel-drive system’s added weight seemed to diminish the over-all acceleration of the new Highlander. Basically, it was not as fast off of the line as the front-wheel drive variation. Though, the all-wheel-drive Highlander Limited felt a bit more planted with very limited wheel spin, especially when put to the true test on some of the local icy roads. The over-all stability and handling of the Highlander are as sporty as it has ever been. My enthusiast view of the Highlander is much praised by its stable handling and use of a 6-speed automatic transmission instead of opting for a CVT unit.
The new redesign interior of the 2014 Highlander is spacious for front and 2nd row passengers. The captain’s seats all prove to have a hidden agenda of supporting you more than its initial looks. The seats where redesigned to make them thinner for additional leg room but without sacrificing comfort. The middle removable seat for the 2nd row is functional but limited for a smaller structured person or children. The 3rd row seating, made available to seat 3, may work for 2 adults just fine but is probably an impossible mission for 3 averaged to large sized adults. This is not to say the 3rd row is completely cramped, it is just limited on its full functionality and comfort for 3 full-sized occupants. However, it is the perfect size for 3 children or two adults and one child. Much of the storage area, in addition to the massively large front center console armrest compartment, can be a versatile space for just about anything you would haul or store in a midsized SUV. With the 3rd row in place in the back, you still have some usable space for 4 to 5 stacked bags before closing the power lift gate down.
There is no doubt that with the benefits of seating up to 8 passengers, the all-new Toyota Highlander has embarked on a new journey with added possibilities. Toyota’s new “Let’s Go Places” slogan is very relevant with the new Highlander and it deserves a thorough look for those who may be seeking a competent alternative to large minivans or other 8-passenger SUVs. The redesign is a nice hat tip to male figures who want to solidify their experience in driving the family vehicle on those lone trips. Nevertheless, the rest of the family should have no qualms with the new exterior styling. The solid unibody construction, Lexus-like luxury, and many exceptional features that set the Highlander apart from its competition all add to its value.
The vehicles driven during my single day Toyota adventure included the Highlander XLE front-wheel drive, Highlander Hybrid all-wheel-drive (standard AWD for Hybrid models) and the top-end Highlander Limited all-wheel-drive. A 4-cylinder Highlander is offered in limited supply, which I did not get to experience. The starting price for the base Highlander XLE V6 is $36,040, $47,300 for the Hybrid and $39,640 for the Highlander Limited. The base Highlander LE starts at just $29,215 and $32,740 for the LE Plus trim, all respectable price points for an 8 passenger midsized crossover utility vehicle.
July, 10 2014
From Senior Editor Chris Brewer:
Last week I loaded up the family in a brand new 2014 Toyota Highlander XLE and went on a road trip across Florida. My youngest daughter loves Toyota’s Muppets television commercial campaign and much like Kermit and the gang, she envisioned our family piling into the all-new eight passenger mid-size SUV for the adventure of a lifetime.
The 2014 Highlander was a fantastic traveling vehicle, the majority of the trip exceeded the EPA estimated 25 highway mpgs and the cruising comfort that the XLE trim package provided was enough to make an automotive journalist’s kids happy, and that’s not always easy! The Highlander’s interior is spacious, with excellent seating and ample cargo space. The 270 horsepower 3.5L V6 and 6-speed automatic transmission were powerful, well mannered and efficient. Apart from full throttle torque steer the handling was compliant, nimble for a SUV, braking was excellent and the suspension is tight enough for a controlled ride, but soft enough to feel more along the lines of a sedan than an eight-passenger truck.
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