2014 Toyota Highlander has a new body, a more refined cabin
and upgraded safety and technology features.
Muppets weren’t such a good idea.
those who missed the Super Bowl ad, has enlisted the help of Jim
Henson’s finest to sell its all-new Highlander SUV.
This would be
a hoot except for one awkward fact: This thing holds Muppets a lot
better than actual people.
Highlander has less head- and legroom in the third row than the
previous generation model. In fact, it has less space back there
than nearly all of its SUV and crossover rivals. That’s
disappointing, particularly because the outside of the Highlander is
actually about 3 inches longer.
So you may
have an easier time fitting Animal, Rowlf and Pepe the King Prawn in
the way-back seat than your friends and family.
The rest of
the changes to the 2014 Highlander are good ones. Toyota gave it a
handsome new body, a more refined cabin and a healthier dose of
safety and technology. Engine choices still include a four-cylinder,
a V-6 and a hybrid.
Highlander, starting at $29,215, is among the more popular in the
mid-size crossover set. It helped pioneer the segment in 2001. Yet
crossovers’ popularity has more than doubled in the past decade,
and the Highlander’s market share has eroded as more competitors
joined the fray.
Highlander has been a steady seller in the face of pressure from
other three-row players such as the Hyundai Santa Fe, Mazda CX-9,
Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder and Chevy Traverse.
Fans of the
previous model will notice that the new 2014 version has bolder,
more masculine sheet metal than before, a deliberate move. A
narrower grille, larger horizontal headlights and sharper shoulders
give the Highlander more prominence up front. The rear gets a
healthy infusion of edges to go with the added length.
also got an overhaul. For better or worse, the cabin of the $45,170
AWD V-6 Limited we tested was less luxurious than practical. Instead
of Lexus-like earth tones and faux wood, it offered storage bins and
cubby holes. All the buttons and controls are easy to find and use,
but they’re presented with less style than in a corresponding
Hyundai, Mazda or Nissan.
trick: a small shelf built into the dashboard that runs to the
passenger door. It’s the perfect spot to store cellphones, house
keys or a sewing kit for injured Muppets. Toyota even coated it with
a grippy material to prevent objects from sliding around.
of the Highlander now seat eight people, though optional second-row
captain’s chairs, like those in our tester, reduce seating to
seven. Neither configuration allows enough room for adults in the
rear. This won’t matter to some buyers, but if you try to cram
your mother-in-law back there, you might be repaid with a cold
Toyota’s cabin was highlighted by comfortable seats inside a quiet
and refined cabin. Its functionality encroaches on minivan
territory, an alternative for people too cool to be seen pulling van
The ride is a
bit stiffer than before, Toyota’s attempt to shed a reputation for
soft handling. The automaker takes this quest a little too far by
programming the steering with forearm-busting resistance, becoming
one of several automakers who think stiff steering somehow makes
their vehicle sporty.
a base 2.7-liter, four-cylinder engine is available for those who
don’t care much about power or who want to pinch pennies. But
Toyota says about 85 percent of buyers will opt for the smooth and
capable 3.5-liter V-6 we tested. Carried over from the previous
generation, this engine is direct-injected and pumps out 270
horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque.
New for 2014
is the six-speed automatic transmission that Toyota bolted into the
Highlander. A replacement for the earlier model’s five-speed, the
new gearbox gives this crossover a nice boost in fuel economy.
The EPA rates
the V-6 Highlander with all-wheel drive at 18 mpg in city driving,
24 on the highway. We averaged 16.3 mpg during a week of testing
this version in mostly city driving.
Hybrid also carries over the same power plant as before, using a
pair of electric motors and a V-6 engine for 280 total horsepower
and an EPA estimated fuel economy rating of 27 mpg in the city and
28 on the highway.
on all Highlanders includes 18-inch alloy wheels, a 6.1-inch
touch-screen audio system, eight air bags, Bluetooth connectivity, a
backup camera, heated side-view mirrors and middle and rear seats
that split 60/40. Front-wheel drive is standard.
Limited model had nearly everything Toyota offers, including a
rear-seat Blu-ray entertainment system with wireless headphones,
adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, blind-spot
monitoring, perforated leather seats that were heated and cooled up
front, an 8-inch navigation and infotainment screen, parking sensors
and a JBL audio system.
Highlander fans and those new to the segment, the 2014 model will
push all the right buttons. With the exception of the third row of
seats, the new version takes the highlights of the previous model
and makes them better. But others in the class, especially the
Hyundai Santa Fe and Mazda CX-9, have even fewer flaws than this
Toyota, so cross-shop accordingly.
And if you do
go home in the Toyota, check the trunk for Muppets first.
Times take: Better but needs to be bigger inside
Sharp styling, improved efficiency, crisper handling
row of seats short on room, interior a little sparse compared with
type: 4-door mid-size crossover SUV
3.5-liter, direct-injected V-6 engine, full-time all-wheel drive
economy rating: 18 mpg city, 24 mpg highway
excluding destination charge: $29,215