2014 Toyota Highlander XLE V6 AWD equals family-friendly value
In my humble opinion, there is nobody more qualified than me to review the 2014 Toyota Highlander XLE V6 AWD. About seven and a half years ago I drove into a Toyota dealership in a Subaru Outback and came home with a brand new 2007 Toyota Highlander Sport. At that time the “Sport” was the value Highlander, having since been replaced with the XLE trim that Toyota now uses for many of its vehicles.
In Toyota talk, XLE means value. Family car value. This is the trim level you buy if the car is to be your daily driver, your spouse’s daily driver, and maybe the vehicle your kids will grow up with. Having been the exact type of person that buys a new Highlander, I can attest to its many benefits and hope to convey to you why I think, after testing it, it may in fact be the best large “value” family vehicle in the world at any price.
This size vehicle comes with three rows of seats. The XLE I tested, had a middle bench seat that can seat three, as well as a third row bench that can also seat three. Add in the two buckets up front, and you get 8. This number used to be the private reserve of maxi-vans like the Toyota Sienna and the ginormous SUVs built in ever shrinking numbers by GM and Ford. Frankly, the vehicle is an extremely comfortable four passenger, and in fact the Limited comes with captains’ chairs in the middle row, reducing the capacity to 7, but not changing the real-life usability much.
Having owned a Highlander in the snow-belt of the Northeast I can tell you that the type of AWD employed by the 2014 Highlander XLE is perfect for snow, though I did not test this exact car in the snow. It will always push the car ahead. You will not get stuck. Over muddy roads and rough soccer field parking areas in downpours you will never need to worry. Pulling your boat and trailer up a slippery slimy boat ramp will be no problem. If you are the one in a million Highlander owner that wants to ask more of that AWD system there are a lot of special buttons you can press to pretend you are English Gentry crossing a muddy bog on the way to your castle. Downhill assist and that sort of Jeepy stuff. We will now return to the story for the other 99.99 percent of drivers.
The 2014 Highlander is a smash hit for Toyota. It is selling at about 12,000 units per month pace in the US market and climbing. The highlander was up 20% this month over last May’s sales of the older generation. It is outselling all its real competitors. Those mainly include the Honda Pilot (see our comment under safety about that vehicle), the all new Nissan Pathfinder (down 15% in May despite being new), and the Chevy Traverse. The Ford Explorer is the only vehicle we could find to mention that can beat the Highlander in overall sales.
2014 Highlander XLE Exterior Design
Outside the new Highlander retains its familiar look, but it has changed a lot since the original Highlander. Please see our full comparison story of the 1st generation Highlander versus this new 2014 Highlander. It looks big and tough and more masculine than past Highlanders which seemed targeted at a female LL Bean shopper. The rims look great in the smoked metal alloy color used.
In back we see a smallish rear glass. Don’t worry, the standard back-up camera works great and you will use it a lot. One cool feature of this new crossover is that the rear glass can now pop open. It lets you instantly open it to grab the soccer bag rather than let the power tailgate do its thing. The tailgate opens slowly and steadily for safety. The rear wiper is still mounted low, and in sight, unlike the pricier Lexus RX 350 which neatly hides its rear appendage.
I like to fold my side mirror manually. I like to keep it out of traffic when I park on the street and to keep it out of the way for people weaving hockey bags through rows of parked SUVs in icy parking lots. This new car has an easy to fold, and easy to pop back, side mirror. Kudos Toyota for not making that a power accessory I have to pay for, or for making it rigid and thus prone to damage.
This is not a sports luxury vehicle so we won’t dwell on styling. Look at the photos. If you like it, you like it. My trying to explain why you should is silly.
The front seats are power for the driver in the 2014 Highlander XLE, and heated for both front occupants. They are covered in leather, but not perforated or ventilated. I found the front bucket seat to be very comfortable. Next to the seat is a HUGE compartment. You could put 8 candlepin bowling balls in it or two footballs. Across the lower part of the dash is a “cell phone” tray. My boys though that was smart. It is rubberized so the phones don’t rattle like they would in the cupholder. I loved it because my kids put their iPhones in the door grabs on my 2007 Highlander and they rattle until I tell them to take them out. Ahh progress.
We’ve already mentioned that the Highlander XLE has a middle bench seat and can seat 8. My boys are now 5’8” and 5’5” tall. The two of them could sit in the third row without a problem. That is to say, no more problem than any two kids sitting side by side. Normally I yell and scream at them to stop fussing and poking each other. It never works. I used to think they couldn’t hear me well. Toyota thought that too, and has added a nifty loudspeaker kind of device called Driver Easy Speak. It plays the commands and threats you issue to the youngsters over the rear speakers so they can’t pretend to not hear you. See photo above for results.