All-new 2014 Toyota Highlander packs family value
The 2014 Toyota Highlander was officially released this week. The all-new design’s major change is that it can now be configured for either 8-passenger or 7-pasenger seating. The rear third-row can now seat three across. That means it can transport a set of parents plus one full line of hockey players plus a goalie. Or more likely, you can transport your two or three kids plus three neighbor kids to whatever event you are headed to. As an owner of a Toyota Highlander this author can attest to the vehicle’s excellent suitability to a family’s needs. Highlanders don’t traditionally have the most dynamic styling or the sportiest handling. What they do best is get families around reliably, safely, and comfortably. This new Highlander looks to continue that tradition.
2014 Toyota Highlander Drivetrains
There are technically three engine choices. There is the 3.5 liter V6, the new hybrid drive with a V6 and electric accompaniment we will write about separately, and there is an “imaginary” 2.7 liter four-cylinder that will be as rare as a baby pigeon in dealer showrooms. The vast majority of Highlanders will come with the 3.6 liter V6 which has 270 horsepower. It will be coupled with a 6-speed transmission. Almost all the Highlanders north of the Mason-Dixon Line will be AWD, but Toyota will make 2WD versions for some markets. 2WD means front wheel drive in a Highlander.
Toyota has not gotten the official EPA estimates for mileage yet, but it is preparing the public for no improvement over previous models. Toyota is projecting the V6, AWD version will get 18 city and 24 highway, with a combined number of 20 MPG. That is a 1 MPG combined improvement overall compared to the outgoing 2013, and also the first generation that ended in 2007. Interestingly, the two-wheel drive, 4-cylinder version is projected to get almost exactly the same mileage as the 2WD 6-cylinder model, with both getting 25 MPG highway. So what is the point? If it is any comfort actual users on FuelEconomy.gov do report that the Highlander does get the promised fuel numbers in actual use. It should be noted that this V6 fuel economy is almost the same as the Hyundai Sante Fe Sport with a 2.0 liter turbo which gets a 19/24/21 MPG rating. Trying to find a smaller engine to get better MPG in an 8-passenger vehicle is not worth it. If that is your priority, look to the Hybrid which gets 28 MPG all the time. However, it costs dramatically more money.
2014 Toyota Highlander Exterior Design
The fuel economy of the Highlander has barely budged in 7 years. One reason the new vehicle is not better in terms of fuel economy than the first generation Highlander is that Toyota has super-sized the vehicle now twice. The original Highlander is about the size of the current RAV 4. The new design is supposed to convey strength. We won’t argue the point. The front grill does look a bit like the spindle grill design on the new Lexus Line. It is quite pronounced and the front of the hood is almost completely flat. The headlights are thinner now and underneath is a large piece of body colored trim that leads down to the bumpers. Below are fog lights and under those LEDs on the Limited.
The Highlander Limited now can come with the Panoramic Moonroof that most vehicles now offer. Others can have the standard moonroof. The wheels are 18 inch on the LE, LE Plus, and XLE. On the Limited they are 19 inch with low profile 55 inch rubber. On the RAV 4 the up-sized wheels make the ride too firm and spoil the Limited in our opinion. Hopefully this will not be the case on the Highlander, but we will report after we drive it. The full-sized spare is gone now and replaced with a temporary unit. In these times of hard choices for fuel economy perhaps we should be thankful there is any spare at all. The overall look of the 2014 Highlander is handsome, but not at all exciting.
2014 Toyota Highlander Interior Changes
Inside there are changes to note making the vehicle more attractive to those who often use the rear seats. In the aft location there are now three seats across. Kids love to sit back there, so now if there are two back there, at least there is some space in between to help keep them from poking one another to the point of fisticuffs. In the middle row buyers have a choice of two captains’ chairs or a bench with three seats if they choose an XLE. Limited all have the captains’ chairs. That second row is going to be a very comfortable place to be. Kids might not fight so much over who gets the front seat (I’m older, you had it last time, it is my turn, you traded it to me for the first turn at X-box yesterday.)
The infotainment system varies by trim level in the Highlander. We could go ahead and copy all the trim levels and the choices, but the truth is the dealerships are sent vehicles with the packages best for that zip code region. We caution buyers not to fall in love with a specific trim level based on the using the on-line configurator. Rather, look at what is available, and then call the dealerships in your area to see how the vehicles are actually coming in. Let’s not pretend that a lot of people (or anyone) orders a Highlander.
Further muddying the waters with regard to infotainment on Toyotas is that the company uses the name Entune too much. It used to mean that the car had the top trim navigation and telematics (like On-Star) system. Now it means almost nothing as far as we can tell. One can get an “Entune” system with basically a stereo, or it can be the “Entune” system that allows one to talk to a person live to get help and directions. Let the dealership guide you at this point. Be sure you know exactly what you are getting. At the XLE and Limited trim level navigation is included. The limited gets JBL Audio.
2014 Highlander Pricing and Trim Levels
Starting with this new generation there will be four trim levels for the Highlander. LE is the bare bones vehicle. With the “imaginary” 4-cylinder and in 2WD, Toyota can advertise this Highlander as “Starting under $30,000.” Don’t be fooled. The “real” Highlanders start with LE Plus trim. At that level the drier seat becomes power adjustable and the trim starts to look more contemporary. All Highlanders have Bluetooth, so now worries there.
XLE and Limited models can come equipped with all the goodies family buyers want depending upon packages.
The new 2014 Toyota Highlander will continue to be a popular choice. However, the competition is now much closer to the Highlander. The new Nissan Pathfinder and the current Mazda CX-9 are both getting rave reviews. If shopping by the pound the Ford, Chevy and Dodge options are also hard to ignore. Even loyal Toyota fans will have to cross shop the Highlander now.