Toyota has improved its Highlander for 2014 in significant ways. It is more spacious, more upscale, and more dynamic than the model it replaces. This midsize sport utility vehicle has been a hit since it was first introduced as a 2001 model. Toyota sold more than 127,000 Highlanders in 2013, up 26 percent from the previous year.
For 2014, Toyota has wrapped its huge-selling crossover SUV in more-angular sheet metal designed to attract a variety of buyers. There is also a bolder grille that’s slightly reminiscent of the full-size Tundra pickup, as well as prominent chrome “eyebrows”. The wheels are bigger, too, with the base rollers going from 17 to 18 inches, and they sit beneath more-muscular wheel flares. The new Highlander indeed strikes a somewhat more macho pose versus the outgoing 2013 model. Inside, the Highlander’s interior has been revolutionized and refined with more soft-touch materials on the dash and doors. Toyota also says it stiffened the Highlander’s body, especially in the roof and B-pillar area. Finally, Toyota says it made a point of making the 2014 model quieter, adding a new acoustic windshield, a thicker front dash-panel silencer, and under-carpet sound deadening.
A new extremely useful dashboard “shelf” above the glove box running from the passenger’s door to just above the driver’s right knee has been added. It’s handy for stashing cellphones, parking/toll tickets, and other gadgets. The HVAC controls have been simplified, and there’s a new optional panoramic sunroof as well as a heated steering wheel and heated-and-cooled front seats. A new eighth airbag lives in the front passenger-seat cushion, and there’s a long list of new tech updates including auto high-beams and blind-spot, rear cross-traffic, pre-collision, and lane-departure warning systems. Toyota’s upped the new Highlander’s passenger capacity to eight. A second-row seat that slides fore and aft does allow you to more carefully parse out legroom between the rearmost rows. There is also a 34 percent increase in cargo space behind the final row. And Toyota remains the only carmaker that still offers a rear lift gate with independently opening glass. The IIHS named The 2014 Toyota Highlander a Top Safety Pick Plus.
Critics are saying that The Highlander Limited Hybrid is the one to have. The transition from electric to gas power is near-seamless and undetectable. The thud you used to feel in hybrids as the gas motor took over is gone. Once on the road, the measures Toyota has taken to quiet the Highlander’s cabin are immediately apparent. The hushed demeanor and a feeling of structural fortitude are primary takeaways. Fuel economy for the regular V6 engine is up by 1 mile per gallon overall, thanks in part to a new six-speed transmission that replaces the outgoing model’s five-speed. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the Highlander’s fuel efficiency at 19 mpg city/25 mpg highway/21 mpg combined for front-wheel drive and 18/24/20 for all-wheel drive
The good news is the 2014 model’s body motions are better controlled and ride frequencies are a bit shorter in amplitude, providing a major contrast to the floatier feel of previous models. People buy Highlanders because they're vehicles that fit their lifestyles, and because they're Toyotas, they will do everything asked of them with minimal fuss. That's exactly what Toyota has done here, and it's what they've done so well now for decades.