Mid-size SUVs are faced with conflicting expectations. How can you deliver the passenger capacity of a full-sized SUV and the fuel economy of a compact SUV at the same time? Since 2001, Toyota has tried to answer that question with the Highlander, and they have done so with varying levels of success. The first generation Highlander (2001 to 2007) took its styling cues from the big SUVs and cloned them to a unibody crossover. A third row was available, but it was little more than a jump seat. The second generation (2008 to 2013) went overboard with muscular styling, but came off a little bloated. Interior appointments lacked simplicity and elegance, and that third row was still an afterthought.
For 2014, Toyota has redesigned the Highlander once again, launching a third generation vehicle. The 2014 Toyota Highlander comes with base prices from $29,215 (LE I4 FWD) to $49,790 (Hybrid Limited Platinum), including a 3-year/36,000-mile basic warranty, a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty, an 8-year/100,000-mile warranty on hybrid electrics and EPA fuel economy estimates of 20 city/25 highway (I4 FWD), 19/25 (V6 FWD), 18/24 (V6 AWD) and 27/28 (Hybrid).
Though not truly a clean sheet redesign, the third-gen Highlander is significantly revised over the outgoing model. A completely new exterior design retains the raw dimensions of the second gen, but recasts the Highlander as a much more elegant, modern crossover. An expressive new front fascia sets the tone, and an assertive shoulder line defines the Highlander in profile. A big greenhouse provides good outward visibility for all three rows. Out back, operational rear glass (flip up) delivers daily functionality that should be standard in all crossovers.
Highlander's interior is all new, too. A great new dashboard with highly useful cubbies and storage shelves is set up to house and work with mobile devices. There are even holes provided for routing cables and wires to keep things neat. Near luxury levels of equipment are available at the upper trim levels, including heated and ventilated front seats and a super cool "Easy Speak" system that routes the driver's voice through the sound system to rear seat passengers.
Toyota advertises Highlander as an eight-passenger vehicle, which is technically true if you order one with the no-cost option 60/40 split bench second row seat (as opposed to the standard twin captain's chairs), and your third row passengers have exceedingly narrow hips. There are three seating positions in the third row, and while the row is superior to the second-generation's, it's still not a full-time perch appropriate for full-size adults. That said, it's fine for a short hop, and access is good.
Highlander's tow rating varies with engine choice and trim level. The base four-cylinder LE is rated to tow only light loads, up to 1,500 lbs. Move up to the V6 LE and LE Plus models, and capacity increases to 2,000 lbs. XLE and Limited V6 models can tow up to 5,000 lbs, while Hybrids are rated at 3,500 lbs. There's a tow prep package available that increases maximum tongue weight from 200 lbs to 500 lbs. Payloads are generous, between 1,385 lbs and 1,455 lbs, and GVWR ranges from 5,665 lbs to 6,000 lbs, depending on trim level and equipment.
Cargo capacity has been reconfigured to allow for 30% more luggage space behind the third row, 13.6 - 13.8 cu.-ft. Flop down the third row, and there's a flat load floor with 42.0 - 42.3 cu.-ft. of space. With the second row folded flat, capacity expands to 82.6 - 83.7 cu.-ft. Dog owners beware: If your Highlander is equipped with the second row captain's chairs, there's a space between the seats when they are folded flat, exactly the kind that swallows small dogs whole and snaps legs off of big ones. A pet barrier is strongly recommended to keep your dogs safe (and to keep them from becoming projectiles in an accident).
Three engines are available for Highlander:
2.7-liter I-4 with DOHC and 16 valves with Dual VVT
185 hp @ 5,800 rpm
184 lb.-ft. @ 4,200 rpm
Six-speed automatic transmission
20 mpg city/25 mpg highway (FWD)
3.5-liter V6 with DOHC and 24 valves with Dual VVT
270 hp @ 6,200 rpm
248 lb.-ft. @ 4,700 rpm
Six-speed automatic transmission
19 mpg city/25 mpg highway (FWD)
18 mpg city/24 mpg highway (AWD)
Gasoline/Electric Hybrid 3.5-liter V6 with DOHC and 24 valves with Dual VVT and Two Electric Drive Motors
231 hp @ 5,800 rpm
215 lb.-ft. @ 4,800 rpm
Hybrid system net horsepower: 280 hp
Continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT)
27 mpg city/28 mpg highway (AWD)
Continue Reading: 2014 Toyota Highlander Review >>