2014 Toyota Highlander improves styling, meets family needs

Toyota’s Highlander hit U.S. soil in early 2001 and it was an auspicious arrival because Highlander was the first midsize crossover — an SUV built on a car platform rather than being truck-based. Other crossovers, including the Toyota RAV4, were already rolling but they were compacts.

Highlander has been redesigned twice since then, and a new-generation version for 2014 is making its way into dealerships now. It has three-row seating with spots for up to eight people. Maximum seating capacity for the outgoing version was seven.

At a recent media introduction for the 2014 Highlander, Toyota product communications vice president Jim Colon named the company’s three targets for the vehicle’s redesign: “To improve styling, meet family needs better, and dial up the driving dynamics.”

Increasing the muscularity of the exterior was accomplished by giving door panels, fenders and wheel wells a more chiseled appearance.

Eight-passenger seating capability and the creation of additional interior space — including more legroom in the first and second rows — will appeal to potential buyers who have kids to consider. Parents will also appreciate the optional Driver Easy Speak feature that provides a view of the rear seats and amplifies the driver’s voice so he or she doesn’t have to, let’s say, hypothetically, yell at the children.

Another handy feature for parents and anyone else is a big 24.5-liter center console bin with roll top. To give you a visual: The bin is large enough to hold 58 juice boxes. An open shelf along the bottom of the dash with easy access to power and USB ports provides convenient stowage for frequently-used items.

Driving dynamics are upgraded by suspension improvements, a new Dynamic Torque Control All-Wheel Drive system, optimized electric power steering, and retuning of the spring rates and shock absorbers.

Four different trim levels are offered: LE, LE Plus, XLE, and Limited. All are available with front-wheel or all-wheel drive. All models have a 3.5-liter V6 engine and new six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift ability. The LE grade is also available with a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine, but only in front-wheel-drive configuration.

Horsepower ratings are 270 for the V6 and 185 for the four-cylinder. Fuel economy ratings are 20 mpg city and 25 mpg highway for the four-cylinder engine, 19/25 mpg for the V6 with front-wheel drive, and 18/24 mpg for the V6 with all-wheel drive.

Maximum towing capacities, based on the SAE J2807 towing standard, are 1,500 pounds for the four-cylinder LE; 2,000 pounds for the V6 LE and LE Plus; and 5,000 pounds for the XLE and Limited.

Standard features on the LE model include 18-inch alloy wheels, Entune audio system with a 6.1-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth phone and music streaming, a backup camera, heated side mirrors with turn signal indicators, and a windshield-wiper de-icer. Standard amenities – including a power liftgate, eight-way power driver’s seat, fog lights, satellite radio, rear-seat DVD entertainment system, blind spot monitor, heated and ventilated front seats, and lane departure alert – are piled on accordingly with each step up the trim-level ladder, culminating in the Limited model loaded with everything.

Pricing, including an $860 delivery charge, starts at $30,075 for a four-cylinder LE, and tops out at $44,450 for the Limited AWD with Platinum Package. The Platinum Package adds a panoramic moonroof, heated steering wheel, heated second-row captain’s chairs and a driver technology package.

A gas-electric hybrid version will arrive in February 2014. Available only in the Limited grade, the Highlander Hybrid’s base price will be $48,160, including destination charge.

All 2014 Toyota Highlanders, including units to be exported to 12 other countries, are being built in Indiana, at the Toyota Motor Manufacturing facility in Princeton.

This is a preview of the 2014 Toyota Highlander based on an introductory event held by the manufacturer. Although the vehicle was driven during the event, automotive reviews that include driving impressions and other opinions are written only after a vehicle has been given a weeklong test-drive.

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