Besides different look in 2014 Highlander is characterized by improved aerodynamics, modernized and comfortable interior with better soundproofing quality materials in the interior, increased trunk, optional panoramic roof, and there, among other things, Toyota’s Entune multimedia system, JBL sound system with 12 speakers , pre-collision system, Hill-start Assist Control, rear-view camera, and a system that warns the driver of a vehicle in the blind spot.
Toyota unveiled the latest Highlander at the New York auto show as a 2014 model. It’s a major make over emphasizing passenger-car virtues such as comfort, quiet operation, and a smooth ride. And like the generation-two Highlander, it has seats for seven passengers, as three-row seats are now a mid-size-SUV must.
The interior has been redone with upgraded materials, soft-touch surfaces, as well as ambient lighting around the dash and doors. There’s a new info display, a new roll-top center console with expanded capacity, a new headliner, and the availability of second-row sunshades.
As with almost all new vehicles these days, the new gen-three Highlander debuts with enhanced telematics—Toyota calls its system Entune—as well as an expanded list of standard features. New safety options include a blind-spot monitor, lane-departure warning, and a rear cross-traffic alert.
Other elements in the new Highlander’s comfort quotient include more interior volume; cargo space behind the third row is up 34 percent, according to Toyota, which would raise capacity to almost 14 cubic feet from 10 cubic feet in the current vehicle.
Reclining third-row seatbacks now split 40/60. The 2014 Highlander’s third-row seat is wider and looks to be easier to access as well. Toyota also emphasizes noise-reduction measures in the new Highlander, including extensive sound-insulation material, acoustic windshield glass, and new hydraulic engine mounts.
The New and the Familiar
As befits a vehicle portrayed as all-new, the Highlander’s sheetmetal has been restyled from stem to stern. The side panels are more sculpted, a big new grille preserves a hint of SUV butch, the rear fascia is revised, and wraparound headlamps and a power-operated rear liftgate have been added.
Although the 109.8-inch wheelbase is unchanged, the Highlander’s length has stretched by 2.7 inches to 191.1, and width expanded from 75.2 to 75.8 inches. Toyota cites increased use of high-strength steel for imparting greater chassis stiffness, but refrains from any rigidity specifics.
Toyota also declines to fully detail its powertrain options or fuel-economy estimates, but changes under the Highlander’s hood appear to be modest. The base engine continues to be a 2.7-liter four; it’s rated for 187 horsepower in the current model. It will be paired with a six-speed automatic, and, as before, is front-drive only—the all-wheel-drive option is limited to V-6 and hybrid versions.
The upgrade engine and Hybrid Synergy Drive also appear to be carry-overs, the former a 3.5-liter V-6 (currently 270 horsepower), with a new six-speed automatic. The hybrid continues with the 231-hp 3.5-liter V-6 augmented by electric motor power for total system output of 280 horsepower. As with the current Highlander, the hybrid system works through a continuously variable transmission. Both engines continue to be fed by less-efficient port-injection systems, as distinct from power- and fuel-economy-enhancing direct injection.
In addition to fuel economy and pricing—which Toyota has yet to release—comfort, refinement, infotainment, and a contemporary array of safety features are the key buying priorities in this family-centric class, and that’s where Toyota is putting its chips with the latest Highlander. We’ll see how the bet pays off when the Highlander rolls into Toyota showrooms early in 2014.