2014 Toyota Highlander: Putting on top hat and tails

5 Jun 2014 | 1,011 views | No Comment
By Don Hammonds Wow, have things ever changed for the Toyota Highlander! We just test drove the 2014 model, and it is vastly different from its predecessors. To be sure, its still quiet, utterly appropriate for family needs, and built to last. None of that has changed. But what HAS changed is the demeanor and message that the Highlander puts out there.  It comes across as being a lot more expensive than it is, thanks to its elegant new design that has enough cues from  previous Highlander models to entice loyal buyers, but also plenty of new pizazz and style to draw those new to the Highlander, as well as  make it clear that this isn't your familiar Highlander, but a whole new chapter for the brand.  Highlander of old.   It also feels quite a bit more substantial underway on the road, like a heavier luxury car.  We would not be surprised if a number of people who bought more expensive Lexus models will now shift to the Highlander. We had a Limited model, and we can think of plenty of luxury SUVs that we would hop out of in a minute to jump into the Highlander Limited crossover we had.     It's roomy, it's comfortable, elegant inside and out, feels and appears to be far more substantial than previous Highlanders we've driven. Our test version was a Nautical Blue Limited V6 with all wheel drive.  The base price was $41,100. For that, you get  get as standard equipment, , the 32.5 liter V-6 with a six speed automatic transmission, full power accessories, including power steering and brakes, etc.; the vaunted star Safety System that includes enhanced vehicle stability control, traction control, antilock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, brake assist and Smart Stop technology, all sorts of airbags from knee to side curtain types, whiplash injury lessening front seats; auto on and off headlights, fog lights, privacy glass, adjustable power liftgate, power tilt and slide moonroof, chromtec rpopf rao;s. seating fort seven in sumptuous leather, backup camera with an eight inch display, rear parking sonar, the Entune Premium JBL system with an eight inch touch scrren, air contditi9ning, a roll top0 console and armrest, an in dash shelf and other goodies.     Options on our car included a driver technology package that includes Safety Connect, pre-collision system with dynamic radar cruise control, lane department Alert with automatic high beam headlights, rear bumper applique,, cargo net and other items, all of which brought the price to $43,703. As we said before, this Highlander is equipped with a 280 horsepower, 3.5 liter four cylinder engine.  The mileage rating is 18 city, 24 highway, and 20 overall, and you will spend $1,500 more in gas costs over five years compared to the average new vehicle. Cost estimates are based on driving 15,000 miles a year on $3.55 cents a gallon gasoline.      B7y the way, this new Highlander is an eminently safe automobile, The federal government has given it a five star safety rating  as an overall vehicle score. The first thing you notice is how incredibly comfortable Highlander is on the road.  Bumps and road shocks are soaked up with aplomb and very little of the noise and din going on outside the car even makes it to the passengers' ears.       The new Highlander is pretty roomy inside, with an additional three inches of length helping to improve that picture.  The third row seat  can get a bit uncomfortable for passengers, but  both the second and third row seats can be  lowered and raised in a snap--basically a one step flip of a lever for the second row seat, for instance, does the trick , and the seats are fold flat. We also loved the new rolltop console, which was deep, roomy and easy to use, and when closed, as quite comfortable as an armrest.        And if you take a look at the dashboard, you'll see more than a passing resemblance to a Lexus.  Lots of intricate stitching, brushed aluminum,  two no-nonsense gauges, a nifty message center located between the two gauges.       One of our favorite features inside the car was the wide shelf under the dashboard, providing much needed space to put all of the little things we carry with us in cars but don't want to stretch over to the glove department to put them all away.       The knobs and controls were easy to operate and the Entune system is one of the best in the business, with Bluetooth being a snap to get  set up, which also delighted us. Really, there's nothing to complain about with the new Highlander, and much that will make both people new to Highlander and old loyalists, very, very happy.          

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