The third generation Toyota Highlander has gotten bigger without getting bulkier. Not an easy task, but it’s true. The larger cabin is wider, has more luggage space and accommodates a small but usable third-row seat. Overall length is up by about three inches but the wheelbase is the same.
The styling that emphasizes the large grille is bold without being as assertive as the face of the new Tundra pickup.
Many of today’s young families need a three-seat SUV. The 2014 Highlander is designed to maximize interior volume without creating a vehicle whose size is too big for urban confines. The small third seat is appealing to those who carpool yet don’t want to drive a land barge through the grade school pickup line. The Highlander is one of the smaller, midsize three-seat SUVs.
The penalty one pays for a more manageable bulk is that the third seat is definitely kid size. The 60/40 split is advantageous because it lets you fold just one section at a time. I tried it out and discovered that for an adult, admittedly not a very tall one, it would be tolerable for a short jaunt to dinner but not much more than that.
The third-generation Highlander is available in four trim levels: LE, LE Plus, XLE and Limited. It comes in front-wheel or all-wheel drive. A 2.7-liter, four-cylinder engine is available on the base front-wheel-drive LE. It starts at $29,215. The rest of the models have a 3.5-liter, 270-horsepower V-6. The XLE begins at $36,040 and the Limited at $39,640. The Hybrid Limited begins at $47,300, and the Hybrid Limited Platinum tops out at $49,700. That’s Lexus RX 450h territory.
Function is the first priority with a family-oriented SUV, and the Highlander has several features aimed at enhancing its usefulness. A large, roll-top center console can hold a purse when fully opened, and will probably swallow a small laptop but certainly a tablet computer when closed. It contains a power outlet.
A curved tray runs through the lower section of the instrument panel, and while it looks to be a styling device it is a handy spot for parking papers and other small items without looking too cluttered.
The test vehicle was equipped with second-row captain’s chairs that could be moved forward and back to increase legroom for the third seat. The open center makes it easy for children to get to the third seat. The captain’s chairs are quite flat and would seem to be more comfortable with greater contouring and side support. They do have inboard armrests. A second-row bench seat is also offered.
The 3.5-liter V-6 delivers nicely. Low- and mid-range torque is such that the vehicle is responsive without needing heavy throttle to change lanes or merge on the freeway. The six-speed automatic transmission is smooth and seamless. Fuel economy for all-wheel drive is listed at 18 miles per gallon in the city and 24 on the highway.
Convenience items include a blind-spot monitor, lane departure alert, cross-traffic alert, dynamic radar cruise control and automatic high-beam headlights. Standard equipment includes vehicle stability control, traction control, hill-start assist and smart stop technology that reduces power when the brake is depressed. Smart stop was developed to prevent unintended acceleration.
To me, all-wheel drive is essential in an SUV. Toyota’s system operates in front-wheel mode for efficiency but it sends power to the rear wheels through an electromagnetic coupling in the rear differential as conditions demand. The system also integrates stability control as needed. The ride was tuned to feel more like a car.
All Highlanders are built in Princeton, Ind., and exported to 12 countries.Price
The base price of the all-wheel-drive Highlander Limited was $41,100. The only option was the rear-seat Blu-ray DVD entertainment system. The sticker price was $43,770Warranty
Three years or 36,000 miles, with a 5-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty.