Now might be a good time for Toyota to revive the old “You asked for it, you got it” slogan.
Buyer input played a large role in this year’s make-over of the midsize Highlander crossover.
Customers asked for a roomier cabin, so the 2014 Highlander is three inches longer and a half-inch wider. A redesigned rear suspension makes room for a third passenger in the third row, boosting capacity to eight, and increases behind-the-seats cargo capacity by 34 percent.
Men said they wanted the Highlander to lose its bland mom-mobile facade, so Toyota bulked it up with muscular wheel wells, bold body-side lines and a taller hood. The front fascia was redesigned around the new corporate wide-mouth grille.
The roofline is lowered for improved aerodynamics.
The fully redesigned cabin is roomier, more elegant and more refined. An array of noise and vibration-reducing measures elevate ambience to near-luxury levels. Soft-touch surfaces and silver-painted, satin, and chrome-plated accents add spice.
Most trims include contrasting seat stitching.
High-tech features include a 6.1-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity, an optional 8-inch screen with phone-based Entune apps.
Controls are well laid out and easy to use. The 8-inch touch-screen responds quickly to touch, but could be improved with the addition of one-click access to the navigation menu.
A backup camera and hill-start assist are standard on all ’14 Highlanders.
Toyota accounts for the needs of the modern family with abundant storage. A center-console storage bin is large enough to hide a small horse and shelf that runs nearly the width of the dashboard includes a pass-through for charging-cables.
Apparently, no one asked specifically for a personality upgrade, but the Highlander got one. Like the rest of its recently redesigned siblings, the ’14 Highlander is more enjoyable to drive than its predecessor; it’s tauter and more responsive, with improved handling and crisper feel. Fast cornering induces the expected understeer.
Safety features include a standard rearview camera, hill-start control, parking sensors, blind spot monitoring, lane departure alert, rear cross-traffic warning and a pre-collision system.
The Highlander's engines carry over from last year. The base 2.7-liter four generates 187 horsepower, while the optional 3.5-liter V-6 makes 270 hp. A hybrid model pairs the six with an electric motor for a cumulative 280 hp.
An excellent new six-speed transmission replaces last year’s five-speed. Front-wheel-drive is standard, with AWD optional.
To maximize efficiency, the AWD system now sends power only to the front wheels until wheel slippage occurs, or during mid-turn acceleration. At low speeds, a driver-selectable “lock” mode distributes power evenly between front and rear.
The new transmission helps bump six-cylinder efficiency to 21 mpg combined (19 city/25 highway) for front-wheel drive and 18/24/20 for all-wheel drive.
The four-cylinder engine, available only on the base LE, is only marginally thriftier, at 22 mpg combined (20 city/25 highway). The Hybrid is rated at 27/27/28.
Highlander owners asked and Toyota answered. If only everything in life went as smoothly.
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance journalist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2014 Toyota Highlander Limited AWD Vehicle base price: $26,673 Trim level base price: $43,590 As tested: $44,500 Towing capacity: 5,000 lb. Optional equipment: The Highlander Limited is a fully equipped trim; our tester included no options. EPA rating: 18 city/24 highway/20 combined Regular unleaded fuel specified