Quick Summary: Slightly larger and more SUV-like, the redesigned Toyota Highlander is a three-row crossover that offers all the latest features in a handsomely styled package. If you're comfortable with its size, you'll likely find the rest of the vehicle more than adequate for a wide range of family activities.
What Is It?
The 2014 Toyota Highlander is a four-door, midsize crossover vehicle. Fully redesigned this year, the latest Highlander features seating for eight passengers, a higher-quality interior and numerous convenience features like a height-adjustable power liftgate.
What Body Styles and Trim Levels Are Available?
The Highlander comes as a four-door only, but there are four trim levels to choose from: LE, LE Plus, XLE and Limited. Our test vehicle was an XLE with the optional rear-seat Blu-ray DVD entertainment system with a 9-inch display screen, two wireless headphones and remote control. Although the entry-level Highlander starts at $30,000, the XLE all-wheel-drive model we tested was priced at $40,170.
Like the 2013 model, the top three trim levels of the 2014 Toyota Highlander come standard with a 3.5-liter V6 engine rated at 270 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. The entry-level LE model is available with either the same V6 or a more fuel-efficient 185-hp 2.7-liter four-cylinder. New for this year on V6 models is a six-speed automatic transmission in place of the previous five-speed. Front-wheel drive is standard, but all-wheel drive is available on the V6 models.
There's also a hybrid version of the Highlander that comes in Limited trim only. It pairs the V6 engine with an electric motor to drive all four wheels.
How Does It Drive?
This Highlander feels big from behind the wheel, which isn't a surprise, as it is larger than the previous model. Its exterior width is only increased by half an inch, but combined with the fact that it's nearly 3 inches longer and an inch taller, there's no doubt you're piloting a much more SUV-ish vehicle than a carlike crossover. Unexpected parking challenges are not uncommon, especially in tighter city situations.
As our track notes verify, the Highlander's V6 offers smooth and reasonable power. Its 7.3-second 0-60-mph time is about average for the class. At 4,487 pounds, the Highlander is more than 200 pounds heavier than the old model, and that's simply a lot of weight to move quickly.
The steering is a tad light, but there's a degree of precision that makes the Highlander easy to handle. Its brakes are a little too responsive initially, but it's easy to learn how to manage the touchiness. Our instrumented testing recorded a decent amount of nosedive during its 116-foot 60-0-mph stop, but our professional track driver specifically noted, "That's a reasonably good stop for such a heavy vehicle."
How Safe Is It?
As an all-new vehicle, the 2014 Toyota Highlander endured the usual battery of crash tests. In federal government tests, NHTSA gave the 2014 Highlander AWD a five-star crash rating overall. In private testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Highlander received the highest possible rating of "Good" in the moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests. In the small-overlap frontal-offset test, the Highlander received the second-highest rating of "Acceptable." Its seat/head restraint design was rated "Good" for whiplash protection in rear impacts.
The 2014 Toyota Highlander comes standard with front-seat side airbags, a driver knee airbag, a front passenger seat cushion airbag and full-length side curtain airbags. A rearview camera is also standard.
Unfortunately, if you want a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning and Toyota's Safety Connect telematics (emergency assistance, stolen vehicle location and automatic collision notification) you have to step up to the top-of-the-line Limited trim.
What Kind of Mileage Does It Deliver?
With its optional all-wheel drive, our 3.5-liter V6 Highlander XLE test vehicle isn't the most fuel-efficient 2014 Highlander, but on our standardized Edmunds test loop made up of city, mountain and highway driving, it returned a healthy 22.6 mpg.
The EPA rates our V6 AWD model at 20 mpg combined (18 city/24 highway), so our own testing put us squarely in the target zone.
Shoppers opting for the front-wheel-drive V6 configuration should notice a slight improvement in fuel economy, at it's rated at 21 mpg combined (19/25). Earning just 22 mpg combined (20/25), the four-cylinder Highlander is only marginally more efficient. If you want a more serious jump, you have to step up to the Highlander Hybrid model, which is rated at 28 mpg in combined driving.
How Does It Rate in Terms of Interior Comfort?
Carrying a $40,000 price tag, our 2014 Toyota Highlander isn't short on amenities or comfort, and drivers familiar with the outgoing Highlander model will certainly appreciate its larger cabin, upgraded materials and additional tech offerings.
Gone are any hard plastic panels. Instead, passengers will find soft surfaces on which to rest their elbows. There's plenty of room, too, thanks to an extra inch of legroom in both the front and second-row seats. The third row of seating has been widened by nearly 4 inches, allowing the Highlander to move up to an eight-passenger vehicle if shoppers opt to keep the 60/40-split second-row bench over the optional captain's chairs.
Plenty of storage options are now available, including a shapely shelf built across the lower part of the dash. It offers an ideal place to store phones, keys and coins, without stuff sliding around noisily. There's also a well-placed pass-through hole so charger cords can connect with the power ports below. A multilevel center console with sliding lids helps keep larger items safely out of sight.
Overall cargo capacity has been reduced by nearly 12 cubic feet in the 2014 Highlander, which now measures 83.7 cubes. Although it's still 2 cubic feet larger than the 2014 Ford Explorer, it's now nearly 4 cubes smaller than the 2014 Honda Pilot. Still, for drivers intending to use the third row for passengers instead of cargo, the storage space behind the third row has expanded by nearly 3.5 cubic feet to 13.8 cubes.
A new height-adjustable power liftgate makes it easier to access the cargo area without dinging the hatch on low-ceiling garages. Unfortunately, we found that the liftgate opens and closes too slowly for our tastes.
What Are Its Closest Competitors? Chevrolet Traverse: One of the roomiest vehicles in the class, the Traverse has a solid drivetrain and offers passengers a comfortable ride. However, despite a recent refresh, its interior is not as deluxe as its more upscale competitors.
Ford Explorer: The three-row Explorer is similar in size to the Highlander and comes with a similar list of advanced tech features. It doesn't offer a hybrid version, but if you want more power there is the sharp-looking Explorer Sport that features a turbocharged 365-hp 3.5-liter.
Honda Pilot: The Pilot is largely unchanged since the second-generation model debuted back in 2009, so many crossovers have now moved beyond it in terms of available features. The Honda's cabin was never the nicest in the group, so that remains a distinctive drawback.
Hyundai Santa Fe: The well-appointed Santa Fe comes with a strong 3.3-liter V6 engine and offers lots of standard features for the money, but its cargo capacity falls a little short compared to other eight-passenger crossovers.
Why Should You Consider the Highlander?
The Highlander packs considerable passenger and cargo space into a sleek, easy-to-drive package. It's more efficient than a traditional SUV of its size, and delivers an interior that's not only well laid out but never fails to offer up a convenient storage space when you need one.
Why Should You Think Twice About the Highlander?
This crossover may have three rows, but if you need eight-passenger capacity on a regular basis, a minivan like Toyota's own Sienna is a better alternative.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.