2014 Toyota Highlander: Campus Visit Road Trip
April 14, 2014
The timing couldn't have been better. My wife and I needed something spacious to take on a Spring Break road trip with our eldest daughter and her friend, and our brand-new 2014 Toyota Highlander long-term test vehicle arrived at the perfect moment. And Toyota's fairly simple break-in procedure, which lasts just 621 miles, was complete just before we were scheduled to load up and head north.
The girls have been accepted to colleges in Oregon. My daughter is about 90-percent sure she'll attend the University of Oregon this fall. Her friend has been accepted at Reed College in Portland but hasn't yet seen the state, let alone the city or the campus. The TV show Portlandia is her only reference point.
A side trip to visit my parents on the Oregon coast will make this a 2,500-mile journey when all is said and done.
For now, we've only just crossed the border on the first leg of our journey. But I can already tell the 2014 Toyota Highlander is much better suited to this trip than our 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe proved to be last fall on the very same roads in almost identical circumstances. The difference is night and day.
It's the ride.
This all-new Highlander is not as squishy as I expected. It expertly manages the weight of 4 adults (my daughter is now old enough to vote) and nine days' worth of luggage on the same slumped and wavy northwest roads that brought the Santa Fe, quite literally, to its knees. And by knees I mean bump stops.
We could ride in the Highlander all day — in fact we just did — with no complaints. As for the Hyundai, my family made it quite clear weeks ago that the Santa Fe was to be removed from consideration for this trip. For them, once was enough. Me, too.
It's as if the Hyundai was optimized for those times when the driver is commuting home from work solo, when the kids are at school. On the flipside of the coin, the Highlander may have felt a tad sharp when I drove it home alone before we began our Oregon quest. We'll have plenty of chances to sort this out after we get back and insert the Highlander into the regular rotation.
It's also the handling.
No, really. It's clearly not a sports car, but our new 2014 Highlander didn't go all wonky when the road climbed out of the valley and began to hug the snaking canyon walls of the mountains. It went where it was pointed and it felt confidently planted through the most awkwardly scribed turns. The body never seemed to roll overmuch and it easily shrugged off ripples and sinks that cropped up mid-corner with no ill effects.
Just now I came back alone from a hike, late for dinner. I was pushing more than I would with my passengers aboard and the Highlander stayed right there with me. I daresay it was even a bit engaging and fun. This is a Highlander?
And it's the interior.
The rear seat is not only spacious, it slides fore and aft a generous amount, and the seatback reclines. My daughter's friend stands six feet tall, not including hair, of which there is a lot. She fit quite comfortably back there.
Our front-drive Limited has seat heaters for all four of us and a heated steering wheel for the driver. Sunshades can be lifted up to cover the rear side windows. There's a flip-up console between the rear seats.
Front seat space is generous and the huge panoramic sunroof gave everyone a good view of the immense California Redwoods we passed through on a side trip.
We had no problem dealing with our luggage. I'm not certain how the capacity in cubic-feet stacks up, but our stuff fit easily with room to spare. And the split between the rear seats has made it easy for the girls to fish out strategically placed items like food and water while we roll down the road.
And the pop-up rear window within the hatch is a nice feature for those times when you just want to reach in quick to grab something sitting on top, like a rain jacket.
What's not so hot? I wish the telescopic steering wheel pulled back about an inch more, which would have enabled me to slide my seat back for a comfortable leg position. This issue is a bit of déjà vu for me. I have the same gripe about most other Toyota products.
Surprisingly, there seems to be a lot of wind noise as the air streams up the windshield and around the mirrors. It sounds as if there's a strong crosswind blowing even when the roadside trees and grass are standing utterly still. Road noise varies with the road surface. They use a lot of studded tires up here in winter. But the wind noise stands out above the fray on all but the coarsest surfaces. At least I brought an iPhone loaded with audiobooks.
We're not halfway through this journey just yet. More impressions to come later. The same goes for my daughter's impression of the U of O.
Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 1,289 miles