2014 Toyota Highlander: Highlander Hits the Slopes
March 17, 2015
Last fall, a friend I've known more than half my life announced his plans to marry. I and many of his friends raised a hallelujah. I'd only met his lady a few times, but it was enough to see that she was smart, pretty and ambitious, and that our boy was fortunate to be even a waterboy in this girl's league.
She'd grown up spending winter vacations in Park City, Utah, when her parents would load the kids in a wagon and Dad would put the hammer down and cover the distance from their Chicago home in a day. So they decided to marry in Park City since it was a fairly equidistant point to gather both sides of friends and family. A wedding in a ski town is not an opportunity to waste.
I asked fleet whisperer Mike Schmidt if he could spare a four-wheel-drive for the occasion. Another friend would join me for the drive and the Ram 1500 was an obvious choice. But it had plenty of miles already and this was before its recent meltdown. The F-150 and Chevy Colorado were other options, but Mike asked if I'd consider our 2014 Toyota Highlander.
Although most of us seem to like the Highlander just fine, it's not a go-to car unless you have family in town or kids to carry, especially not with other cars like the F-Type R Coupe, Macan, A3, Mustang, RC F and GTI hanging around. The Utah round-trip would add about 1,400 miles to the Highlander, getting us closer to our usual 20,000-mile long-term test goal.
I was a bit skeptical of the front-drive Highlander's capability on wet or icy roads, but knew it would be an exceptional road-tripper, especially with only two passengers aboard. Seven-passenger seating would also help out if we needed to shuttle some friends around. In the worst case, I'd need to find some chains to fit the 245/55R19 tires.
I needn't have worried. Conditions were clear from Southern California to the backside of the Wasatch Range. A weekend storm dropped 21 inches of snow, but the sun was out and the roads were clear by the time we arrived. No four-wheel drive necessary. The bride and groom couldn't have planned it any better.
And the Highlander couldn't have been a better long-hauler. Its well-damped ride filtered out most imperfections on Interstate 15, and the quiet cabin amplified the silent splendor of the white peaks towering outside the windows. The deep center console, door pockets and nifty integrated instrument panel tray gave us more room than we needed for phones, wallets, water and snacks.
But the V6 was truly the star of the show. Despite prodigious torque-steer, which was predictable, avoidable and sometimes just plain fun to wrestle with, the Highlander never left us in a lurch or wanting more merging or passing power, even on a steady grade between Arizona and Utah. Granted, with only two passengers and maybe 150 pounds of gear, it was not much to ask of the big SUV. But for pure road-trip performance and confidence, it impressed.
Other observations and fuel economy notes to follow.
Dan Frio, Automotive Editor @ 18,400 miles