2014 Toyota Highlander: Snow Gear Fits
March 19, 2015
Of course it does. Impressive, right?
But there are a few other reasons why the 2014 Toyota Highlander, especially one with all-wheel drive (our long-termer is not), makes a solid winter mountain transport.
First, the room. There's a ton of it. With three skiers/boarders, you could lay all the boards, planks and poles lengthwise on one side of the cargo hold on top of a folded second-row seat. Boots and bags would go on the other side behind an upright seat. The seats and cabin space are big enough to load in with full regalia, pants, parkas and all.
Even with four people, you might get away with stacking the gear (especially if bagged) between the captain's chairs, thus alleviating yourself of the tremendous effort of buying and installing a roof rack.
Next, the seat heaters and steering wheel heater. Both work with the speed of Toyota's just-in-time manufacturing process. By the time we'd left the parking lot, with minimal idle time, both front seats and steering wheel were warming nicely and were fully up to temperature a short time later when we turned on to the highway. It can't be understated how welcome this is after several cold hours on the hill.
On the other hand, the footwell vents took forever to heat up. They hadn't warmed appreciably or thawed our toes in the seven or eight minutes it took to get back to the hotel, even with the heater on full.
That said, we couldn't have caught Utah weather much better: sunny, clear, low/mid 40s, clear roads. Not spring conditions, but a nice tease. Except for some icy patches in parking lots, we didn't need four-wheel traction. On powder days though, you'd want a Highlander with Toyota's Dynamic Torque Control all-wheel drive.
The AWD system controls torque transfer between the front and rear wheels — up to 50:50 — via an electromagnetically controlled coupling in the rear differential and kicks in when sensors detect wheel slippage. There's also a lock mode that will hold the power split at 50/50, but only up to 25 mph.
Obviously if your backcountry needs take you deeper into U.S. Forest Service lands, you're probably looking at a Tundra with a cap. But for getting gear and a few friends to the mountain, and later the après ski gathering, the Highlander makes a fine choice.
Dan Frio, Automotive Editor @ 18,600 miles