I have owned this vehicle for about a month and a half now; Prox. 4000 miles. Bought the XLE over the LE Plus as the price difference was minimal as compared to some of the luxury upgrades that are standard with the XLE package; ie: Leather, heated seats, larger touch screen radio, moon roof, etc. My family also owns a 2011 Toyota Sienna with the limited trim package. The Highlander has a much more quiet ride, comfier seats, plenty of room in the 2nd & 3rd rows (I'm 6'-4") so I do not fit in most mid-size SUV's...
I have owned my new Highlander Limited with platinum package for a week and a half now, and I must say this SUV is totally different from my 2008 Highlander. From the upgraded luxury of materials inside, to the super quiet and smooth ride with the new 6 speed transmission, it is fun to drive. The steering is a favorite improvement..you can feel the road with precise handling and no sloppy feeling to the wheel. The seats are very comfortable, with plenty of room front and back. All of the tech features are great, and a big help. The multi info system is awesome, and it is right between the gauges .The JBL stereo is great, and I enjoy the big screen for Entune and navigation. So many apps!
I purchased the 2014 Highlander after owning a 2006 model for eight years and 130K miles, with minimal problems. The 2006 was a hybrid, and I miss the better MPG, but without a tax credit I couldn't justify the additional $12K (2014 hybrids only come in the highest trim levels). I'm 6'3", and the new model is just enough bigger inside to sleep in comfortably with the second and third rows down. I'm a conservative driver, and so far (1900 miles) I'm getting 20.6 mpg overall; when it's time for a tire change, Michelins with lower rolling resistance may add a mile or two. The steering is more responsive than the previous model.
I have the XLE AWD and still love the truck. My friend and I just recently had the vehicle in northern Canada on a fishing trip; we put the captain's chairs down and had a fully loaded truck and many things in a large boat. What a comfortable ride, smooth on some pretty rough gravel. My previous 3 4Runners may have had more guts but on these kinds of roads they were far noisier and certainly more truck like, handling not nearly as smooth. My friend has a newer half ton pickup with a V8 and chides me on my "yuppie" truck-- no more! He was impressed on how the truck handled on this trip as we were on gravel a lot and Canadian gravel is not class 5, it is made with rocks. Since the truck is used in a small town setting 90% of the time I feel I have made a good choice with my Highlander as it is plenty of truck for the other 10% of my hunting and fishing adventures.
The 2014 Highlander XLE AWD does has what it takes to be successful. It has a decent pick up, not very sporty, but thats what you get when driving a big car. The best aspect of pick up is when you are merging in a freeway and it delivers. It has cool interiors and nice safety features (annoying to some). For e.g. you cannot set a route on the navigation unless the vehicle is at full stop. You can speak to the voice command to set the via route though. The voice needs some training. the ride is smooth and quieter than any other big car I have driven. the seats are very comfortable. The handling is nice and of course it has the Toyota reliability.
Sweet V6, a smoothie everywhere on the tach. Decent power, but it has a lot of SUV to move here. Full-throttle upshifts are also incredibly supple, though pretty slow. Our quickest runs came using the old brake-throttle overlap method at launch to bring the revs up slightly. The AWD launches the Highlander pretty hard when doing this, with zero wheelspin. Using the Sport or Manual shifting mode was about a tenth quicker than Drive, but it still upshifts for itself at 6,000 rpm anyway. Manual shifting is via the console lever (pull back for downshifts). Does not blip the throttle on manual downshifts.
Moderate to spongy pedal feel, a decent amount of nosedive but still well-controlled stops. Oddly, hardly any ABS commotion or tire screech, but reasonably good stopping distances for such a heavy vehicle. The first stop was the longest at 123 feet, the second stop was shortest at 116 feet. The sixth and final stop took 121 feet.
Slalom: Steering is on the slow side, but still intuitive nonetheless. Meaning, it goes where it's pointed. That said, this is a lot of SUV to move from side to side around the cones, and the suspension is on the soft side so there's a lot of body roll. The stability control system initially seems tuned perfectly in terms of gentle cut-in. That is, until you really start throwing the thing around, and then it stabs the brakes dramatically. Skid pad: Considerably better grip than the previous Highlander. And what's cool is that dialing the throttle in and out has big effects on the oversteer/understeer. It responds well, though there's no denying the amount of body lean allowed causes major abuse on the outside front tire.