HEELS ON WHEELS: 2014 TOYOTA HIGHLANDER PREVIEW BY KATRINA RAMSER


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2014 Toyota Highlander


HEELS ON WHEELS
By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel

INTRO TO THE HIGHLANDER VEHICLE

Arriving in mid-February, young families and couples are the target market with the redesigned Toyota Highlander that models improvements to exterior styling, cutting-edge conveniences and driving dynamics. I cited a few review model years ago the Highlander had a cramped third row, an overwhelming feeling behind the wheel and an average fuel economy of 19 miles-per-gallon – every single one of these issues has also been addressed for a mid-size SUV poised to grab a lion’s share from this very competitive segment.

I drove several 2014 Toyota Highlander vehicles at a recent press event in Monterey, California, along the Highway 1 coastal bluffs. The two main engine choices are a 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 with 248 pound-feet of torque and the optional Dynamic Torque Control all-wheel drive system; and a 185-horsepower 2.7-liter four-cylinder. Both are coupled to an upgraded six-speed automatic transmission. Additionally, a Hybrid version pairs the V6 to a high-torque electric drive motor-generator. The Highlander is available in four trims: the LE, XLE, Limited and Hybrid. Base price starts at $29,215 and extends to $49,790 for the Hybrid with an optional Platinum Pack.

Most noticeable changes upon viewing inside is the addition of 34 percent more cargo space behind the third row – with the third row itself getting an increase in width. Clever features include advanced voice recognizing software that can better pick up on speech patterns and second-row captain’s seats that offer a collapsible side tray. Main competitors are the redesigned Nissan Pathfinder, Dodge Durango, Hyundai Santa Fe and Mazda CX-9.

HEELS ON WHEELS REVIEW CRITERIA

Stylish But Comfortable Results: Inside every Highlander is a soft-touch instrument panel, a six-inch touchscreen to support Entune multi-media services, and a new roll-top center console large enough to hold a sizable handbag. A one-step second-row sliding seat function on both driver and passenger sides now provides nearly three more inches of entry space with an interior width increase of 3.7 inches to that third-row. Plus, a standard recline function means a lot more comfort for three in the way back. Since Toyota feels the majority of the sales are predicted to be in the mid- to upper trim levels, best to discuss what standard feature highlights are for the Limited: an upgraded eight-inch touchscreen, heated and ventilated seats, wood-grain patterned trim, captain’s chairs and nineteen-inch Chromtec wheels.

Reliability & Safety Factor: The 2014 Toyota Highlander has not yet been rated by The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) or The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Cost Issues: The base LE Toyota Highlander starts at $29,215; the XLE at $36,040; the Limited at $39,640; and the Hybrid with the Platinum Pack at $49,790. Obviously it’s not the most economical hybrid on the market, and in general, a hard-to-justify purchase when constructing ownership costs over a five-year period.

Activity & Performance Ability: The Highlander’s redesigned double-wishbone rear suspension proves to deliver smoother road performance, especially on those Highway 1 curves along the coast. The upgraded six-speed transmission equates to more precise shifting. Also loaded with safety technology, the Limited model comes with Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Rear Parking Assist Sonar. In regards to abilities, the XLE and Limited can tow up to 5,000 pounds; the hybrid just 3,500 pounds.

The Green Concern: Fuel economy has improved for the V6: with all-wheel drive, stats are 19-city and 24 highway for a combined 20 miles-per-gallon. Ousting this is the also luxurious and redesigned Acura MDX that now nets 18-city and 27-highway for a combined 21 under direction of a 290-horsepower 3.5-liter with all-wheel drive. The four-cylinder gets 20-city and 25-highway for a combined 22 miles-per-gallon. The Hybrid gets 28 miles-per-gallon combined. To achieve a combined fuel economy of 28 miles-per-gallon combined, the Hybrid uses idle stop, regenerative braking, motor assist and EV/ECO driving mode technology.

FINAL PARTING WORDS
Uncompromising on many levels, the 2014 Toyota Highlander represents your more luxurious, capable and fun-to-drive mid-size SUV able to keep up with competition and offer a scale of prices to meet the budgets of young families and couples.

2014 Katrina Ramser

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