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2014 Toyota Highlander Introduction By John Heilig

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2014 Toyota Highlander

By John Heilig
The Auto Page

Toyota introduced its redesigned 2014 Highlander to the East Coast media in a launch that was threatened by weather in Charleston, SC. I say "threatened" rather than "ruined," because the journalists assembled still had a chance to put the mid-size SUV through its paces in an "Urban Adventure." A threatening storm that hit South Carolina messed up return fights to our homes, but only dropped a little rain on Charleston, even though businesses closed shop early and the traffic out of town was ridiculous. These Palmetto Staters should spend some time in the Northeast to get a taste of really bad weather.

First off, the new Highlander won't disappoint lovers of the previous, second, edition. In fact, I'm pretty sure current owners may be tempted to rush out to their local Toyota store once they get to see and experience all the changes.

Externally, the changes are more subtle, highlighted by a cleaner, smoother front end. The tail lights, for example, have a more three-dimensional look as they wrap around the corner of the car. There are some subtle aerodynamic changes that do a lot to curb any excessive exterior wind noise. The car has a bolder, more dynamic exterior. The LE and XLE have roof rails and there are daytime running lights on all versions, LEDs on the Limited.

The driving experience is impressive. We had the opportunity to drive the XLE and Limited trim versions with the 270 hp 3.5-liter V6 engine. There certainly was enough power for the Highlander to move along, even on the higher speed limit roads. We didn't drive on the 70mph Interstates, but on the 55mph roads the car did well. Ride quality was excellent with little transfer of road unevenness transmitted back into the cabin.

Toyota engineers targeted lowering NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) and they succeeded. A front MacPherson strut suspension and a new double wishbone rear suspension help in ride quality.

And quiet. Boy, is the Highlander quiet. Someone used the term "Lexus Hybrid" quiet, and I must agree. There is a little engine noise transmitted on high acceleration, but otherwise the Highlander is quiet as a tomb.

The interior is more luxurious with increased legroom in the second row and a longer cargo area. On my first ride, I was in the second row and had a good four inches of knee room to the back of the seat in front of me. The more upscale interior has soft touch surfaces. There's a shelf in the dash that is convenient for cell phones or iPods and has USB and AUX plugs. The center console is large enough to hold 38 soda cans or more than 50 juice boxes for longer trips. In addition, with the lid raised, it still functions as a usable arm rest for both front passengers.

The second row is available with captain’s chairs on the upper trim levels. There is a fold-up console that has a pair of cup holders. On the lower trim levels, a nice sized moon roof is available. On the Limited, the roof extends back to the second row. The third row bench seat has tight legroom, but it isn't bad for short trips. It folds flat to increase the already expansive cargo area.

In addition, there is the usual assortment of active safety assists, like blind spot monitoring, cross traffic alert, rear parking assist no and Lane change monitoring. For additional safety, there are eight air bags, up one from the previous edition. I liked, but was startled, by the pre-collision warning on the Limited. Apparently the Highlander thought I was approaching the vehicle in front of me at a higher rate of speed than it thought was prudent, and an alarm sounded and a red light appeared in the multi-information display between the tachometer and speedometer.

Handling is good in an urban environment, even though there were a few wackadoodles who weren't concentrating on their environment. We almost "met" one Lexus Driver who drifted into our lane when we were there, but awoke in time. The brakes are good and had no trouble stopping us.

The navigation screen seems huge (there are several different screens, depending on trim level) but it's not intrusive. At one time in our trip we got lost and didn't realize we had a map right in front of us.

The 2014 Toyota Highlander is available in four trim levels and a Hybrid. The base LE is priced from $29,215 to $31,980; the LE Plus from $32,740 to $34,200; the XE from $36,040 to $37,500 and the Limited from $39,640 to $41,100, $$43,500 with AWD. We drove a Limited Platinum with a sticker that was $46,156. The Hybrid is priced slightly higher.

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