2014 Toyota Highlander Review and Prices
The 2014 Toyota Highlander is the best crossover for you if you want the updated version of a family wagon that looks like an SUV but acts like a minivan.
The 2014 Toyota Highlander gets its first significant refresh since model-year 2008. Mechanical changes are minor. The styling is new but recognizable. And the body is slightly longer and wider for more interior space. Four- and six-cylinder gas engines return, along with a gas-electric hybrid model. Seating capacity expands to eight, from seven. Prices should remain in the $30,000-$41,000 range occupied by rivals such as the Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Pilot, and Nissan Pathfinder.
Should you wait for the 2014 Toyota Highlander or buy a 2013 Toyota Highlander? Buy a 2013 Highlander if you have an immediate need to fill a spot in your garage with a still-very-likeable three-row crossover. Deals should be good as Toyota prepares to launch the 2014 replacement in early 2014. The 2014 model doesn’t stray from the successful Highlander formula, but wait for it if you want the latest styling and features -- and the better resale value that comes with a later design.
2014 Toyota Highlander Changes back to top
Styling: The 2014 Highlander styling reprises a shape that treads a path between high-riding station wagon and squared-off SUV. It’s a midsize-class crossover less intimidating than a genuine SUV but tougher-looking than a minivan. Within Toyota’s broad line of SUVs, the 2014 Highlander again slots into the crossover category above the compact RAV4 and the sportier five-seat Venza but apart from the old-school body-on-frame 4Runner and Sequoia SUVs.
Highlander’s 2014 styling adopts Toyota’s latest truck and SUV themes. Its new hood merges with a new trapezoidal grille. Headlamps wrap more deeply into the fenders than before. And the bodysides feature newly chiseled contours and blistered fenders. Toyota says repositioned front roof pillars and larger rear side glass improve outward visibility. In back, the liftgate is curvier and the taillamps more prominent and horizontal, projecting a wider stance.
Overall, the 2014 Highlander’s body is 2.7 inches longer. But it’s still several inches shorter than the typical three-row midsize crossover, to the advantage of garaging and maneuverability. Further, the overall height is reduced 1.2 inches for 2014, for sleeker styling and potential fuel savings through better aerodynamics.
The 2014 Highlander’s wheelbase is unchanged from the 2008-2013 second-generation design. That’s important because wheelbase – the distance between the front and rear axles -- is a key determinate of a vehicle’s passenger space. At 109.8 inches, Highlander’s wheelbase is in fact among the shortest in its competitive set. But Toyota has always done a great job of space utilization with the Highlander, providing generous first- and second-row seating and surprisingly adult-friendly accommodations in the third row.
That efficient packaging should be enhanced in the 2014 Highlander thanks to a wider interior. The second-generation Highlander featured two front bucket seats, a three-passenger second-row bench, and a two-passenger third-row bench, for maximum seven-passenger capacity.
The 2014 Highlander seats up to eight with the adoption of a three-passenger third-row bench made possible by an interior a full 4.3 inches wider at the rear. The second row again slides fore and aft, and its center section removes to create dual bucket seats separated by a new collapsible tray with cupholders.
Addition of a one-step second-row slider provides an additional 3 inches of clearance for improved third-row access. The third-row’s seatback again reclines, and both rear seating rows split and fold flat for various cargo/passenger configurations.
Highlander’s cargo volume was already among the most generous in its competitive set and Toyota says space behind the third row expands by 34 percent for 2014. A power liftgate will again be available, but now features driver-selectable memory height settings.
The 2014 Highlander gets an all-new dashboard design marked by a more gracefully horizontal layout. A multi-information display screen is standard, as is a new roll-top front center console with a sliding-door armrest that opens to a bin big enough to hold a large handbag.
Full specifications and model-line details were not released in time for this review, but the 2014 Highlander’s lineup will include LE, better-equipped XLE, and premium Limited trim levels. That compares with a 2013 lineup of Base, Base Plus, SE, and Limited grades.
Expect the 2014 Highlander Hybrid to again be available in two trim levels, likely LE and Limited. It should be distinguished from gas-only models by slightly different exterior trim, as well as specific instrumentation designed to highlight its gas-electric powertrain.
All Highlanders will continue with alloy wheels as standard, but the 2014 LE and XLE models will have 18-inch diameter wheels, versus 17 for the 2013 Base, Plus, and SE models. The 2014 Highlander Limited grade will continue with 19-inch alloys.
Mechanical: The 2014 Toyota Highlander, like its generation-one and generation-two predecessors, is essentially a tall-roof wagon built on the same understructure as the Toyota Camry midsize sedan. That preserves its status as a true crossover because its body and frame are a single unibody structure similar to that of a car’s. Unibody designs benefit ride, handling, and fuel economy because they weigh less than the truck-like, separate-body-and-frame construction typical of conventional SUVs, such as the 4Runner.
The 2014 Toyota Highlander reprises a powertrain roster comprised of four- and six-cylinder gasoline engines and Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive gas-electric hybrid system.
Toyota had not released engine details in time for this review but did confirm the four-cylinder will again be a 2.7-liter. The 2.7-liter in the 2013 Highlander was rated at 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque (think of torque as the force behind acceleration, horsepower the energy that sustains momentum). The four-cylinder will again pair with a six-speed automatic transmission and be available only with front-wheel drive.
Four-cylinder Highlanders were not the choice for strong acceleration. Indeed, most Highlander buyers are expected to continue to choose the V-6. As in the outgoing model, it’s a 3.5-liter and probably will again rate in the neighborhood of 270 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque.
However, in a welcome change that brings the 2014 Highlander abreast of most competitors, the V-6 is now paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, rather than the previous five-speed automatic. This change should improve both engine response and fuel economy.
Highlanders with the V-6 will again be available with a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD). With front-wheel-drive, the mass of the engine and transmission is above the tires that also provide propulsion, for good overall traction. Few crossovers are intended for serious off-roading and Highlander has never been among them. Instead, its AWD furnishes an extra measure of all-weather traction by automatically shuffling power from the front wheels to the rears to minimize tire slip.
Toyota does, however, equip the 2014 Highlander with its just-introduced Dynamic Torque Control AWD system. To save fuel, the system still runs in front-wheel drive if sensors aren’t detecting wheel slip. A loss of traction activates an electromagnetic coupling that reapportions torque, up to 50/50 front/rear, until grip is restored.
But unlike Highlander’s previous AWD system, Dynamic Torque Control is designed to improve handling both on-road and off pavement by redistributing torque based on parameters other than just tire slip. It can distribute power to the rear wheels when sensors detect steering input or cornering forces, for example. Compared with the previous AWD system, it’s lighter in weight. And the driver can now follow the torque distribution on a dashboard screen.
The 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid again employs a 3.5-liter gasoline V-6 in harness with an electric motor at each axle. The front motor can assist the gas engine during acceleration and can propel the Highlander on electric power alone. The rear motor automatically activates to furnish AWD as needed for best traction.
This system netted 280 horsepower in the 2013 Highlander Hybrid; Toyota does not specify a torque rating for its hybrid powertrains. This is not a plug-in hybrid, relying instead on an onboard charging strategy that taps regenerative braking and coasting. Highlander Hybrids can drive on gas or electric power independently or in combination, as computers determine the optimal blend of acceleration and fuel economy.
The 2014 Highlander Hybrid again uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT). CVTs perform the duties of an automatic transmission but eschew a defined set of gear ratios for a rheostat-like delivery of power. Expect the 2014 Highlander Hybrid to again feature a console button that allows the driver to extend the electric-only range at low speeds, battery charge permitting. An “Econ-mode” switch should again be on hand to maximize fuel economy by modulating throttle response during acceleration.
The Highlander has a tradition of friendly road manners and a comfortable ride; it bridges the feel of an SUV and minivan, basically. Toyota says it has enhanced the 2014 model’s suspension and steering for improved handling and control.
It also claims more refinement and a quieter cabin thanks to a 30 percent expansion of silencing insulation in the floor. Acoustic-type glass is used for the windshield, and the available panoramic moonroof is redesigned to help reduce wind noise, even with the moonroof open. Better engine mounts and a revamped exhaust system contribute to reduced vibration, Toyota says.
Features: Highlander is marketed to a style-conscious audience willing to sacrifice the greater utility of a minivan for the hipper image of a crossover SUV. That audience isn’t acutely price-sensitive, allowing Toyota to equip Highlander with a rather generous range of amenities.
For 2014, Highlander’s interior utilizes more premium materials, with most models featuring contrasting seat stitching. All 2014 Highlanders have a soft-touch instrument panel. Silver-painted, satin, and chrome-plated accents are new throughout the cabin with woodgrain trim on the dashboard and doors.
Upgraded fabrics, available smooth and perforated leather-trim upholstery, and a leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob return as standard or optional, depending on model. Available ambient lighting and adoption of a high-quality knit roof lining and available second-row sunshades add to the upgraded cabin environment.
New available safety features include rear-parking sonar, blind-spot monitor, lane-departure warning, rear-cross-traffic alert, and a pre-collision system.
Additional available convenience features include high-beam headlights that automatically dim for oncoming traffic, adaptive cruise control, pushbutton ignition, driver’s seat memory, heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row captain’s seats, and a heated steering wheel.
The standard infotainment system is upgraded for 2014, with all Highlanders getting Toyota’s Entune multimedia system. Entune groups popular mobile apps and data services access via a Bluetooth- or USB-connect onboard smartphone. Entune’s features are operated using controls or voice recognition. Bing, iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable, and Pandora are among the mobile apps. Entune data services include a fuel price guide, sports scores, stocks, traffic and weather.
Toyota’s Display Audio system with a 6.1-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth and voice recognition is also standard. An eight-inch touchscreen navigation system and premium audio with 12 JBL speakers also is available.
The available DVD rear-seat-entertainment system is upgraded with an RCA coaxial input terminal at the rear of the center console to allow connection of external devices such as gaming systems.
2014 Toyota Highlander Prices back to top
Toyota had not released 2014 Highlander prices in time for this review, but they not apt to wander far from the range established by recent Highlanders. Expect a base-price range for the 2014 Toyota Highlander of $30,000-$41,000 for gas models and $42,000-$48,000 for the Hybrids.
(Estimated base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s mandated destination fee; Toyota’s fee for the 2013 Highlander was $845. Note that the destination fee for Toyotas sold in some Southeast and Gulf states may vary.)
Expect the 2014 Highlanders to start around $30,000 with the four-cylinder engine and around $32,000 with the V-6. Top-line V-6 Limiteds should begin around $37,500. Add about $2,000 to equip V-6 models with all-wheel drive.
2014 Toyota Highlander Fuel Economy back to top
EPA fuel-economy ratings for the 2014 Toyota Highlander were not released in time for this review. Engineering fine-tuning, however, could deliver slight improvements over 2013 ratings, particularly for the V-6 with its more efficient six-speed automatic transmission.
Overall, gas-only Highlanders are likely to stay among most fuel efficient three-row crossover SUVs, with the 2014 Highlander Hybrid remaining one of the highest-mileage three-row vehicles of any stripe.
Expect 2014 Toyota Highlanders with the four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive to rate at least 20/25/22 mpg city/highway/combined.
With the V-6 engine, expect 2014 Highlanders to beat the model-year 2013 rating of 18/24/20 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 17/22/19 mpg with AWD.
The 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid should meet or exceed the 2013 rating of 28/28/28 mpg city/highway/combined.
2014 Toyota Highlander Release Date back to top
The 2014 Toyota Highlander will be in showrooms in early 2014. All Highlanders are assembled at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana in Princeton, Ind.
What's next for the 2014 Toyota Highlander back to top
Don’t look for much change in this third-generation Highlander until model-year 2018 or so. That’s when it’ll receive a so-called midcycle facelift, which traditionally involves minor styling and feature updates but no major mechanical alterations.
However, given that the 2014 Highlander essentially carries over the second-generation powertrains, Toyota could introduce some significant engine changes in combination with, or even before, the midcycle facelift. Most intriguing would be addition of a turbocharged four-cylinder engine designed to deliver six-cylinder-type acceleration without six-cylinder fuel consumption.
2014 Toyota Highlander Competition back to top
Chevrolet Traverse: Traverse boarders on full-size but competes on price with midsize crossovers. It’s more than 1 foot longer overall than the 2014 Highlander, with most of the extra volume going to cargo space. But usable passenger room is basically a wash, and the Chevy’s bigger dimensions mean it’s more challenging to park or garage and slightly less fuel-efficient. Traverse is comfortable and a good value, though, and a fine domestic-brand option.
Honda Pilot: The 2014 Pilot will be one model-year away from a full redesign but it’s a viable Highlander alternative if you fancy a more traditional, boxy-SUV look to Highlander’s elongated profile. Pilot’s a crossover that also manages to package three usable seating rows into a reasonably sized body.
Nissan Pathfinder: Pathfinder became a crossover with a model-year 2013 redesign and will continue for 2014 as an increasingly popular Highlander rival. It’s got smooth styling and parlays its longer wheelbase and body into plenty of passenger and cargo room. Like the Traverse and Pilot, Pathfinder comes only with a gasoline V-6 engine but goes its own way by using a CVT instead of a conventional automatic transmission.