Redesign is better looking, family friendly

'14 Highlander: Same engines, much more juice

Redesign is better looking, family friendly

Toyota's 2014 Highlander gets big changes to its sheet metal.
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CARMEL, Calif. -- The fast-growing mid-sized crossover segment has become a three-way battle among the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. Toyota hopes that with a 2014 redesign the Highlander can gain segment supremacy.

The basics: Although its engines remain the same, the Highlander gets dramatic changes to the sheet metal, interior design, all-wheel-drive setup, rear suspension and content levels.

The body panels are more sculpted and chiseled, with more angularity than before, and the hoodline appears chunkier. The overall length grows nearly 3 inches, with most of that going into the second- and third-row seats and cargo area. The Highlander is offered in seven- and eight-seat configurations.

Powertrain choices are a base 185-hp, 2.7-liter inline-four; a 270-hp, 3.5-liter V-6; and a 280-hp three-motor hybrid mated to the V-6. The same six-speed automatic transmission is shared by the four- and six-cylinder engines; only the final drive ratio is different.

A one-hour test circuit from Carmel to Big Sur returned 31 mpg for the hybrid, 27 mpg for the inline-four and 23 mpg for the V-6 with front-wheel drive.

The rear suspension was changed from a multilink design to a trailing-arm double-wishbone setup. By shortening the shock towers, Toyota made more room for the third-row seat and cargo area. Plus, the double wishbones are more dynamically responsive.

Notable features: Packaging improvements include more efficient use of space in the center stack, allowing for a soft-touch tray to stow cellular phones with a pass-through for power cords.

The center console can fit either a large purse or as many as 58 juice boxes. That's about 8.3 juice boxes per kid in a fully loaded vehicle. To ensure the driver can hear a request for a specific juice, Toyota increased the amount of sound insulation in the floor and used acoustic glass for the windshield.

Standard features include 18-inch wheels, eight airbags, Bluetooth connectivity, backup camera, daytime running lights, rear-zone climate control and a 6.1-inch touch screen. One cool optional feature, "Easy Speak," channels the driver's voice through the car's microphone and speakers to enable communication with back-seat passengers without shouting.

Juice-box hero
The updated Highlander gets a roomier interior for 2014.
 2014 Toyota Highlander2013 Toyota Highlander
Wheelbase109.8 in.109.8 in.
Length191.1 in.188.4 in.
Width75.8 in.75.2 in.
Height68.1 in.68.1 in.
Curb weight4,134 lbs.3,946 lbs.
Base engine2.7-liter inline-42.7-liter inline-4
Horsepower185 hp @ 5,800 rpm187 hp @ 5,800 rpm
Torque, lbs.-ft.184 @ 4,200 rpm186 @ 4,100 rpm
EPA mpg20 city/25 hwy.20 city/25 hwy.
Base price*$30,075$29,880
*Includes shipping

What Toyota says: "We had to improve the exterior styling; we had to make it an even better car for families, and we had to dial up the driving dynamics," said Bill Fay, Toyota Division general manager. "[We] addressed all of these areas in developing the most complete package in the segment."

Compromises and shortcomings: Toyota said a four-banger hybrid would not work because the vehicle is too heavy; the resulting hybrid would have been slow and had limited fuel economy gains. Although the second-row seats slide forward and the third-row seats recline, the third row clearly is designed only for small children and parcels; it is too cramped for adults.

The market: The Highlander goes on sale in January. Pricing starts at about $30,000 and zooms to $50,000 for a loaded hybrid version. But the sweet spot is around $36,000, which is where Toyota has placed its heaviest-content versions.

Toyota hopes to sell about 140,000 Highlanders annually, with about 60 percent being all-wheel drive.

The skinny: The sheet metal is more attractive and the interior packaging is smarter and much improved. Despite a weight gain of nearly 200 pounds, the performance of the four-banger is surprisingly good, and the V-6 still really hauls. The new rear suspension makes a difference tucking the car into corners. This is a strong challenger for best-in-class honors.

You can reach Mark Rechtin at -- Follow Mark on Twitter

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