The all-new 2014 Toyota Highlander is out, and we recently spent a week behind the wheel of a well-equipped, high-end Limited model. With a sticker price of more than $41,000, this Highlander bordered on luxury SUV territory, and that meant expectations were high before we even got behind the wheel. So how did it stack up? We've compiled our thoughts below.
Smooth, Smooth, Smooth
Let's get one thing out of the way quickly: The Highlander isn't very sporty. But you weren't really looking for performance from your family SUV, were you? Most shoppers would answer that with a "no," and that's good news for the Highlander.
Because Toyota chose not to give the Highlander a sporty character, its ride is far better than rivals such as the Mazda CX-9 and Nissan Pathfinder. That's because it trades the sport suspension for a more relaxed, softer feel, and we think most shoppers interested in a midsize SUV will appreciate it. That's especially true of our Highlander Limited, which borders on Lexus pricing.
Not Sporty, but Not Slow
Even though the Highlander doesn't emphasize sport, none of our staffers found it to be especially slow. Instead, everyone had good things to say about its engine, including comments about how it was just as smooth as the SUV's ride and remarks about muscular acceleration. You won't embarrass any sports cars in your Highlander, but you won't be at a loss for power, either.
Interior Could Be Better
One of our biggest gripes about the Highlander Limited tester was with its interior quality. Don't get us wrong: For a $35,000 SUV, the Highlander's cabin was certainly up to snuff. But when prices cross the $40,000 threshold, buyers want a more upscale experience, and the Highlander doesn't quite provide it.
In a perfect world, we'd like the Highlander Limited to set aside all the plastics from more basic Highlander models in favor of wood, leather and soft-touch surfaces, just like in many Lexus products. But we recognize the Highlander can't quite do that, because it must share components with low-end Highlander models to save money.
The result is that the Highlander Limited will likely be purchased by shoppers who value equipment over quality. Yes, the Highlander is loaded with a long list of standard features. But drivers who prefer quality over quantity will likely opt for the Highlander's Lexus RX mechanical twin, which offers an improved interior.
Infotainment Pros and Cons
Nearly everyone who rode in our Highlander test car was impressed by the crossover's high-end JBL audio system, which offered an exceptional sound previously reserved for full-size luxury sedans. We also appreciate Entune's excellent functionality, which makes it possible to do just about anything on the go. Our only gripe is that the system can be a little clunky compared to infotainment technology in rivals from Honda or General Motors.
Cabin Space: Good and Bad
One of the Highlander's unique selling points is a storage box mounted in the crossover's center console, an item that more cars really should offer. While some staffers felt that this feature is actually a little too big, most agreed it's a handy place to put items you don't want floating around the cabin. And it's large enough to conceal a purse or handbag, which makes it perfect for drivers who don't want their valuables to be easily seen from outside the car.
But while we liked the center storage feature, we can't say the same about the Highlander's third-row seats. No, they're not worse than any other SUV in this segment, but they're still too small for anyone but a small child. Our advice: If you really need 3-row seating, consider a larger SUV or a minivan.
The 2014 Toyota Highlander is an improvement over the old model, and it's certainly among the top choices in the midsize SUV world. Sure, there are a few issues, like the clunky infotainment system, the small third row and the could-be-better interior. But as an overall package, the Highlander is an excellent new contender among midsize SUVs.