Housing prices in Vancouver are as high as ever, but not to worry. I’ve recently decided to move my family into the centre console of a Toyota Highlander.

Seriously, just look at the size of this thing! You could park a Yaris in there for emergencies, or open up a B&B. The word “cavernous” comes to mind.

Then there’s the clever lower dashboard tray with its pass-through for charging cords and soft lining so everything doesn’t slide around all over the place. When I was at the launch event for this vehicle, I declared it the best thing about the car, whereupon everybody hissed at me not to say things like that to people who have spent years tuning suspensions and solving the tricky issues of gearbox programming. Well I don’t care: where the Highlander is concerned, it’s the simple things that make the car.

This is a pretty simple Highlander too, the LE AWD. The all-wheel-drive sets it one step above base, but there’s no Tech Package nor Convenience Package to muddy the waters. This near-2,000-kg behemoth costs less than an automatic five-door GTI.

Now, in the US of A, you can get the Highlander with a four-cylinder engine, which is – well frankly, that’s just plain abusive. This redesigned Highlander is quite enormous, and I would not want to be pitting it against even the milder slopes of the Sea-to-Sky highway with a puny four-banger under the hood.

Happily the combination of workmanlike six-speed automatic and strong 3.5L V6 make short work of the grades, pulling our little party out of North Vancouver and on up past Squamish. Remember when they put this motor in the RAV4? Kind of a sleeper – and I’ve seen one swapped into the back of a second-gen MR2, which basically created a Lotus Evora that ran on regular-grade gas.

2014 Toyota Highlander LE2014 Toyota Highlander LE2014 Toyota Highlander LE dashboard
2014 Toyota Highlander LE, dashboard. Click image to enlarge

We’re off to a wedding with four adults and one toddler, and already we have a problem. Capacious though the Highlander’s cubby spaces might be, the trunk presents some difficulties when packing for a trip like this. I have to bring my guitar along to help out at the ceremony, so between that, the off-road stroller and a nice set of clothes for everyone, the theoretically eight-seater Highlander is as cramped as a Glaswegian tenement. Official capacity behind the second row of seats is a spacious 1,198 L, but fold that third row up and it drops to 390 L. Even with the third row split, there still wasn’t quite enough room to be comfortable – although I did appreciate the small velcro attachments to make the lowering straps stay in place.

Ordinarily, those rears might only be used as jump seats, with the vehicle seeing five-passenger duties more often, but there’s a problem for families who want an expansion option. The LE base model doesn’t come with roof rails to fit a Thule: you have to move up to the XLE, which is almost $6K more. It’s the sort of thing that should be standard, packaged with the AWD models even if the MSRP creeps up closer to $35K.

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