2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid XLE AWD. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Tom Sedens
While the Toyota Highlander’s last generation was getting a bit long in the tooth, it continued to sell well. It had a reputation for reliability and although I wasn’t a fan of driving them, I couldn’t argue with the utility and everyday usability they brought to the table. With the all-new 2014 Highlander, Toyota promised big changes from top to bottom for its third generation and they have definitely delivered on that.
The new Highlander is a big vehicle, of that there is no doubt. It seems that Toyota has tried to add some brutish charm to the exterior. There’s a gaping new grille that nicely integrates its chrome moustache into the headlights, making for a nice front-end signature. The sheet metal all around has been treated to some more angular lines, perhaps to attract more male drivers?
It’s actually wider and longer too, and rolls on some serious boots – 245/55s on 19-inch rims. Overall, I’d say it certainly strikes a more masculine pose than it did before. It’s a decent looking SUV, to be sure, but frankly I don’t think it’s very interesting to look at. I think the grille will catch some by surprise, but after that, it’s unlikely to catch many second looks.
Getting into the Highlander is easy with its keyless entry system. Huge changes come to the Highlander’s interior as well. I was never a big fan of the previous one, especially as the years went by and the competition moved to nicer, soft-touch materials and fresher designs. Well, the Highlander doesn’t need to hang its head in shame any longer. There’s some interesting sculpting happening a la Avalon, and you’ll find soft-touch plastics wherever your hand might fall. The large spacious interior benefits from a handsome three-tone colour scheme – I really appreciate the lighter-toned trim which makes the interior a pleasant, airy place. With that said, the lighter colour does seem to pick up dirt and clothing dye quickly. My review vehicle had less than a 1,000 km on it and the driver’s seat cushion was already stained, as was the centre armrest. Also, I take issue with the fake stitching they’ve added to a number of the interior trim areas – it’s a small nitpick, but I felt irritated every time I looked at it. Small quibbles aside, it is a really nice interior – one of my favourites right now. Fit and finish seemed very good, although I heard occasional plastic on plastic rattling over some of the harsher bumps.
The steering wheel felt good in hand, and I love the mute button on it. Behind it are typical Toyota hybrid gauges separated by a very nice, crisp full-colour driver information screen. Heated leather seats are pretty but look very thin in terms of padding, but I’m happy to say they ended up being very comfortable and even offer a reasonable amount of bolstering. It seems a bit chintzy for Toyota to only make the driver’s seat power-adjustable at this price.
2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid XLE AWD centre stack and dashboard. Click image to enlarge
Front and centre in the dash sits a large eight-inch display that’s bright and easy to read. It’s certainly not the prettiest user interface but it works well and is controlled by touch and a few buttons surrounding the screen to access the main functions. The screen handles audio, phone, navigation, vehicle settings and some fuel economy history. The sound system is one of the best I’ve heard lately. A testament to sound engineering and a lesson that other manufacturers could learn from – it’s an unbranded six-speaker system that blows many other big-name sound sets out of the water.
This trim gets a tri-zone automatic climate control system – dual-zone up front and full control of the rear zone too. If you care about sunroofs, there’s a standard-size one overhead, and of course there’s a push-button ignition. I found the Highlander to be pretty weak on driver assistance technology – there’s a back-up camera and that’s about it. For this kind of money and this size of vehicle, I’d like to see blind spot monitoring and parking distance sensors.