Toyota unveils new 2014 Highlander in New York

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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Toyota rolled up to the New York International Auto Show in an all-new third-generation Highlander this Tuesday, completely reworked for 2014.

The new model's design follows the brand's newfound passion for emotive styling, featuring a wide, deep trapezoidal grille front and centre, enhanced with a broad chrome strikethrough that exposes a thoroughly updated design initiative for Toyota's SUV line. It pulls much from the Japanese brand's car models, particularly the new Avalon full-size luxury sedan, while maintaining a rugged near Tundra truck-like presence. A lower roofline improves aerodynamics and gives the crossover a more aggressive stance, while wrap-around headlamps and deeper sculpting of the door panels adds muscular shape.

Its bolder presence has a lot to do with a bigger footprint too, the new 2014 Highlander being 76.2 mm (3 inches) longer and 12.7 mm (0.5 inches) wider. The basic three-row layout of the crossover will stay the same, however, but it will have the option of a second row bench seat for a total of eight occupants. Its increased width shows up on the inside too, of course, especially between the third-row sidewalls where there's now 109.2 mm (4.3 inches) of added space. The new third row is also split 60/40 instead of 50/50 for enhanced passenger/cargo flexibility, while climbing back there is made easier thanks to a new one-step second-row sliding function that adds 76.2 mm (3 inches) of additional space between the folded seatback and door jam when entering or exiting. Lastly, with all seats upright the new Highlander benefits from 34-percent more cargo space. The optional eighth seat and increased interior roominess will allow the new Highlander to compete more effectively against larger crossovers such as General Motors' three Lambda-based models, the Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, and Buick Enclave.

Like the outgoing Highlander the new version will ride on a modified car-based platform architecture, although Toyota has upgraded suspension components with different spring rates and revised dampers that the brand says improve handling. Likewise its reworked electric power steering is said to improve turn-in and feel. A high-speed digital controller now manages chassis and braking systems, such as its standard electronic stability control and optional Dynamic Torque Control all-wheel-drive system.

At first glance it appears the new 2014 Highlander will soldier forward with the same lineup of four- and six-cylinder engines, and of course the top-line gas-electric hybrid option. However, in reality, while the base model will once again get the same 2.7-litre four-cylinder driving the front wheels it now gets an updated six-speed automatic transmission. The 3.5-litre V6 has also been updated, and a new six-speed transmission replaces the old five-speed automatic. Once again, the V6 can be had with either front-or all-wheel drive. Toyota doesn't mention increased power from either conventional powertrain, but explains that its new V6 engine gets a variable intake manifold and dual VVT-i, which Toyota says "controls phasing on both the intake and exhaust camshafts to optimize torque and fuel efficiency." The automaker also promises better acceleration and fuel economy thanks to the transmission's extra forward gear. The new gearbox includes a manual mode too, adding greater driver engagement.

The new 2014 Highlander Hybrid, only available with all-wheel drive, once again uses a specially tuned version of the Japanese automaker's 3.5-litre V6 combined with a high-torque electric drive motor-generator for "additional power and fuel efficiency," says Toyota. Once again the hybrid uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT) for optimal fuel savings. No fuel economy or output figures have been released, however.

Toyota has never been overly criticized for the Highlander's performance, but the second-generation version got some flack for its complete lack of soft-touch interior surfaces. They apparently didn't make the same mistake twice, as the 2014 model now gets a soft-touch instrument panel along with silver-painted, satin, and chrome-plated accents that are "thoughtfully placed throughout the interior," says the automaker. Additionally, woodgrain trim gets applied to the dash-front and door trim, while premium fabric upholstered seats are now enhanced with contrast stitching. Perforated leather upholstery is available too, as is a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, while Toyota sheds ambient light on all of these upgrades via hidden lamps in the dash and doors. Taking things further upscale the automaker has added nicer a quality knit roof lining.

More important to parents with toddlers, second-row sunshades will now be available, and on another a practical note, Toyota points out that its new roll-top centre console box gets a dampened sliding door that doubles as an armrest, and when opened completely can accommodate a large handbag. Also, those in the driver's seat will appreciate the new Highlander's revised in-meter-cluster Multi-Information Display.

Digital enhancements in mind, the 2014 Highlander will include Toyota's Entune multimedia infotainment system as standard, along with its 6.1-inch colour touchscreen display, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and voice recognition system. An eight-inch touchscreen system will be available, as will a top-line 12-speaker JBL audio upgrade. Also, Toyota's Entune app suite will add functionality and fun to the new infotainment system.

Speaking of fun, rear-seat passengers will be able to enjoy an upgraded optional rear entertainment system with a larger display as well as a new input terminal for connecting external devices such as gaming systems.

Additional optional features will include automatic high beam dimming, adaptive cruise control, proximity sensing Smart Key access with pushbutton ignition, heated second-row captain's chairs, and a heated steering wheel, items not even offered with some of the Highlander's much more expensive competitors such as the aforementioned Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia in top-line Denali trim ($60,000-plus when fully optioned). Likewise, new electronic driving aids will be added to the Highlander's options list, such as blind spot monitoring with lane-departure warning, pre-collision warning and cross-traffic alert. Again, only the GMC Acadia Denali offers blind spot monitoring with lane-departure warning, but not pre-collision warning. Like these pricy "luxury" utes the new Highlander will also be available with driver's seat memory plus heated and ventilated front seats.

Currently, a leather-line 2013 Highlander Limited model can be had for less than $47,000 including freight and pre-delivery preparation, so even if these new features push the price of the 2014 Highlander Limited up to $50,000 it would still represent a $10,000 to $12,000 savings over a fully-loaded GMC Acadia Denali or Buick Enclave respectively, while offering more high-end luxury features and the same level of utility. Such savings should also bode well for the 2014 Highlander's resale value.

Like all vehicles in the Highlander's segment, the new 2014 model will get a bevy of standard safety features including eight airbags, traction and stability control, four-wheel disc brakes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution, Brake Assist, and Toyota's Smart Stop Technology. Also standard, the Highlander will get Hill-start Assist Control and a backup camera.

The 2014 Highlander, produced at Toyota's Princeton, Indiana assembly plant, will be available in early 2014.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Crossover, SUV, Toyota, 2014, Highlander, Highlander Hybrid, $30,000 - $39,999, $40,000 - $49,999, Full-size,

Organizations: Toyota

Geographic location: New York

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