“Man this thing is big! It looks like a Transformer.”
This is what I said when I walked up to the gleaming “Ooh La La Rouge” (that’s the actual name of the color) 2014 Toyota Highlander Limited waiting for me in the parking lot of the Toyota dealership near my home. It was brand brand new with only a handful of miles on it. I smiled anticipating what a fun week I was going to have on Toyota’s weeklong Make Room campaign. Then I did what any man would do. I walked the perimeter of the vehicle, taking in it’s curves and lines, kicked the tires and smiled at the bright shiny nineteen-inch alloy wheels and their accompanying tires, Amor All shined to perfection.
Then I took a picture.
I climbed into the vehicle and took in all the appointments – a mix of leather and sophisticated composite materials that immediately suggests that care and attention has been put into this vehicle. It comes with all the bells and whistles that most top line 2014 vehicles should, push-button start, an overabundance of cupholders and interior storage space, back-up camera, sensor-laden mirrors, complete with turn signals that alert you to vehicles to your right and left (those pesky blind spots) and connected car functionality (Toyota’s system is called Entune®), which includes, GPS navigation, an in-dash touch screen, an instrument cluster that feeds you the most essential info from the navigation and audio systems, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity for your smart phone. It also came with a couple of other unanticipated options, namely, the 12-speaker JBL premium sound system, the three-zone climate control and perforated leather-trimmed heated and ventilated front-row seats. I mean seriously, seats that cool you off?
The car is smooth and steady and doesn’t pitch at all in turns. Although there is no denying that you are driving a vehicle with a truck engine under the hood, it has a gripping, sports sedan-like handling. This vehicle is no slouch when it comes to quick maneuvers in city traffic. It is powerful, goes quickly wherever you steer it, too quickly if you aren't minding your speedometer. With all the windows up and the music off, wind noise evident but maybe unavoidable considering the sheer size of the vehicle and the profile it cuts through the air while in motion. This is a completely endurable caveat for an otherwise quiet ride.
New & Improved Size
This isn’t your mother’s Highlander. This is a Highlander that received a new and improved Hulk treatment. It is truly a massive machine with three rows of seating that I was able to comfortably fit my family, plus visiting family into it – seven people total and go out on the town. It’s a vehicle I felt safe in and a vehicle I trusted to transport my family, my most precious possession. My only advice would be to put the smallest in your tribe in that third row. They should also have good knees. My little mother was jokingly furious with me for sticking her in the back with my daughter.
Packing It In On The Open Road
The true test of the Highlander’s mettle came when I trekked alone from Atlanta to New Orleans to collect my son from his college campus at the end of his freshman year. The trip down went much faster than anticipated, between making phone calls and listening to music across multiple sources (my phone, Pandora and the radio). The layout of the dashboard and instrument cluster are expertly mounted within your peripheral vision to prevent from driver distraction and if you patch your services through the Entune® app your phone becomes rather useless as the app moves your phone’s music and social (e.g., Facebook) functionality to the 6.1 inch in-dash touch screen. I averaged about 20-25 miles per gallon while cruising at a speed of 70 miles per hour. The vehicle drank gas very slowly on the open road, but the reality of reduced fuel efficiency for a vehicle of this size in the city is one that must be embraced for anyone owning this. But just to put things into perspective the 2014 Toyota Highlander is better on gas than my 2006 Rav4 was and it is twice as large and twice as heavy at a robust 5,500 pounds. That’s truly saying something. Additionally, you, the driver, are provided with constant updates on your fuel efficiency via the instrument cluster so in time you will learn how to drive the Highlander to merit the best miles per gallon, if so desired.
Packing the boy up was easy. Dropping the back two rows of seating was all that was required for us to be back on the road in no time, barring a quick but very relaxing pit stop in the French Quarter where I indulged in one of my favorite Louisiana past times, drinking café au lait and eating a plate of beignets at Café du Monde.
My one major complaint is something small, but because it’s so small it shouldn’t have made it to the redesign. What am I making a fuss about? The cruise control knob. When I first began driving the vehicle I was shocked that I knew exactly where it was – directly behind the steering wheel in the lower right-hand quadrant – exactly where it had been on my 2006 Rav4, in the exact same dimension and made of the exact same plastic. I get the economics of it. The part probably costs five cents, if that much, and function-wise it works across all Toyota vehicles. But for such an upgraded vehicle I would’ve expected such a tiny detail to be upgraded as well. If ain’t broke don’t fix it, I suppose, but could it be made of a more solid piece of plastic? My second complaint is that the power-hydraulic liftgate is slow, real slow. I felt myself aging as I waited for the heavy door to rise. However, the folks at Toyota seem to be aware of this and make it possible for you to pop the back window open to reach inside for a few simple things like groceries and bags. But the door is still slow.
Final Thoughts, A Thousand Miles Later
After tooling around Atlanta for a week I regretfully returned, my new family friend, the 2014 Toyota Highlander back to the dealership. I remarked to one of the dealers there that my time with the vehicle truly did make me want to buy it. Being behind the wheel let me know that I was right to want to buy it once I outgrew my Rav4. It’s a natural choice should you need to go up in size. But after it was totaled this past Christmas, I opted for a compact sports sedan. Given the season I had neither the time nor the money to go big. But when I am ready to go big again the new Highlander has definitely ranked at the top of my list. It is a serious upgrade from previous years blending power and functionality together wonderfully and packing into a very attractive design.
Disclaimer: For the purposes of this review I was provided with a 2014 Toyota Highlander to review for seven (7) days. I was also provided monetary compensation for gas and entertainment purposes. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are wholly my own.