Highlight: The third-generation Highlander is built-off the same platform as America’s best-selling car, the Camry.

Test vehicle’s MSRP: $41,900 (Base Model starts at $30,075)

Seating Capacity: 7 or 8, depending upon seating configuration

Standard Safety Features: 8 airbags (driver, front passenger, knee, side-curtain); hill start assist, ABS, stability control; traction control; and a Tire Pressure Monitoring System

Standard Equipment: 18-inch wheels, a 3.5-inch infotainment screen; cloth with third row seats; front and rear a/c vents; and a manually operated tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel

Suspension System:
Front- an independent MacPherson strut w/L-shaped lower arm w/stabilizer bar
Rear- trailering arm with double wishbone

Standard Audio: a 6-speaker AM/FM/ CD player

Bumper-to-Bumper Warranty: 3 years or 36,000 miles

Powertrain Warranty: 5 years or 60,000 miles

Bluetooth Compatibility: available

Standard Engine/Horsepower: 2.7-liter, 4-cylinder/185-horsepower

Recommended Fuel: Regular

Standard Fuel Mileage: 20-city/25-hwy

Towing: 1,500 lbs with 4-cylinder/ 5,000 lbs with 6-cylinder engine

Other Trim Levels:

Limited Platinum

What’s New: With the availability of an all-new 6-speed transmission, depending upon the transmission configuration, the third-generation Highlander, which wears a brand-new exterior design, is larger, roomier and more fuel-efficient than the model it replaced. And, for the 2014 model year, the people mover adds a number of high-tech safety driving aids and luxury touches, too.

Pros: We are smitten with the new exterior design of the 2014 Highlander. The new design moves beyond just appealing to women, but to men too, with its stylish bold design. In fact, the athletic side profile of the Highlander looks similar to Infiniti’s top of the line three-row passenger crossover, the JX 60, which is now known as the QX 60. In fact, the more upscale front grille being worn by the Highlander reminds us of the recently redesigned Hyundai Santa Fe. Yes, the mainstream Highlander is truly in a different league.

For the 2014 model year, the three-row crossover continues to offer three engine choices: a 4-cylinder, a 6-cylinder and a hybrid system. The Highlander is also available with either a front-wheel drive or an all-wheel drive configuration.

Inside the 2014 Highlander, one will easily notice that comfort and convenience were truly at the top of the interior designers’ wish list. For the front seating area, a gigantic roll-top center console, which is situated between the front buckets, serves not only as a comfortable armrest, but as a place which can absorb magazines, an iPad or a large handbag.

And, to enhance its luxury offering, Toyota now offers leather captain chairs for the second-row, with a collapsible side tray with cup holders, making it easier to enter into the third-row seating area, which offers 3.7 inches in width. Even without the captain chairs, occupants will also have easier access to the rear seating area by merely sliding the second-row (captain or split bench seats) forward, which allows for travel room.

Seeing that the third-generation Highlander is a lot larger, this equates to additional cargo room, too.

Moreover, if consumers have an opportunity to opt for the upscale Limited like the one we reviewed, they can expect such features as leather seats, a power memory heated driver’s seat, a heated power passenger seat, side-window manually operated sunshades, blind-spot lane changing system, an 8-inch infotainment screen, which houses a nav system, back-up camera with cross-traffic alert, a rear parking alarm and a 12-speaker premium JBL audio system. The crystal clear JBL system included HD radio, XM radio and APP Suite.

Besides the noted luxury features, our Limited was outfitted with Toyota’s Driver Technology Package, which consisted of a radar-activated cruise control system, a lane departure warning system, a high beam headlight system and a pre-collision braking system.

Furthermore, for those who step up to the top of the line Platinum model, they will have access to an oversized panoramic moonroof, a heated steering wheel and heated second-row captain chairs.

Cons: While we haven’t driven the 4-cylinder, based upon the horsepower, it seems as though the Highlander would not be adequate to power the 8-passenger crossover. And inside the roomier cabin, the third-row seating area is still relatively cramped, when compared to its competitors. Furthermore, we found with the middle bench seats the flip-up cupholders seemed relatively flimsy for the $40,000 vehicle we tested. Added to that, the interior contains too much plastic. Lastly, the Highland Hybrid system is only available in premium trim packages. In our opinion, this gas-saving technology should be within reach of those who aren’t necessarily wanting or able to afford the premium trims.

The Verdict: The all-new Highlander has definitely grown-up, offering a stylish people and cargo mover with loads of safety aids for the driver, if so desired. The Highlander is available in a variety of configurations and with a host of luxury features too. Ironically, pricing for the loaded to the max Highlander Limited Platinum, along with the other competitive vehicles in this segment, tips over into the starting price point for the base model Infiniti QX60, which offers a longer warranty. Just as a precaution, consumers should take that into consideration as they begin to option out the redesigned Toyota or for that matter — any of the competitors.

Competition: Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, Hyundai Santa FE, Honda Pilot, Kia Sorrento and Mazda CX-9



Jeff Fortson is an auto analyst and editor of a car-buying website for women and minorities. To learn more about his popular car-buying workshop and/or to price a new-vehicle, drive on over to JeffCars.com. Follow him @ Twitter/JeffCars.




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