Fastlane: 2014 Toyota Highlander

By Brian Armstead

Toyota has pulled out all of the stops for the new 2014 Highlander. Now in its third generation, the Highlander is arguably the best Crossover Utility Vehicle on the market. But this segment is hotly contested, with the likes of Nissan Pathfinder, Kia Sorento, Buick Enclave and others constantly nipping at the heels of each for segment superiority.

Highlander prices begin at $29,215; just a bump over the 2013 model’s $29,020 MSRP. But it’s so much better than the 2013. While Toyota is selling both on its Web site, do yourself a favor and ditch any ideas of buying the 2013, as the 2014 model takes it to the proverbial “next level.”

The first thing you’ll notice about the new Highlander is the gorgeous styling. It’s now rugged-looking, with wider fender flares and a wide-mouth grille. To the rear, frog eyed clear taillights make an aggressive statement. Fit and finish overall is first rate, particularly inside, where the dash even features upscale stitching. You’ll also like the dash shelf that sits below the optional eight-inch telematics screen and runs from center console to passenger door. It’s great for phones and audio players as there is a wire routing port from mid to lower console so you can neatly plug everything in without a mess of cables strewn about.

Other interior goodies depending on trim levels include perforated leather, heated and cooled front seats; second row Captain’s seats; a cavernous roll-top center console (which for demonstration purposes Toyota showed us it can hold 48 cans of soda!); back-up camera and rear sonar; really nice wood grain trim; fat leather steering wheel with audio, voice and phone controls; and much more.

Road manners are good, and it handles poorly paved streets with ease. Underpinnings include front McPherson strut and rear double wishbone suspension. Performance and fuel economy from my tested 3.5-liter V6 was also decent.

Safety standards, irrespective of trim level, include the “Star” safety system. Star teams enhanced stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist and smart stop technology, designed to automatically reduce engine power when both the brake and accelerator pedals are pressed at the same time under certain conditions. Additional safety standards include eight airbags (including driver’s knee airbag) and whiplash lessening front seats.

The Highlander is a fine all-around effort from Toyota, and is a “must drive” if you are looking for a CUV with tons of comfort features. AT

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