How do you improve upon something tried and true? That was a problem Toyota faced when its engineers were tasked with constructing the new, third-generation Highlander. Toyota's popular SUV has been around for over a decade now with an average of almost 123,000 copies sold annually, so messing with success was done in a very calculated manner. 

Driving It

All-new for 2014, The Toyota Highlander remains Toyota's family-oriented offering for the midsize SUV segment, competing against the likes of the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot and Dodge Durango. Optional seating for eight and enough storage space spread throughout the cabin make the Highlander an attractive option in a segment full of formidable contenders. A 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine, a 3.5-liter V6 and a V6 hybrid variant are all available, but Toyota believes 90 percent of all 2014 Highlander buyers will opt for the traditional V6. Toyota also estimates that 60 percent of those buyers will choose all-wheel drive. The gas engines are mated to a 6-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission while the hybrid drivetrain gets an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission.  

We had a chance to sample all three drivetrain combinations and came away with an understanding as to why Toyota believes the 3.5-liter V6 engine will handle the majority of the sales load. Power was adequate whether we were slinking through town or cruising along the highway. The 4-cylinder engine, not surprisingly, was coarser while getting up to highway speed and fuel economy figures didn't really show enough of a reason to downsize under the hood. Toyota is aware of this and told us that it only expects about a 10 percent take rate on the smaller engine. According to the EPA, when equipped with a 4-cylinder engine, the 2014 Highlander will achieve 20 city/25 highway/22 combined mpg, while the gasoline V6 front-wheel drive configuration checks in at 19 city/25 highway/21 combined. As for the all-wheel drive V6, the EPA has rated it at 18 city/24 highway/20 combined. The top-trim Highlander Hybrid all-wheel drive is rated at 27 city/28 highway/28 combined.  

Also: Check out the other all-new cars for 2014 

Accommodating the Entire Family 

A few new features join the Highlander lineup for the 2014 model year, including a cavernous center console (which Toyota claims can hold at least 58 juice boxes), an in-dash shelf that stretches from the front passenger's side door to the driver's right knee, a split tailgate (available on the LE Plus trim and above) and Driver Easy Speak. That last new feature is one of the more intriguing of the bunch. Standard on the XLE, Limited and Hybrid trim levels, Driver Easy Speak (DES) uses the integrated microphone to amplify the driver's voice through the rear speakers, making it easier to get your message across to rowdy kids in back. 

The new Highlander also features a simple yet incredibly thoughtful in-dash shelf for cellphones, keys, wallets and whatever else might otherwise end up hogging space in a cupholder.

There are also some new additions to the 2014 Highlander that you can't see. Toyota focused heavily on making the latest Highlander quieter than the one it's replacing by reducing the amount of noise, vibration, and harshness that penetrates the cabin. This was done by using an acoustic windshield, refined engine mounts, a retuned exhaust system, the strategic placing of sealer and the use of a more rigid unibody. 

Outside, a bolder, more chiseled profile is a change of pace for the Highlander, and a redesigned tailgate, wraparound taillights, rear spoiler, wide fenders and standard 18-inch split 5-spoke alloy wheels help to bolster the Highlander's sporty look. 

Also: 10 Best Family Cars of 2013 

Looking Around the Segment

The midsize SUV segment is one of the most heavily shopped segments and offers plenty of solid choices. Besides the Highlander, the Ford Explorer, Dodge Durango, Nissan Pathfinder and Honda Pilot come to mind as all possess similar features and cargo space. Below is how the Highlander stacks up against some of its main competition. 

2014 Toyota Highlander

Price range: $30,075 to $48,160. Build and price your own.

Engine: 2.7-liter inline-4, 3.5-liter V6, 3.5-liter V6/AC 650-volt permanent-magnet motors

Transmission: 6-speed automatic 

Horsepower: 185 (I-4), 270 (V6), 280 (hybrid)

Torque (lb-ft): 184 (I-4), 248 (V6), 215 (hybrid)

Towing capacity: 5,000 lb 

Fuel economy (city/hwy/combined): 18/24/20 mpg

Seating for: 8 

Maximum cargo capacity: 78.6 cu. ft.


2014 Ford Explorer

Price range: $30,495 to $41,675. Build and price your own.

Engine: 2.0-liter EcoBoost (FWD), 3.5-liter V6 (FWD or 4WD), 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 (4WD), 

Transmission: 6-speed SelecShift

Horsepower: 290 (V6)

Torque (lb-ft): 250 (V6)

Towing capacity: 5,000 lb

Fuel economy (city/hwy/combined): 17/24/20 mpg

Seating for: 7

Maximum cargo capacity: 80.7 cu. ft. 


2014 Dodge Durango

Price range: $30,790 to $41,990. Build and price your own.

Engine: 3.7-liter V6, 5.7-liter V8 Hemi

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Horsepower: 290 (V6)

Torque (lb-ft): 260 (V6)

Towing capacity: 6,200 lb

Fuel economy (city/hwy/combined): 18/25/20 mpg

Seating for: 7

Maximum cargo capacity: 84.5 cu. ft.


2014 Honda Pilot 

Price range: $30,500 to $40,650. Build and price your own.

Engine: 3.5-liter V6

Transmission: 5-speed automatic

Horsepower: 250 (V6)

Torque (lb-ft): 253 (V6)

Towing capacity: 2,000 lb

Fuel economy (city/hwy/combined): 18/25/21 mpg

Seating for: 8

Maximum cargo capacity: 87 cu. ft.


2014 Nissan Pathfinder

Price range: $29,810 to $40,610. Build and price your own.

Engine: 3.5-liter V6

Transmission: continuously variable automatic

Horsepower: 260 (V6)

Torque (lb-ft): 240 (V6)

Towing capacity: 5,000 lb

Fuel economy (city/hwy/combined): 20/26/22 mpg

Seating for: 7

Maximum cargo capacity: 79.8 cu. ft.


The Best One?

That all depends on your needs. Each has its strong suits, and each is the right choice for different families. You won't go wrong choosing the one you simply like best. 

We do really like that in-dash shelf, though.  


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