Making its world debut in New York, the 2014 Toyota Highlander gets a comprehensive makeover that gives it more style and sophistication while maintaining its driver-friendly character. Set to arrive in showrooms sometime early next year, the third-generation Highlander appears set to become an even more formidable force in the mid-size crossover/SUV realm.

While the new Highlander's wheelbase is unchanged at 109.8 inches, overall length has grown by nearly three inches and the increased used of high-strength steel in the A-pillar area adds rigidity to the platform. All-new sheetmetal imparts a more aggressive character to this versatile Toyota, highlighted by a large trapezoidal grille, pronounced fender flares and wraparound lighting elements. The Highlander's redesigned greenhouse affords better sightlines for all on board and the new rear liftgate with available one-touch power open/close makes it even easier to access the expanded cargo bay - which now offers up to 34 percent more usable space behind the third-row seat.

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The interior of the 2014 Highlander reflects a similar kind of upgrade, whether trimmed in upgraded premium cloth or available leather. A fully recast dash has a far more contemporary appearance and features a new main instrument cluster and supplemental center display, while storage capacity of the center console has been increased. The standard 60/40 second-row bench now offers a slide-forward function to ease access to the Highlander's redesigned third-tier perch, which is now 4.3-inches wider and features a 60/40 split and reclining back. For the record, row-two captain's chairs - with or without heating -- are still an option and ambient lighting has now been added to the roster of extras. In addition to looking better, the Highlander's cabin is also quieter, courtesy of new acoustic glass and a quantum bump in the amount of sound attenuation materials in the dash and underfloor areas.

On the infotainment front, all 2014 Highlanders will come with Toyota's Entune multimedia system, a Display Audio package that includes a 6.1-inch touchscreen and Bluetooth connectivity, while an 8.0-inch display with the Entune app suite and 12-speaker JBL sound system will be optional, as will a Rear Seat Entertainment system.

While Toyota provided no output or mpg figures for any of the powertrains to be offered in the 2014 Highlander, it appears all carry over largely unchanged from 2013, with one notable exception. The upline 3.5-liter V6 engine replaces its existing 5-speed automatic with a new more efficient 6-speed sequential unit that will improve both fuel economy and acceleration. Beyond that, the Highlander will continue to offer a standard 2.7-liter/4-cylinder backed by a 6-speed autoshifter - a front-drive only fitment - as well as the Highlander Hybrid, an all-wheel-drive gas/electric package with a specially modified version of the 3.5-liter V6 and a continuously variable automatic transmission.

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Toyota engineers retuned the suspension and the electrically boosted power steering on all 2014 Highlander models to enhance handling precision across the board, and also added Hill-start Assist Contol. However, buyers wanting the added confidence of all-wheel drive will find even more to like in the upcoming iteration thanks to a new Dynamic Torque Control AWD system. Fully interfaced with the standard stability control system and steering, this more sophisticated package uses input from various sensors to control an electromagnetically controlled coupling in the rear differential that can automatically alter front/rear torque splits from 100:0 to 50:50, as traction conditions warrant.

In addition to adding a backup camera to its lengthy list of standard features, the 2014 Toyota Highlander also will gain a host of other new safety/convenience features including rear parking sonar, Blind Spot Monitor, Lane Departure Alert, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and a Pre-collision System. Additional details as well as pricing and EPA numbers will be released closer to its official on-sale date.

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