CARMEL- Sometimes being first just isn’t good enough. When Toyota pioneered the Mid Sized Crossover SUV segment in 2001 they were so far ahead of the curve the term “Crossover” had yet to exist. It was easier in those days; the masses clamored for an alternative to their gas guzzling SUV’s and minivan chariots of suburbia. The people were pleased with the Highlander and all was good in Toyota’s kingdom. Today the gates bulge with game rivals from Seoul to Detroit and memories of total dominance in the category are but a memory. Merely existing is no longer enough to stand out in the now crowded marketplace. The throngs have a taste for sport and design and not even the family SUV’s are safe. Toyota’s message is clear. The tall wagon is dead! The tall wagon is dead! Long live the manly crossover SUV!

2014 Toyota Highlander Look

Toyota embraces the styling accents of the day with a very pronounced grill and wide chiseled front. Viewed from the corners the Highlander stretches gracefully towards a pronounced back edge. The belt line is accented by concave panels at the bottom of the doors and depending on the viewing angle I see elements of the Lexus RX, Dodge Durango, and the BMW X5. The new look goes further and further away from the look of a tall wagon and more towards the styling of a truck based SUV.

2014 Toyota Highlander Interior

Inside the cabin is where you leave the truck behind. The Highlander may look like a tough guy on the outside but on the inside it remains a family car. This is where Toyota’s design team really connects with their customers. A simple shelf under the dashboard is covered in a soft material that keeps your phone from sliding around while you drive. The intuitive pass through for your USB and AUX cables prevents the irritating and sometimes unsafe tangling of wires around your gearshift. The center console is large enough to fit a small bag or large purse. Turning around to yell at back seat passengers will soon be extinct thanks to the brilliant Driver Easy Speak. The new feature amplifies the driver’s voice through the speaker system to the back of the vehicle. A sneaky convex mirror in the sunglasses caddy allows drivers to check on their rear seat passengers with a glance. It might be years before the kids figure out how you know exactly who started it and who’s seat belt isn’t buckled. These are hardly game changing innovations but they are the kind of features that simplify and improve a drivers daily life. The Entune App Suite incorporates apps like Yelp, OpenTable and Pandora into it’s native LCD infotainment display. The software needs some work and can be clunky at times but it’s effective enough once you get comfortable with it.

2014 Toyota Highlander Driving Impressions

The driving experience is surprisingly good for such a large family vehicle. The steering and suspension is relatively tight. The V6 engine feels powerful at times and the 6 speed transmission holds up well during rapid acceleration and braking. Acoustic glass and noise dampening insulation make for a quiet cabin even at highway speeds. I pushed the car pretty hard on the hairpin turns and winding roads overlooking Monterey Valley and came away, well… impressed. The suspension is firm enough to minimize body roll yet it maintains a soft ride. Although it will never be confused with a Porsche Cayenne or Infiniti FX, the 2014 Toyota Highlander does have some shreds of sport and fun in it’s DNA. Just make sure you drop the wife and kids off first.

2014 Toyota Highlander Safety

Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and rear view camera all join 8 airbags as standard features. The Star Safety System is a veritable alphabet soup of acronyms designed to help the driver maintain control of the vehicle while cornering and braking. Available features like Lane Departure Alert and Safety Connect fill out an impressive list.


The 2014 Toyota Highlander is bold where it’s older brothers were dull. Driving mechanics are more interesting and the car is loaded with personal touches and intuitive design. If you’re in the market for a family SUV the gestures made towards performance and aggressive style may be just enough to swing you their way. However, the Highlander does seem expensive at it’s higher end and it remains to be seen how many buyers will ante up close to $50,000 for a Crossover SUV without a luxury badge. The $29,000 base LE trim level comes reasonably well equipped but some of the more exciting features are only available in premium packages. Underneath the cosmetic changes and adjustments to the driving experience, the 2014 Toyota Highlander remains true to it’s roots as a safe and dependable family car. Everything else is just icing on the cake.

2014 Toyota Highlander Specs

$29,215 – $41,100

Hybrid $47,300

2.7L 16 Valve 4 cylinder engine on the LE with 185hp

Available 3.5L 24 Valve V6 with 270hp

V6 3.5L Hybrid Engine with combined 280hp

6 speed Automatic Transmission

2.7L MPG 20 / 25

3.5L MPG FWD 19 / 25

3.5L MPG AWD 18 / 24

Hybrid V6 3.5L 27/28

Available Tow Package

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