What it is: The Highlander is Toyota's mid-sized crossover that offers tons of storage space and seating for up to eight people. Completely redesigned for the 2014 model year, the Highlander gets a significantly more modern exterior appearance and a revised interior. I quite like the new exterior and I think that it won't show its age for quite awhile. It looks much tougher and less like the concrete-only cruiser that it in reality actually is. But what a concrete cruiser the Highlander turned out to be! My Limited trim Highlander has tons of power from the 3.5-liter V6 engine and it is smooth and buttery on the highway. While I don't have any children of my own, I can imagine kids passed out asleep in the back while parents in the front silently thank Toyota suspension engineers.
Toyota does manage to keep the price under $30,000, which is quite an accomplishment considering the size of the vehicle and standard features you get. Projector beam headlights, back-up camera, color-matched outside mirrors, 18” wheels, and even a color-matched spoiler are all great features for a 'low-end' trim. My top of the line Limited trim adds all sorts of bells and whistles like leather seats, a moonroof, blind spot warning indicators, adaptive cruise control, premium JBL stereo, and a 270 horsepower V6 engine. While the JBL system only sounded OK, all of the other features delivered. It certainly feels like a much more expensive car than roughly $40,000 for the Limited model (base price).
Overall, it really was a pleasure to drive the Highlander around as it provided tons of comfort and a luxury-like ride across Houston's freeways and pothole-filled downtown streets. With so much storage room, it was a snap to load up tons of groceries without even considering encroaching on the second row of seats. Short of towing a large boat, there's really not much the Highlander can't conquer.
MPG: 19 city / 25 highway
Price: $29,415 for base model. $39,840 plus options for Limited trim
Upsides: Lots of value, good gas mileage for an eight passenger crossover
Downsides: Adaptive cruise control didn't work in heavy rain. Premium JBL soundsystem was great for talk radio and poor for listening to music.
Wrap-up: The new Highlander reminded me of what the Dodge Journey has done, and that's provide a great crossover at a great price, and it's not something that dad will find embarassing to drive. New car models (or model revisions) in the last four or five years have ushered in a renaissance of greatly increased quality, technology, and standard features, and the new Highlander is a perfect example of that. There is plenty of new features to justify old Highlander owners to upgrade and the great price makes it a competitive choice for consumers switching from other brands.