Friday, February 28, 2014

New Toyota Highlander is bigger, better

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website – via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – Wow, it’s bigger.

That was my first thought upon walking up to the extensively reworked for 2014 Toyota Highlander sport-utility vehicle.

Two reasons for that thought: It IS bigger than the previous generation, and I spend a lot of time in close proximity to my wife’s trusty Toyota RAV4, a smaller SUV perfect for her needs.

I confess that I’m not always at ease behind the wheel of a big sport-ute.

Yet climbing up and into the cockpit of the tested 2014 Toyota Highlander Limited with all-wheel drive and Platinum Package, I couldn’t help but be impressed.

Vision up high and all around the vehicle was nothing short of great.

The Highlander was loaded with safety, comfort and convenience features.  The Platinum Package upped the ante with an assortment that included a pre-collision system, radar cruise control, lane departure warning system, automatic high beam-adjusted headlights, a moonroof, heated steering wheel and heated, perforated leather second-row captain’s chairs.

No wonder it’s bigger.  They needed more room to pack in all the goodies.

Not surprisingly, my Highlander is the most expensive you can buy among the 2014 trim levels, with an MSRP of $43,590.  The most basic Highlander starts a shade short of $30,000.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the Platinum Package-equipped, AWD, Limited Highlander stacks up well against most purpose-built luxury SUVs on the market.  Easily, to be truthful.

So, equipped as described, this Highlander can comfortably transfer up to eight folks in three rows.  No squeezing or cramping necessary.

On the outside, the Highlander is three inches longer than it once was, and a lower roofline on the 2014 model adds a touch of aerodynamic smoothness.  The front grille is appropriately muscular, with a new-look trapezoidal grille being the most prominent feature.

My Highlander rolled smoothly through urban centers and on manic-commuter freeways, courtesy of a most responsive 270-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine.  Exterior noise barely rose above a quietly spoken sentence in the vehicle’s cabin.

I was impressed with the tuning of front independent McPherson strut/rear double wishbone suspension pairing.  The Highlander was ride-the-rail firm on hard corners, even those taken in the Sierra Nevada foothills, uphill and down.

Gas mileage is so-so at 18 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg on the highway, but I liked the engine’s output too much to complain about those numbers.

Be advised that the tested Highlander will probably challenge the household budgets of most shoppers looking for basic SUV convenience.  On the other hand, if you’ve been pondering loaded SUVs priced in the $50,000s and $60,000s and want something just as good for a fraction of that cost, consider reconfiguring your nav system to find the most direct route to the nearest Toyota dealership.

 

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