Once upon a time, Toyota sold station wagons. There was one called the Camry wagon, which was based on the Camry sedan. Then, as buyer ditched wagones en masse, Toyota started offering a tall wagon-ish vehicle called the Highlander. Sharing its platform with the Lexus RX, the original Highlander looked very much like the old Camry wagon, only taller. Just look at the shape of the D-pillar compared to the old Camry Wagon’s. But now crossovers proliferate across the land, and many of the Highlander’s competitors are new or refreshed, so it’s time for Toyota to up its game. Meet the 2014 Highlander.
Quieter, more efficient, better performing, and much better looking than the current Highlander, Toyota seems to have made some very nice improvements to the Highlander. Other than the oddball protruding taillights (which has become a Toyota SUV/crossover trademark, apparently – they are now on the Highlander, RAV4, and 4Runner), it’s a very attractive, sleek shape. It manages to look more like an SUV than a station wagon without overdoing it the way Honda did with its boxy Pilot.
Engineers added a lot of sound-deadening material as well as acoustic glass to keep interior noise down (that is, until you buckle up to six kids and two adults into it – seating for eight is available). Interior materials have been improved, with a woven headliner replacing the old mouse-fur one, and wood trim and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob are available. You can get second-row sunshades in the new Highlander, which I can state from experience is a very nice feature when schlepping kids around town.
Engine choices will continue to be a 2.7 liter four standard, with a 3.5 liter V6 optional (and likely to remain the volume engine). Other than in the Highlander, Toyota’s other applications of the 2.7 liter four (4Runner and Sienna) have not been well-received, so I’d expect only the cheapest of cheapskates to opt for the base engine. The Highlander Hybrid survives in the 2014 model; this time, it gets the 3.5 liter V6 rather than the old hybrid’s 3.3 liter V6. Basically it is getting the Lexus RX 450h’s hybrid system; the 2013 Highlander had been soldiering on with the old 3.3 liter V6 and weaker electric motor until now.
Expect to see the 2014 Highlander at dealers in early 2014.