All Toyota had to do with their redesigned 2014 Highlander is to top the current Highlander, our 2013 Top Pick Midsized SUV. That car happens to be efficient, easy-driving, smooth-riding, quiet, and very reliable. Piece of cake, right?
Turns out, as good as the current Highlander is, room remained for improvement. One priority was to improve interior space, particularly in the tight third-row seat. The new seat is four inches wider, thanks to space scoped out by eliminating the intrusive rear shock towers. Now the Highlander can seat eight, if you opt for the second-row bench instead of the available captains chairs.
Even though the current Highlander has class-competitive fuel economy with its ubiquitous Toyota 3.5-liter V6, a new six-speed automatic transmission should bring an improvement. You can get a 2.7-liter four-cylinder with front-wheel-drive only, but based on our past experience, we'd get the V6. For maximum fuel economy, a hybrid variant will again be offered.
Like many Toyotas, you can't call the current one fun to drive. Toyota claims handling improvements while retaining the car's compliant ride. We'll see if this pans out, but the just-redesigned RAV4 and Avalon suffer some cost in ride comfort to achieve their better handling. This could be a mixed blessing.
Toyota also claims better interior materials and electronics. While their new touchscreen stereos have been fairly easy overall to use, recent interiors have had some cheap touches. One great advance is the standard backup camera. And drivers with big purses or travel bags will find a deep rolltop console for stowing them.
So, the new Highlander addresses some complaints we had with the current model. But we hope that ride and interior quality aren't let downs.