Minivans once dominated the roadways, spilling Cheerios from their sliding double doors. They were practical, economical, easy to drive, easy to park and the king of child ingress/egress. All great things, except no one wants to buy one these days. Crossovers are where the money is these days. Hell, Porsche makes a pair of them.
Toyota recently introduced the third generation of its Highlander, aimed at suburban families and Muppets. Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem band, various other Muppets I don’t know the names of and Terry Crews all enjoy a ride in Toyota’s three-row crossover. Apparently the Highlander can carry “a whole flock of chickens and a grand piano, a drum kit and an organ, too.”
I’m guessing the Highlander will see much less exciting cargo, so it would be easy to think that the 2014 Highlander would fit the needs of soccer practice duty just fine. Strangely, a quick look at the spec sheet shows that the new model actually has 0.7 cubic feet less passenger space compared to the second generation model. The cargo area did gain 3.5 cubic feet though.
Toyota has long been the king of reliable transportation. Not inspired styling, engaging driving dynamics or rich interiors. For a long time that equation worked, but times have changed and Toyota spent awhile in the rear because of it. Akio Toyoda, is out to change that. He wants more passion in Toyota vehicles, something that’s obviously happened in the Highlander.
The Highlander seems much bigger when you get inside, cavernous in-fact, which is odd considering it actually lost some passenger space. Interior materials have received a noticeable upgrade, though it’s hard to compare the top-of-the-line Limited with all-wheel drive and the Platinum package I drove to the base package second generation Highlander I have spent time in in the past. It’s worth noting that my top of the line setup came with a sticker price of $44,450. The stitching and wood trim might have been simulated, but it took a good long stare to tell.
There’s a pretty handy shelf running from the center of the dashboard to the passenger door, a one-way intercom to the third row for yelling at kids if you’re into that kind of thing, having kids that is. The Platinum package adds radar-assisted cruise control, a panoramic moonroof, heated perforated seats and a heated steering wheel.
The Highlander looks like a bulbous mash-up of a Toyota 4Runner and Dodge Durango. That sounds bad, but I think the Highlander looks good, though the headlights and tail lamps stick out awkwardly. The rear window opens separately from the hatch, a rare feature that I truly do love.
Improvements to the handling include a suspension system that substantially reduces body roll, it’s still there but it’s been dramatically lessened. The Highlander’s driving dynamics are predictable and crisp for a crossover, and road noise is average. The 2014 model is 3 inches longer than before, a bit wider and lower, too. Third row headroom is lacking as is leg room so leave that to the children.
The 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 paired to an automatic 6 speed that I tested is good for a combined 20 MPG. For better fuel economy, there’s a Highlander Hybrid.
The 2014 Toyota Highlander is less Bert, more Ernie. I think those are Muppets. It’s nice to see Toyota adding some personality to its vehicles.