By Steve & Tamami Laser
We’ve been conducting a “test” of the first generation Toyota Highlander for the past 10 years. It’s our own car. As just about any Toyota owner will tell you, it’s been extremely reliable. And it still has the magic-carpet ride that isolates passengers from the road like its cousin, the Lexus RX 300, of the same vintage.
Highlander was Toyota’s first midsize crossover, springing from Camry underpinnings. It had an enormously successful run from 2001-’07. The second generation introduced in ’08 was larger to fit the needs of growing families.
The new third-generation Highlander introduced for 2014 is about three inches longer and a little lower for a more modern appearance. It wears a new trapezoidal grille and wraparound headlights for a sportier look.
Highlander now offers 13 variations with prices beginning at $29,415 for the base front-drive 4-cylinder to $49,990 for the Hybrid Limited Platinum AWD. We decided to test the LE Plus FWD listing for $33,600 with destination.
We loaded up our dogs and gear and headed for a weekend in San Diego. The journey was a mix of stop-and-go Pacific Coast Highway traffic all the way to Dana Point followed by a 30-mile trek on the I-5 to Carlsbad.
This city used to be a sleepy seaside town until Legoland transformed it into a mecca for families with kids. The coast maintains its local feeling with seven miles of beach, parks, trails and other free activities. Hotels and restaurants from basic to fancy are easy to find. San Diego is just a short drive down the coast with more to explore.
Our Highlander tester impressed us with its cavernous cabin. Compared to our own first-generation model, the new Highlander feels like a class-above vehicle with a standard third-row seat and eight-passenger seating capacity.
A refined 3.5-liter V6 engine with 270 horsepower and 248 ft-lbs of torque is teamed with a 6-speed automatic transmission that transmits power to the front wheels on our tester or all four when equipped with optional Dynamic Torque-Control All-Wheel Drive.
While a 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine with 185 horses is standard on the base model, the V6 is a better choice, especially when tasked with transporting a full load of passengers or cargo. And for those who want to tow, the V6 is rated up to 5,000 pounds while the 4-cylinder can only muster 1,500 lbs.
The third powertrain choice is a Hybrid that pairs a 3.5-liter gas engine with a high-torque electric motor for a net 280 horsepower delivering EPA fuel economy estimates of 27 mpg city, 28 highway and 28 combined.
We drove our tester a total of 234 miles and scored an even 20 mpg. That beats our own first-generation model that usually averages 15-17 mpg. Of course, technology has advanced quite a bit during the past decade.
Instead of a confusing array of options and packages, the LE Plus comes fully equipped, or as Toyota says “mono-spec.” Standards include Toyota’s Star Safety System with a long list of features including Vehicle Stability Control, Smart Stop Technology and eight airbags. A power tailgate with flip-up rear window is standard and so is fog lights and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The cabin was dressed with comfy cloth and SofTex upholstery, power driver’s seat, Display Audio with Toyota’s Entune system, SiriusXM and HD radio, a backup camera and three-zone climate control.
We had a great week with the Highlander, returning from San Diego relaxed and refreshed. If you’re in the market for a midsize crossover, be sure to put the Toyota Highlander on your shopping list.
[2014 Toyota Highlander press fleet vehicle provided by Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.]
Story ©2014 CarNichiWa