2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Review

A sensible crossover is hard to find. Here's one.

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April 10, 2014

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Review

The Toyota Highlander Hybrid is incredibly well optioned, even with the base Limited trim.

Remade/Remodeled
The 2014 Highlander had its looks seriously upgraded for the 2014 model. It's not easy making a crossover look like anything other than every other crossover on the market, but Toyota has done a good job, with curves, lines, and protuberances in all the right places. Forego the dent guards on the door, however - they spoil the car's otherwise sleek and well-mannered profile.

The materials on the interior have been upgraded as well, and the soft curves of the dash lines keep attention focused on the instrument panel and the center console. A stylish shelf under the dash is a nice touch, and not a bad storage spot for phones, keys, and anything else that's not too large. There's even a rather clever - if unsightly - cable organizer to keep the wires from your various electronic devices from going everywhere.

One rather large complaint, however, has to do with the touchscreen. For once, the fault lies not with the infotainment interface, but with the placement of the screen, which sits just beyond reach of the driver, unless he or she happens to be simian. Touchscreens are bad enough for drive distraction as it is, but forcing the driver to not only take eyes off the road but to lean forward to work the controls doesn't exactly scream 'safety.' Which is unusual for Toyota, whose reputation for safety is second to none.

There's also an extremely cheap-looking-and-feeling collapsible drink holder for the second row seats. Toyota included this to facilitate the folding down of the second-row seats, which is appreciated, but it could look and feel a little less cut-rate.

Likewise, the JBL sound system is a bit tinny and flat, but that's nothing that can't be cured by a better after-market stereo, if having good sound is important to you.

Otherwise, the interior materials are quite nice for a non-luxury car. The leather dashboard looks quality, and only the bottom half of the dash has cheap-looking black plastic, which, if it must go somewhere, might as well go there. A rather clever roll-top arm rest/storage bin in the center console, and a panoramic sunroof round out an extremely attractive and comfortable interior.

On the road, the Highlander feels like a crossover, which is to be expected (if not appreciated), but turning off the ECO mode helps make the Highlander a bit less sluggish. Still, there's no point in complaining about performance when you're driving a hybrid - you're in it for the mileage (and the eco-friendliness, presumably), and in that respect the Highlander delivers extremely impressive numbers: 27 city and 28 highway are nothing to shrug at.

Unless meaningless status symbols are important to you, the Highlander Hybrid is a sensible alternative to the Lexus RX 450h, not to mention the rest of the competition. It's incredibly well optioned, even with the base Limited trim. The extras in our tester are definitely nice - the panoramic sunroof, the pre-colision safety system, and the heated seats and steering wheels - but if you can live without these amenities you'll save yourself a grand. Most likely you'll want to pay the extra money, especially if you are actually using this Highlander to carry passengers who are also children.

If it wasn't for the more or less useless third-row seats and the tacky second-row cupholders, this would be a near-perfect SUV. As it is, it's close enough, and with the excellent mileage that the hybrid affords, the Highlander Hybrid is an extremely competitive vehicle in an extremely overcrowded segment.

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Specs & Prices

Engine: 3.5-liter V6 with hybrid energy drive system.

Transmission: Continuously variable transmission.

Power Output: 231 horsepower / 215 lb-ft torque

Fuel Economy: 27 mpg (city) / 28 mpg (hwy)

Price: $49,790 (base) $51,761 (as tested)

Features: Heated/ventilated front seats, backup camera, JBL sound system with nav, pre-collision system, lane departure alert, heated second-row seats, running boards.


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