2014 Toyota Highlander – Meeting Competition


2014 Toyota Highlander F782014 Toyota Highlander R78Don’t Call it a “Crossover”  Like Ford and other makers, Toyota has largely abandoned the distinction between “traditional” and “crossover” sport utility vehicles.  “It was confusing our customers,” said Bill Fay, Group Vice President of the Toyota Brand.  Now, Toyota refers to both under the “mid-size sport utility vehicle umbrella”.  This might seem to be a small thing, but for decades (at least since 1997 when unibody “crossovers” began appearing) automakers have been making this distinction.  The customers largely did not know or care about the difference, they just bought the emerging crossovers in droves.

Toyota’s Two-Tier Mid-Size SUV Strategy  With the introduction of the 2014 Toyota Highlander, Toyota continues with a two tier mid-size SUV strategy.  The unibody 8-pasenger Highlander goes into its third generation with the 2014 model year entry in production since early December, 2013.  The body-on-frame 4Runner appeals to the traditional SUV buyer needing more off-road capability and towing ability.  Fay says, “these are totally different buyers and the 4Runner and Highlander are seldom cross-shopped with each other.

For 2014, the Highlander gets more aggressive styling, a more upscale interior and a price bump of about $1,500.  A lot of that price increase is offset by the Highlander having more standard equipment.

2014 Toyota Highlander F-Seat2014 Toyota Highlander CockpitInterior Moves Upscale  Toyota’s designers and engineers clearly devoted a lot of attention to the instrument panel.  It is a neat piece of automotive sculpture with the most up to date technology.  The base vehicle comes with a 6.1-inch touch screen.  When you get to the XLE and Limited models an 8-inch touchscreen is fitted.

A “why didn’t I think of that?” design feature is a shelf running beneath the center stack and below the glove box.  This padded shelf is the perfect place to set your smartphone while driving.  There is a slot in the shelf that allows a cord to be connected to the USB port to power the phone and connect it to the Toyota Entune app system.

The seat trim is typical Toyota.  In leather versions

The feature availability on the Highlander is impressive.  Features like adaptive cruise control, cross traffic warning, dynamic grid lines in the rear camera are just a few examples of Highlander (and many other middle- and low-market vehicles) offering features once found only on luxury entries.

Comprehensive Model Offerings  There are three basic powertrain offerings for the Highlander.  The price-leader LE (about $29,200) 185-horsepower 2.7L  DOHC 4-cyinder is perfectly adequate for around town driving in the Sun Belt.  If you do not need all wheel drive and don’t need to tow, the 4-cylinder would suffice, but you probably won’t find one at your Toyota store.  It will be 5% to 10% of the available Highlanders.

The bread-and-butter Highlander is powered by a 3.5L DOHC V6 making 270-horsepower.  This is the engine that about 90% of Highlanders will get.  It works sell in front wheel drive (with a good amount of torque steer under full throttle) and is required with all wheel drive (about of 60% of Highlanders will be AWD).  The 3.5L DOHC V6 is available on the base LE model for an additional $1,305.  Add all wheel drive to the V6 version and you increase the price by another $1,460.

The middle of the lineup includes the LE Plus for $32,740 for the front wheel drive version.  The front drive XLE model goes for $36,040 and the Limited goes for $39,640.

Hybrid Tops the Lineup  At the top of the line is the Highlander Hybrid making 280-horsepower with its Atkinson cycle 3.5L DOHC V6.  The Hybrid is available in the Limited trim level and is priced at $47,300.  Driving the Hybrid on the hilly roads around Carmel, California we saw about 30mpg – in line with its rated fuel economy.  The throttle effort on the Hybrid was high making it difficult to accelerate with traffic without really getting into it.  Maybe that is because Toyota wants you to drive the Hybrid like you have an egg between your foot and the accelerator pedal.

Evolutionary Improvements Meet Competition  All-in-all, the 3rd gen Highlander is an evolutionary, but substantial, improvement over its predecessor.  Toyota describes the Highlander as “Beyond Hero” in the SUV segment meaning it overachieves when compared to competition.  They also describe its development as “without compromise”.  It does not meet those lofty phrases, and although there are no WOW factors (with the exception of an absolutely gargantuan front seat center console), it will be a steady seller filling an important slot in Toyota’s lineup.  Toyota expects to sell about 140,000 units a year in the USA from its Princeton, Indiana assembly plant while sending another 10,000 to 15,000 overseas to another 20 countries.

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2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Most Satisfying Compact Crossover SUV


Best In Class 2012 Compact Crossover SUV:  Volkswagen Tiguan

2012 VW Tiguan Wins AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award

Owners of the 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Compact Crossover SUV give the vehicle top ratings in sixteen of forty-eight categories in AutoPacific’s 2012 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research.  Owners give the Tiguan top ratings for:  Seating Capacity, Flexible Seating, Vehicle’s Reputation, Interior Styling, Interior Materials, Quality Feeling of Controls, Brand of Audio System, Visibility, Cupholders, Tire Size/Brand/Appearance, Environmental Friendliness, Infotainment Technology, Feeling Safe While Driving, Safety Features, Safety Ratings, Overall Quality and Durability.  With a maximum score of 5.0 satisfaction rating points, a score of 4.5 or higher is considered very good.  Tiguan owners rated their vehicle at 4.5 or higher in:  Overall Satisfaction, Seating Capacity, Vehicle’s Reputation, Brand’s Reputation, Exterior Color, Exterior Styling, Interior Styling, Interior Materials, Handling, Fun to Drive, Reliability, Visibility, Feeling Safe While Driving, Safety Features, Safety Ratings and Overall Quality.  There are five ratings under 4.0 satisfaction rating points:  Cargo Space, Fuel Economy, Cruising Range, Recyclability and Collision Avoidance Technology.  This is a very strong performance by Tiguan showing VW’s strengths in interior and exterior styling and materials selection are clearly appreciated by its owner group.

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Two Three-Row Crossovers Take Different Paths


The model year was 2007.  ‘Crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley was popular on the radio.  Steve Irwin, the famous crocodile hunter was killed by a stingray and minivans were about as cool as Barney.  Two new three-row crossover SUVs entered the market looking to haul families and mass quantities of Vitamin Water from Costco in style and safety.

Posted in: GMC, Mazda

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2011 Nissan Juke: Here’s to the Real SE-R Successor


Long ago, back in 1991, Nissan launched what many thought of as the spiritual successor to the BMW 2002: the Nissan Sentra SE-R.  It was a lightweight and tossable compact car that was inexpensive and an absolute blast to drive.  Since then, Nissan has kept the SE-R name alive in subsequent generations of Sentra, but each one has gotten less and less thrilling.

Fast forward to 2011.  Around the world, automakers are bringing small and sporty crossovers to the marketplace, addressing younger and more style-conscious consumers’ need for entry level vehicles with space and standout style.  Nissan has jumped into the fray with the Juke, a product designed first and foremost for the European market.  The U.S., which seems to prefer its crossover products big and bulky, is a secondary market.  However, given that today’s younger Americans are expressive, enjoy technology, often accept miniaturized products, and value standout design, Juke has found its way across the pond nonetheless.

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2011 Cadillac SRX: A Star in an Increasingly Crowded Class


Ever since the Lexus RX300 first hit the streets thirteen (!) years ago, the sensibly-sized luxury crossover has been hugely desirable among the upwardly mobile.  Over time, the segment has grown by leaps and bounds, not just in terms of sales but more recently in terms of the sheer number of players.  Over the past couple years, the Europeans joined the fray with the Mercedes-Benz GLK, Audi Q5, and Volvo XC60.  And last year, Cadillac ditched the slow-selling and somewhat cumbersome three-row SRX with the smaller and more pert SRX seen here.  Wait a minute, don’t we Americans always want bigger?  What’s the deal here?

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2010 Hyundai Tucson: The Urban Cruiser?


I’m rarely one to toot my own horn, but I’ll go ahead and get this out of the way: there’s a bit of me in the brand-new 2010 Hyundai Tucson. Once upon a time, not that long ago, I was a product planner at Hyundai who was tasked with finding and developing a new concept direction for the second generation Tucson. The first Tucson, which debuted for the 2005 model year, was a decent if uninspiring small crossover SUV, and Hyundai really wanted to hit the second generation out of the park.

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2010 Honda Accord Crosstour: Modern Wagon or New-Style CUV?


Has Honda developed yet another blended vehicle–or just a big hatchback? On sale since November 2009, the Accord Crosstour aims to be a modern and stylish CUV. To our eyes, it is more like a hatchback on steroids. Honda’s not the only maker exploring this shape, as it is not unlike the idea behind the BMW 5-Series GT or Toyota’s Venza or Acura’s ZDX (the larger and more expensive ZDX is not a Crosstour in different metal). Accord Crosstour offers everything you expect from the Accord, wrapped in a new shape. Is that enough?
While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, most people we’ve talked to have not found beauty the shape of the Crosstour. A love-it-or-hate-it shape can be great for image and buzz. But it seems to be difficult to find the love-it Crosstour crowd, at least relative to styling.

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2009 Pontiac Vibe: A Vibe for Every Lifestyle

Pontiac‘s Vibe Slam event was webcast at, introducing the 2009 Pontiac Vibe to the media and a Pontiac fan base all at the same time. Pontiac chose Detroit-area artists, vocalists, and poets to help, showcasing talent that they felt personified Pontiac energy and style. Before we heard from the marketing, design, engineering, and development guys, three vocalists dramatized the distinct personalities of three Vibe models (base, AWD, and GT). Each described their lifestyle in automotive terms tailored toward each Vibe model (Vibe, Vibe AWD, and Vibe GT).


Despite talented performers with smart and clever lines, the event’s vibe didn’t drive the excitement Pontiac was looking for in the sparse live audience, most of whom might have been a little past the target age bracket. The point of these presentations is showing off the image, improvements, and benefits of a new car, but this one tried too hard.
Poets aside, Pontiac brings an evolutionary Vibe to its showrooms next spring. The Vibe is versatile, the right size for many, and has the attributes to fill the image Pontiac wants. The AWD model is set to evoke an SUV look while the GT addresses those looking for a speed-racer mindset with manual transmission, bodykit, and rear spoiler. The base car looks competent but not cheap. But buyers are always the ones who determine the cool factor, and we were fed adjectives over information. (Click to see the presentation yourself, or for a short YouTube interview with the three vocalists.)

Pontiac Vibe

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Podcast #70 – We Don't Need No Stinking Crossovers


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2007 Infiniti FX35: Unsegmentable



Back in September, VehicleVoice had the chance to drive the Infiniti FX35. Our driving impressions were largely positive giving it a thumbs up for those interested in an unconventional CUV, without a whole lot of “U”. With an FX back into our fleet recently, we’re given a chance to update our impressions.

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