The all new 2014 Toyota Highlander is the highest scoring Premium Mid-Sized Crossover SUV in AutoPacific’s 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research. The Highlander finished first against some impressive competitors. Behind the Highlander are the following: Hyundai Santa Fe, Ford Edge, Kia Sorento, Toyota Venza, and the Dodge Durango. This is the second year in a row Highlander has won the VSA. It also won in the last year of its previous model. Not bad for a “mature” entry.
The 2014 Toyota Highlander leads its category with thirty-one wins and ties out of fifty attributes. The Highlander also is within one tenth of a rating point with ten other categories. This puts the Highlander at the top with forty-one of fifty satisfaction categories – over 80%.
The top ten highest ratings by Toyota Highlander owners are: the vehicle and brand reputation, the perception of reliability and dependability, fun to drive, seating capacity, ease of loading and unloading, durability, vehicle ride, braking, and feeling safe while driving.
AutoPacific’s opinion of the all new 2014 Toyota Highlander is that it is better in all ways than its predecessor, but it follows the Crossover SUV formula pretty closely and does not particularly break any new ground. One innovative feature is a shelf below the instrument panel spanning the width from the driver’s area to the passenger door. Also fun are Highlander TV ads featuring Sesame Street characters – a clear attempt to attract families with young children to the vehicle. “Mom, let’s buy a Highlander!”
Don’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.
Interior 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.
The Toyota recalls over sticking accelerator pedals are causing quite a stir this week, one which has grown in volume, really, over months and years. The fallout may be severe for Toyota, depending on how long it takes to fully resolve the issues and whether or not an additional recall regarding the Prius brake system is also required–voluntary or not. The situation is particularly bad for a company that had built a personality based on reliability and safety. No doubt, they will be taken to task. No doubt, mistakes were made. Also no doubt, the media frenzy is turning an already difficult and serious recall situation into recall fever.
But, while the drama plays out on local and national news, and our hard-working Congresspeople ensure they publicly flog Toyota and get their two cents in and “keep us safe,” there are real people with real questions. Toyota has some answers for customers, and we’d like to share them with you.
Follow the jump for Toyota’s relatively thorough and clear FAQs, including information on both the accelerator pedal and floor mat recalls, and what to do in an emergency.
Even giant Toyota is forced to rethink their production plans and schedules, in light of plummeting truck and large SUV sales. Going into 2008 analysts expected a bad sales year for the U.S. automotive market. Still the first half of the year has been worse than predicted, and marked by a mass exodus from large trucks and SUVs. No one expects truck and large SUV sales to recover to pre-$4 gas levels, but it is impossible yet to know just how much of this dramatic and shocking shift is permanent.
Against this backdrop, Toyota announced today that Tundra and Sequoia production will be suspended in August, resuming again in November of this year. (The Sienna minivan, also built in Indiana, is so far unaffected.) This follows similar announcements over the past few months from Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler of lengthened shutdowns of truck and SUV production, and even Ford’s delayed launch of the new-for-2009MY F-150.
VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.comhttp://www.autopacific.com) pay close attention to the the dynamics in one of the largest and most dynamic product segments in the North American auto market – the Premium Mid-Size SUV market. This VehicleVoice blog (http:/.vehiclevoice.com) delves into the dynamics between Traditional SUVs and Post-Modern SUV entries.
Are Traditional SUVs Based on Trucks on Their Way Out?
Some say traditional SUVs are on their way out, but their implied death is exaggerated at best or at worst will come only after a lengthy illness that has just begun to take root. That the playing field is changing there is no doubt, but traditional SUV entries will be an important part of the mix well into the next decade, despite the amount of chatter that Post Modern SUVs (some refer to them as crossovers) are generating and the speculation that the product configuration will take over the world. Though segmentation is subjective and a constantly moving target, but a close look at the Premium Mid-Size SUV segment as currently defined indicates that it is not quite time to write off traditional SUVs.
Ford Explorer Versus Toyota Highlander: Which is the Way of the Future?