Toyota Highlander
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Overall

The next-generation of Toyota’s popular tall wagon has gone to beauty school and arrives in an attractive wrapper.

Drivetrain

Expect the same four-cylinder and V6 engines to return; the latter receiving a new six-speed automatic transmission, replacing five-speed unit; hybrid version also returns basically unchanged.

The Highlander has always been the perfect alternative for families who don’t want to tool around in a minivan. Equipped with available third-row seating it has lots of room for those who adorn their car windows with stick-people characterizations of their broods. For 2014, Toyota has upped its styling game with more dramatic look that’s far less boxy and boring than before. The handsome trapezoidal grille and lower air intake should also attract buyers who might otherwise not give the Highlander a second glance. The overall size is similar to that of the outgoing wagon, but a nearly three-inch extension in overall length and a bit more width has helped improve interior packaging to the point where rear stowage space behind the third row has increased by a claimed 34 percent. Up front, the styling is equally pleasing as well as practical with an enlarged floor-console bin for swallowing laptop ‘puters, large purses and the like. The new dashboard and control panel are swathed in soft-touch materials and the gauge cluster has also been given a complete updating. Mechanically, the Highlander is mostly a repeat of the previous model; a 187-horsepower four-cylinder earns base-engine status, while a 270-horse V6 is optional, but necessary if all-wheel-drive is your pleasure. A six-speed automatic is the sole transmission for both engines, which represents an upgrade for the V6 from its prior-use five-speed version. Back again to save the day by saving fuel is the Highlander Hybrid all-wheel-drive model that uses a 3.5-liter V6 working with front and rear electric motors to produce a combined 280 horsepower. The Hybrid is equipped with a unique on-demand four-wheel-drive setup in the interests of fuel efficiency. It operates through a continuously variable transmission with no set gearing. All Highlanders arrive with the expected air conditioning and power-operated controls. The three-place second-row bench can be swapped for captain’s chairs that reduces passenger seating to seven from eight.

Base price (incl. destination): $30,000 (est.); $41,000 (est., Hybrid)
Type: Four-door tall wagon
Base engine (hp): 2.7-liter DOHC I4 (187)
Optional engines (hp): 3.5-liter DOHC V6 (270, 280 Hybrid)
Layout: Front-engine, front- /all-wheel-drive
Transmission: Six-speed automatic; CVT (Hybrid)
MPG (city/hwy): 20/25 (2.7, 4×2, est.)
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; driver’s knee airbag; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control
Weight (lb.): 4,000 (est.)