By William Maley
Staff Writer - CheersandGears.com
April 23, 2013
Well, that didn't go quite as planned…
By the time you are reading this review, Toyota has introduced the new 2014 Highlander. I should have realized this when I was scheduling vehicles about a month ago, since this current generation of Highlander has been with us for about six years. But alas, I didn’t. Here’s the thing though: the current Toyota Highlander doesn’t look or even feel like its six years old. It still feels pretty new.
Now it may seem a bit odd to do a review on a vehicle that’s destined to be replaced. But it’s the perfect time to spot the differences between the outgoing and new Highlander, and decided whether it’s a good idea to pick one up now or wait.
The current Highlander’s styling is pretty plain when compared to other crossovers in the marketplace. Up front, Toyota designers placed a hexagonal grill and an aggressive air dam underneath. Around the back, there is a set of reworked taillights and name of the model around the license plate. There is a hint of 4Runner and Sequoia in the overall design, but it really doesn’t help give the Highlander an identity of its own.
Moving inside, the Highlander shows its base model credentials very clearly. Hard plastics are used throughout the interior and the dashboard. Also the sea of grey plastics and cloth seats could make anyone feel like they are in a ‘50 Shades of Grey’ novel. Thankfully, fit and finish on this base Highlander is at the high standard Toyota is known for.
The Highlander delivers top marks in passenger comfort and space. The cloth seats provide the right balance of comfort and support for all passengers. Second row passengers will appreciate the generous amount of head and legroom. The second row also features a clever trick where the center part can be folded down and stowed under the front console. This gives you two captain chairs and a storage cubby in its place. There is a third-row, but I would recommend that either small kids sit there or fold it down since it’s a bit tight on legroom for adults.
My only real concerns with the interior were with the radio. For 2013, Toyota has installed a touchscreen unit on all trim levels for the Highlander. I found the screen to be very responsive when pressed and was easy to read at a glance, except when the sunlight hits the screen and makes it unreadable. Another problem for the radio deals with the control layout of the center stack. On either side of the radio are giant these ‘knobs’ and your first thought would be, “oh these are the volume and tune knobs”. Uh no, those ‘knobs’ are the hazard lights and the airbag lights. The volume and tune ‘knobs’ are microscopic in comparison as they sit on top of the radio.
Putting the Highlander to work are two engines: a 2.7L four-cylinder or, what my Highlander came equipped with, a 3.5L V6 engine. The 3.5L produces 270 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque, which is mated to a five-speed automatic. Power delivery is very smooth and effortless, moving this 4,266 lb vehicle without a sweat. The five-speed automatic is a bit of an oddity considering most of the competition. Even the four-cylinder Highlander comes equipped with a six-speed automatic. Toyota‘s engineers’ deserve some credit for making the five-speed work by providing seamless shifts. My Highlander was equipped with the optional 4WD system and it provided excellent traction when Mother Nature decided to drop a few inches of snow during the week. You could feel the 4WD system working when driving through the snow, making sure to keep you moving.
Fuel economy on the 2013 Highlander V6 4WD stands at 17 City/22 Highway/19 Combined. During my week, I averaged 19.2 MPG which is on par for the class. On the highway, I got 21.2 MPG.
On the road the Highlander coddles its passengers with a very a smooth ride. The suspension setup feels like it was made up of pillows and down comforters filled with feathers. This is perfect tuning for the Michigan roads the Highlander drove on since they are very decrepit. The tradeoff for the soft ride is poor handling and the Highlander exhibits this very well. The Highlander rolls and wobbles while braking or taking sharp turns. Some people may be turned off this, but most won’t care.
What most people will care about is the amount of road and wind noise the Highlander exhibits. Driving in the city and suburbia, the Highlander is decent at keeping the noise out. On the highway, there is abundance of wind and road noise in the cabin. I don’t know if the higher trim levels have this problem as well.
The 2013 Highlander proved to be a very solid offering in the crossover market. While it might not be the newest, quietest, or fun to drive, the Highlander provides the comfort, power, and value that most buyers are looking for.
Now comes the question of whether you should you should go out and buy one now or wait for the new one? On one hand, the new Highlander does bring forth [a] new exterior that stands out and an interior that, in pictures, looks to bring in some new style and materials. On the other hand, the powertrains are carried over from this model with the only real change is a six-speed automatic for the V6.
At the end of the day, I would say you would be happy going with either the old or new Highlander. The decision just rests on whether you want spend the money on the new shiny vehicle or save a few bucks on the old one.
Either way, you're getting a very solid crossover.
Disclaimer: Toyota provided the vehicle, insurance, and one tank of gasoline.
Year - 2013
Make – Toyota
Model – Highlander
Trim – V6 4WD
Engine – 3.5L DOHC VVT-i V6
Driveline – Full-Time Four-Wheel Drive, Five-Speed Automatic
Horsepower @ RPM – 270 @ 6,200 RPM
Torque @ RPM – 248 @ 4,700 RPM
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 17/22/19
Curb Weight – 4,266 lbs
Location of Manufacture – Princeton, IN
Base Price - $31,845.00
As Tested Price - $33,757.00 (Includes $845.00 destination charge)
Running Boards - $649.00
Carpet and Cargo Mats - $280.00
Cold Weather Package - $60.00
Cargo Net - $49.00
First Aid Kit - $29.00