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HIGHER GROUND
Toyota Highlander LE Plus

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Thu, Sep 11, 2014

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

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The Toyota Highlander reaches higher ground

By Reed Berry The Toyota Highlander seems to have grown up. What I mean by that is that after nearly 15 years as the popular, practical workhorse of the Toyota product line, Highlander has gotten a serious makeover and has become quite the attention getter. What was once a boxy, relatively unattractive crossover vehicle designed to carry people and cargo is now a larger, more stylish perfect-for-any-situation vehicle. The 2014 Highlander comes in four trim levels. My test vehicle is the LE Plus. There is one model below, LE, and two models above, XLE and Limited. While each model has its own list of features, options and, of course, different prices, I am taking a definite liking to the LE Plus. Not because it is at the lower end of the price scale, but because it looks great and seems nicely outfitted for both fun and practicality. I can remember a time when crossover vehicles and SUVs were thought of as rugged and functional but were rarely mentioned for their good looks. Times have clearly changed because more SUVs these days, Highlander being a perfect example, have been prettied up to catch the eye of consumers as well as to blend the stylish lines of a car with the usefulness of an SUV. Highlander is sleek and sporty…and big! The new third generation Highlander is slightly longer and wider than that of previous model years. In addition to being stretched a bit, it has also been given a more stylish, aerodynamic body design. Clearly, Toyota is trying to catch the eye of car shoppers that may be considering other popular SUVs, such as the Nissan Pathfinder or Ford Explorer. I appreciate the fact that despite its larger size, Highlander is quite easy to get in and out of, unlike some SUVs that are so big you literally have to climb up into the driver’s seat.

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As attractive as Highlander is on the outside, it looks even better on the inside. The chiseled design of the dashboard looks like something you would see in a high-end luxury car. My attention is immediately drawn to a feature that is very simple in nature but extremely useful - an in-dash utility tray that stretches all the way from the right side of the steering wheel to the edge of the dash on the passenger side. The cup holders can actually be used for cups now that there is a handy tray to keep cell phone, pens, business cards and other essentials within easy reach. Seating is quite comfortable and the passenger compartment is certainly spacious. The driver and front passenger seats are divided by a deep roll-top center console storage compartment. Highlander has plenty of room for family and friends – there’s seating for eight people. The second and third row seating has 60/40 split fold-flat seats with a recline feature. Upholstery is cloth with SofTex (faux leather) accents. There is an 8-way power driver seat with power lumbar adjustment. Highlander has all the comforts of home when it comes to entertainment. An Entune Plus audio system with a 6.1” touch screen features all the basics, such as AM, FM and a CD player, but you’ll also have HD Radio and XM Satellite Radio (with subscription) plus an auxiliary jack and USB connectivity. Bluetooth technology allows you to place and receive hands-free phone calls, as well as streaming music wirelessly from your smartphone or other Bluetooth-enabled device. Considering it is a picture perfect sunny Southern California day, and since this shiny new Highlander is just begging to be driven, it seems like the perfect time to head into the San Bernardino Mountains to see what this vehicle can do. There is certainly no lack of power. Unlike the LE which has a 185-horspower four-cylinder engine, the LE Plus and the two models above it come standard with a very satisfying 270-horsepower V6 paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. Not sure how it would perform fully loaded, but with one passenger and some basic supplies, we are flying (at the legal speed limit, of course) along Interstate 10 through Pomona and Ontario.

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As we exit the 10 and make our way up Waterman Avenue toward the local mountain resorts, performance is quite impressive. Acceleration is hesitation-free, allowing us to pass slower moving vehicles quite easily. Considering its size, Highlander is actually quite agile thanks to fairly responsive rack-and-pinion power steering and a sophisticated stability control system. The ride is smooth and the cornering is quite sharp. Highlander’s suspension system features independent MacPherson struts on the front and double wishbone rear suspension. Arriving at Lake Gregory, Highlander is certainly getting the looks. Admittedly, against the backdrop of a crystal clear lake and one of the most beautiful cedar and pine forests in the state, the vehicle does look quite striking. Making our way from Lake Gregory into Blue Jay, a small mountain village with shops, restaurants and just over 2,300 residents, we get a similar reaction as people see the new Highlander, many for the first time. After stopping for a quick meal, it is necessary to back out of a parking space in a small parking lot. This maneuver is accomplished quite easily as a back-up camera is one of Highlander’s many standard safety features. Other advanced safety features that will give me a feeling of confidence as we make our way back down the mountain include traction control and anti-lock brakes, as well as “Smart Stop Technology” which reduces engine power when the brake and accelerator pedals are pressed at the same time. I can’t think of anything I need to pick up on my way back to the San Gabriel Valley but, should something come to mind, there’s certainly plenty of room in Highlander. 13.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row seating is ample for several bags of groceries or a few suitcases. Fold the third seat down, and the cargo area increases to 42.3 cubic feet. With both second and third row seating folded, cargo space jumps to an impressive 83.7 cubic feet. Accessing the cargo area is quite easy with the power liftgate, and the liftgate features a cool flip-up rear window.

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As for fuel economy, 19 in the city and 25 highway may not sound that impressive (especially with gas still around $4 a gallon) but, given Highlander’s size and power, the mileage estimates seem quite reasonable. As a wise SUV owner once told me, “If you’re concerned about fuel economy, don’t buy an SUV.” There’s a lot of truth in that simple statement because, after all, an SUV is a bigger, heavier vehicle designed to carry a number of passengers and a large volume of cargo. Automakers, however, have made major strides in recent years to maximize the fuel economy of all vehicles, including larger crossovers and SUVs. Highlander is no exception. So how does Highlander stack up against other comparable vehicles on the market? The LE Plus that I’m driving is priced at just under $33,000 and is nicely equipped with standard features and equipment. The ride is smooth and quiet, and Highlander is spacious and powerful. At $33K, it is a bit pricier than some popular crossovers and SUVs on the market, but the newer, larger, better looking Highlander certainly seems to provide plenty of bang for one’s car buying buck. For more information on Toyota products: www.toyota.com

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SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: 2014 Toyota Highlander LE Plus Price of vehicle: $32,740 EPA Fuel Economy Estimates (miles per gallon): 19 city/25 highway Engine type: 3.5-liter DOHC 24-valve V6 with Dual VVT-I (Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence) Horsepower: 270 @ 6200 rpm Torque: 248 @ 4700 rpm Transmission: 6-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with intelligence Sequential shift mode and snow mode Drive configuration: Front-wheel drive Steering: Electric power steering; power-assisted rack-and-pinion Suspension: Front: Independent MacPherson struts Rear: Independent double wishbone Brakes: Front: 12.9-inch ventilated disc Rear: 12.2-inch solid disc Wheels: 18” split 5-spoke machined-face alloy wheels Dimensions Overall length: 191.1 inches Overall width: 75.8 inches Overall height: 68.1 inches Curb weight: 4,244 pounds

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