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Midsize crossovers like the Toyota Highlander tend to play a thankless role in the life of today’s modern family.
That’s really too bad. With the ability to hold several hyperactive kids and tons of cargo while keeping everyone safe and comfortable in all kinds of climate conditions day in and day out, they’re true heroes in the lives of hundreds of thousands of families across the country. Yet their car-apathetic owners often immediately forget about them as soon as their work is done. And nearly all midsize crossovers are thoroughly ignored by enthusiasts whose eyes begin to glaze over at first mention of the phrase “third row.”
Toyota is looking to soften the blow somewhat by giving its midsize crossover, the Highlander, a big redesign for the 2014 model year. With a bold new look, updated suspension and a refreshed interior focused on comfort and convenience, Toyota aims to make the Highlander sportier to drive and more striking in appearance, because, as the marketing team explains, “families are going places and they want to get there in style.”
So has the Highlander finally ditched the dull and become something truly desirable to own without sacrificing its heroic nature? I headed to Carmel, CA for some seat time along the gorgeous Pacific Coast Highway to find out.
The biggest change to the 2014 Highlander is obviously its exterior appearance. Toyota has been pursuing more aggressive styling within its entire model line for some time now, and the Highlander has finally received its due. This new-generation crossover is about three inches longer and a half-inch wider than the outgoing model, and its stance has become much more aggressive, with a lowered roofline and sculpted door panels. The front fascia is striking in the way it integrates with the new trapezoidal grille, wraparound headlamps and chiseled fenders. And in the back, the new design of the liftgate, taillights and bumper is cleaner and more attractive.
I’m a fan of this Toyota’s look overall. It’s sleeker, more modern and certainly more athletic. But even so, the Highlander still looks a lot like other vehicles in this segment. Put it next to a Ford Explorer orNissan Pathfinder (two other recently redone crossovers), and the similarities in stance, pillar design and roofline are obvious. A lot of this has to do with safety, aerodynamics and cabin packaging, of course, but the reality is that the Highlander doesn’t stand out quite as much Toyota might want it to.
As before, the standard Highlander comes with two different engine options. This time out, the 2.7-liter four-cylinder produces 185 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, while Toyota’s workhorse 3.5L V6 makes 270 hp and 248 lb-ft. The V6 is a smooth operator, but for an all-new vehicle, the Highlander is not particularly powerful by class standards. Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, along with the buyer’s choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. How many wheels you want driven will affect the Highlander’s fuel economy, with the V6/FWD model at an EPA-estimated 19 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway, the V6 AWD at 18 mpg city and 24 highway, and the four-cylinder/FWD model 20 mpg city and 25 mpg highway.
As is Toyota’s way, there’s also a gas-electric model. The Highlander Hybrid pairs the same-size V6 running on the Atkinson cycle with a high-torque electric drive motor-generator, affording additional power and fuel efficiency over the standard Highlander. The drivetrain, which includes an electronic continuously variable transmission, has impressive numbers: 280 hp and 27 miles per gallon city and 28 mpg highway. Those fuel economy figures are actually the same as the previous generation Highlander Hybrid, even though the vehicle has increased in weight by about 100 pounds.
I probably don’t need to tell you that none of these drivetrains are particularly thrilling, but they certainly get the job done. Most Highlander buyers will opt for the V6, says Toyota, and that’s the right move. This is a big, heavy vehicle (the V6 AWD can weigh up 4,508 lbs) and that extra power is an asset when it comes to climbing hills and merging onto freeways, even though selecting it means sacrificing some fuel economy.
I didn’t have any complaints about the Highlander’s handling, which is surprisingly good for a larger crossover. The steering feel is sportier than that of the previous generation and body roll has been minimized, attributes that allowed me to feel quite confident on the snaking roads that run along the cliffs near Big Sur. Any vehicle that allows the driver to take those hundred-foot-high turns at speed without breaking into a cold sweat is good in my book.
A big player in keeping the driver cool on the road, too, is the standard Star Safety System, which includes the usual suite of electronic safety nets, such as anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist and so-called Smart Stop Technology to assuage fears of unintended acceleration. Improved visibility courtesy of the repositioned A-pillars helps driver confidence, as well.
Other available safety features include rear parking sonar, blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, auto high-beam headlamps and radar-based cruise control with pre-collision system.
New spring rates and shock absorbers combined with the Highlander’s MacPherson front suspension and double-wishbone rear suspension also result in a very smooth ride. Toyota has also improved the Highlander’s noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) so that road and wind noise are minimal. It’s a very pleasant, near-luxury experience. Honestly, if I was blindfolded and told I was behind the wheel of a Lexus crossover, I’d probably believe it.
Toyota has made a number of improvements to the Highlander’s interior, including increased spaciousness along with a number of comfort and convenience features. Surfaces are softer to the touch and, on higher grades, there are premium materials all over the place, including (simulated) woodgrain trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and high-quality knit roof lining.
All models feature a new in-meter-cluster Multi-Information Display. Toyota’s Entune infotainment system is also standard on all trims, but has more functionality on higher models trims. It’s a good system, all in all. I experienced minimal lag when navigating between menus and the graphics are much better than those on many other systems. On higher trim levels, Entune can come with XM satellite and HD radio, an app suite for programs like Yelp!, a premium JBL audio system and navigation.
My favorite new feature on the Highlander is Driver Easy Speak. When it’s engaged, the driver’s voice is projected through the speakers, allowing him or her to scream at the kids all the way in the back when they start putting food in each other’s hair. It saves strain on one’s vocal cords and really gets the message across to the little ones, especially if the vehicle is equipped with the optional JBL speakers.
Even on the higher grades, the Highlander has a couple of components that have no business being in a new model in 2013. The first of these is the plastic seat-heater adjuster knob, which looks and behaves like the volume control on an old Sony Walkman. The second is a digital clock that appears to have been taken from a cheap microwave. These two parts can be found in numerous Toyota models – including those in its luxury arm. It’d be easy to assume that Toyota prepaid and found themselves with a warehouse full of these cheesy clocks, but the truth is that they are bizarrely prized for their ease-of-use by exactly those sorts of repeat customers who fill out J.D. Power and Consumer Reports surveys.
I had some problems with the ergonomics of the cabin, too. Most notably, the infotainment screen is a long reach from the driver’s seat. So much so, in fact, that every time I wanted to change the radio channel or switch to the navigation instructions, I’d have to lean way over and briefly take my eyes off of the road. The way the dashboard is designed makes it feel much roomier up front, but it comes at the cost of convenience. Of course, it’s better to use the redundant controls on the steering wheel, but they don’t cover all of the head unit’s functionality.
Because the overall length of the Highlander has increased by about three inches while employing a new dashboard and seat design, the Highlander is roomier than ever. Up front, head, shoulder and legroom are superb. The second row, which comes in the form of either a three-person bench seat or two captain’s chairs, is also nice and comfortable. Ingress and egress to the third row has been improved, and sitting back there is much more pleasant than it was with the previous generation. The third row still isn’t a great place if you’re an adult, but if you’re generally sticking kids back there for shorter journeys, it should work just fine.
Cargo space is rated at 78.6 cubic feet. That’s a little bit smaller than the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot or Hyundai Santa Fe, and well short of the larger Chevy Traverse. At least the third row can easily fold down in a 60/40 split and there’s a one-touch power liftgate with selectable memory height settings, a super feature for people of shorter stature.
The Highlander can be had in one of several grades, each of which comes with different levels of comfort and convenience features: LE, LE Plus, XLE and Limited, and all grades offer both FWD and AWD. The 2.7L four-cylinder, however, is only available on the LE trim and the Hybrid only comes in Limited trim.
Pricing for the Highlander starts at $29,215 (plus $860 destination) and climbs all the way up to a whopping $49,790 for a Hybrid with all of the bells and whistles. Interestingly, Toyota says that household income for Hybrid buyers is nearly double that of standard Highlander shoppers. Perhaps that’s why Toyota has decided it can get away with offering the greener crossover in premium-only form and charging almost $50,000 for it. The markup makes for an unfortunate reality that Hybrid buyers will probably never make their money back in gas savings. But, hey, being eco-friendlier always requires at least a little sacrifice, right?
Toyota says that the XLE will be its most popular trim level. The XLE I tested, which was in addition to a Limited, Hybrid and LE, came with a few extra options, such as navigation, and cost a middle-of-the-road $40,170.
All in all, the Highlander’s combination of safety, comfort, space, attractive styling and predictable driving dynamics makes it a solid candidate for the family on the go. It’s still not a terribly exciting vehicle, and it never will be, but Toyota’s strategy of keeping the Highlander close to its roots while making improvements both inside and out means it will continue to play an important role in the lives of men, women and children across the nation. Even though it may never get the recognition it truly deserves.
Source: [autoblog.com]Thursday, January 16th, 2014
Toyota‘s first hybrid model – the Prius – went on sale in 1997 in Japan. It took 14 years for the company to see a cumulative total of three million hybrids (a mark reached in March 2011). Today, Toyota announced that its global sales figures of all of its gas-electric models (and there are a lot of them now, including ones we’ve barely heard of here in the US, like the Crown Majesta or the Harrier Hybrid) have reached six million. Toyota calculates that all those hybrids have saved 41 million tons of CO2 emissions from entering the atmosphere.
Toyota’s ever-increasing hybrid sales pace means the company sold as many in the last three years as it did in the first fourteen. As you can see in our chart, the trendline shows that we’ll hit the next-million mark in short order. In fact, Toyota says that it sold a million hybrids in the last nine months, the shortest time it has ever taken the automaker to sell that many hybrids. Part of the reason is that there are 24 hybrid Toyota andLexus models available around the world, and Toyota says another 15 will be coming in the next two years. Anyone want to guess when Toyota will hit seven million? August?
Source: [autoblog.com]Thursday, January 16th, 2014
Jackpot! Las Vegas will appropriately be the site of a little showtime on the part of Toyota and its hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle development efforts. The Japanese automaker will use the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in Sin City to showcase both the FCV concept vehicle (in its first North America showing; the vehicledebuted in Tokyo a few weeks ago) and the “test mule” that has been driven “thousands of miles” for durability testing on US roads. CES takes place from January 7th through the 10th.
Toyota’s fuel-cell vehicle has actually been more than two decades in the making. The company has been working on fuel cells since 1992 and unveiled its first trial vehicle, in the guise of an H2 Highlander SUV, in 1996. The platform for the test mule appears to be that of a Lexus HS 250h. Autoblog was able to drive a prototype of Toyota’s fuel-cell vehicle this year, but even we don’t know the specifics of the power supplied by either the fuel-cell stack or the electric motor in the concept. The prototype had 98 horsepower and 105 pound-feet of torque and drove “like a peppier Prius.” The car will have a maximum range of about 300 miles
Toyota hasn’t yet gotten around to talking about the price tag on the first fuel cell vehicles, which are set to go on sale in 2015, but the word’s out that it will likely be in the $50,000 range. Perhaps we’ll learn more in Vegas.
Source: [autoblog.com]Thursday, January 16th, 2014
January 14, 2014
DETROIT (Jan. 14, 2014) – All eyes were on the Toyota Tundra in October 2012 when the unmodified half-ton pickup truck successfully towed the space shuttle Endeavour and dolly – a combined weight of nearly 300,000 pounds – across the Manchester Boulevard Bridge and across the 405 Freeway on the shuttle’s journey to its permanent home at the California Science Center. The world took notice again today, as the campaign that documented the once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment received top honors in the experiential advertising category at the inaugural One Club Automobile Advertising of the Year Award.
“It’s an honor to be recognized by The One Club for the campaign capturing Toyota Tundra’s historic achievement,” said Jack Hollis, vice president of marketing for Toyota. “The monumental Tundra Endeavour tow truly launched an exciting new direction for Toyota and helped introduce our ‘Let’s Go Places’ movement.”
The One Club’s awards presentation, held in conjunction with the North American International Auto Show, recognized creative excellence in five categories: Print & Outdoor, Broadcast TV, Online Video, Interactive and Experiential Advertising. The One Club received over 500 entries from around the world; submissions were judged by a panel of 50 creative directors and journalists.
The Tundra Endeavour tow, developed with Toyota’s marketing agency of record, Saatchi & Saatchi LA, was a result of a more than 20-year partnership between Toyota and the California Science Center to raise awareness of the space program and continue public education through exhibits and events. The Tundra model selected for the historic tow was a stock 2012 Tundra CrewMax 4×4 with Toyota’s 5.7-liter iForce V8 engine. All Tundra trucks are produced exclusively at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas in San Antonio. The truck used to tow the Endeavour was purchased from a Southern California Toyota dealer, with no modifications or special equipment added. For more information about the project, visit www.toyota.com/tundraendeavour.
Toyota, the world’s top automaker and creator of the Prius, is committed to building vehicles for the way people live through our Toyota, Lexus and Scion brands. Over the past 50 years, we’ve built more than 25 million cars and trucks in North America, where we operate 14 manufacturing plants and directly employ nearly 40,000 people. Our 1,800 North American dealerships sold more than 2.3 million cars and trucks in 2012 – and about 80% of all Toyotas sold over the past 20 years are still on the road today.
Toyota partners with a wide variety of organizations across the country, with a focus on education, safety and the environment. As part of this commitment, we share the company’s extensive know-how from building great cars and trucks to help community organizations and other nonprofits expand their ability to do good. (NYSE:TM) For more information about Toyota, visit www.toyotanewsroom.com.
Source: [Toyota Media]
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