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. The Highlander doesn't stand out quite as much Toyota might want it to. 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 or Nissan 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 …
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|MPG||18 City / 24 Hwy|
|Transmission||6-spd auto w/OD|
|Power||270 @ 6200 rpm|
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