When Toyota introduced the RAV-4 compact crossover with only a 2.5-L four-cylinder and just two seating rows late last year, company executives said that the vehicle was returning to its origins. And they added, the forthcoming Highlander midsize would better fit the requirements of those who wanted a third seating row and more power, including a V6 engine.
The 2014 Highlander is about 10 months from the market. However, the advance "reveal" at the 2013 New York Auto Show made the point. The powertrain lineup will remain the 2.7-L four-cylinder (mated to a six-speed automatic), plus the 3.5-L V6, which gets a new six-speed automatic (replacing the five-speed), and the 3.5-L V6 hybrid, the only one presently in the midsize segment. The big changes are in the body and chassis.
The rear struts are gone, replaced by a double-wishbone suspension, which should improve ride and handling, but it lowers the physical height of the suspension, resulting in 6.3 in (160 mm) increased vertical cargo area. Although the wheelbase remains at 109.8 in (2789 mm), overall length was increased by 2.7 in (69 mm) to 191.1 in (4854 mm).
Toyota redesigned the entire interior, and although detailed specifications aren't yet available, the new packaging enables a 3.0 in (76 mm) wider entry to the third row. Replacing the struts with the double wishbones also permitted Toyota also to make the third row bench 4.3 in (109 mm) wider, creating a true eight-passenger vehicle.
The Highlander follows the general trend toward more upscale, soft-touch interior materials, and in addition will offer heated seats in the second row. Heated and cooled front seats will continue to be available, and a heated steering wheel will be offered.
The Dynamic Torque Control all-wheel drive system introduced on the RAV4 is being adapted for the Highlander. Using wheel speed, throttle input, yaw, and steering angle sensors, it delivers all torque to the front wheels until it detects slip, and to minimize that can transfer up to 50% of torque to the rear wheels. And through the anti-lock brake system, it also can regulate side-to-side torque distribution (torque vectoring by brake). As on the RAV4, it has Auto and Lock modes.
The chassis will be made with a much greater content of high-strength steel, particularly in the A-pillars, to which Toyota said it devoted considerable engineering time, including precisely positioning them for much improved front-end visibility. The number of body welds will be significantly increased, to further increase body rigidity, Toyota said. The rear quarter glass panels also were enlarged to improve rear visibility.