The 2016 Highlander is powered by a choice of three different drivetrains. Base models make due with a 2.7L 4-cylinder engine making 180 horsepower. In this guise, the Highlander is rated at 20 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. The mid-level V6 displaces 3.5L and makes 270 horsepower, while the top of the line hybrid uses an electric motor in conjunction with a V6 to make 280 horsepower. The hybrid Highlander returns 27 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway, extremely impressive numbers for a vehicle equipped with third-row seating. The Highlander comes standard in front-wheel drive, though all-wheel drive is an option for those who need it.
There are four trim levels offered on the 2016 Toyota Highlander: LE, LE Plus, XLE and Limited, which offers buyers plenty of options.
LE is the most basic trim, and is the only trim to feature the smaller 4-cylinder engine. However, it still comes loaded with 18-inch wheels, an Entune stereo with a 6.1-inch touchscreen, a backup camera, Bluetooth streaming, heated mirrors, a couple of USB ports and third-row seating.
Stepping up to LE Plus adds a number of desirable items. Highlights include a height-adjustable power rear liftgate, an 8-way power adjustable driver's seat, satellite HD radio, 3-zone automatic climate control, fog lamps and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The XLE trim includes a smart key and push-button start, leather seating surfaces, heated front seats, roof rails to help secure extra luggage, rear window shades, an 8-inch touch screen, HomeLink, a navigation system and a moonroof.
The top-spec Limited trim offers 19-inch wheels, LED daytime running lights, various parking aids and a blind-spot monitor, perforated leather seating, heated and cooled front seats, and a powered passenger seat. The Limited Highlanders are also the only trim that can be equipped with the optional hybrid powertrain.
Options include a Technology package with radar-controlled cruise control, a Lane Departure system and automatically dimming high beams; as well as a Platinum package, which includes everything in the technology package along with a heated steering wheel, heated second-row seats and a panoramic moonroof. A Rear Seat Entertainment system is also optional.
Safety is aided by anti-lock brakes, stability control and traction control, as well as optional items like a blind-spot monitor. Of course, should an accident occur, the Highlander is equipped with eight airbags in order to minimize any possible damage to its occupants.
Arguably the top of the line for '14 Highlander, the Hybrid is also the most efficient and powerful of the trio of engine options offered. For those whose budgets permit the slight price premium over the standard Limited V-6, the Hybrid is the Highlander to get.
The Hybrid is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that is mated to a trio of electric motors for a combined system output stated at 280 ponies. Two of those electric motors are located under the hood and work in concert with the gasoline engine, providing power and regeneration at low speeds, and handling the stopping and restarting of the gasoline engine as necessary. The front wheels get a blend of power from the gasoline engine and the electric motors via an eCVT. This electronic Continuously Variable Transmission doesn't shift gears like a traditional gearbox because it doesn't have gears. It just holds the engine speed independent of vehicle speed to deliver the maximum torque or efficiency, depending on which is being asked of it at a given time.
The third electric motor is located on the rear axle and drives the rear wheels when additional traction is necessary or provides still more regenerative braking when slowing the Highlander down. So while every Highlander Hybrid features all-wheel drive (AWD-i in Toyota-speak), there is no need for a heavy drive shaft running along the spine of the vehicle -- the batteries and electric motors add enough weight as is.
The Good The Hybrid is the most powerful and most efficient of the three available powertrains. Entune gives the 2014 Toyota Highlander online destination search and popular apps in the dashboard. Smartphone-like tech interface is easy to use, and the cabin includes many nice ergonomic touches.
The Bad No active driver-aid technologies are offered. The JBL audio system rattles the door panels at louder volumes.
The Bottom Line The 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid offers a serious increase in efficiency over the standard model without compromising its power, comfort, or parent-friendliness.
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