My wife and I have been happy Toyota Highlander Hybrid owners since we bought one in 2006. We got the base version, rather than the Limited, figuring that we already were spending extra on the hybrid technology.
This year we decided to buy a new Highlander. Our 2006 was in good shape; we've had no mechanical problems with it. It just had some annoying limitations which, after a test drive, we could tell were missing from the 2014 model.
After about a month of driving our Crème Brulee Mica XLE (great color, by the way), I'll share ten reasons why I'm happier with the 2014 Highlander.
It isn't a hybrid, mostly because Toyota has made the questionable decision to only offer the hybrid in Limited trim -- which makes that model doubly expensive. So while our 2006 Highlander Hybrid was rated at about 26-27 mpg overall, the 2014 XLE overall mpg is 20.
That's a drawback.
But in every other way I find the 2014 Highlander considerably more enjoyable to drive than our 2006 Highlander Hybrid. Here's why. Some of the reasons relate to the higher trim level of our new car. Others, though, apply to all 2014 Highlander models.
(1) It handles much better. Our old Highlander felt like it was floating. And not in a good way. There was very little road feel. The steering was soft. I didn't like driving it in snow because the steering and suspension didn't give a good feel for what the car was doing. The 2014 Highlander is far superior. it won't be mistaken for a BMW. However, Toyota has markedly improved the Highlander's handling.
(2) The car looks more macho. I'm not enough of a car geek to be able to explain how the Highlander's style has changed. The overall effect is more mascuiline, though. I admit that part of my reason for saying this is that I read it in some professional reviews of the 2014 model. But its true. This isn't just a "soccer Mom" SUV. The styling has some attitude.
(3) Road noise is much reduced. Again, I don't know how Toyota did it, but the 2014 Highlander is much quieter at freeway speed (or any speed, really) than the 2006 Highlander. I've never driven a Lexus; the Toyota salesman who gave us a test drive said this car is Lexus-like, noise-wise. I can believe it. Combined with the much better handling, this car gives off a vibe of solidity and silence.
(4) Technology is way cooler. In part this is due to us moving up from the base Highlander. Also, technology has evolved a lot in the past eight years. I can finally stream music from my iPhone. The XLE has a navigation system, though we usually use our iPhones to navigate. However, I like how the driver's info area can display what road you're on and what the speed limit is without the navigation system being activated. I like that feature. The Entunes system is easy to use, with capabilities I haven't begun to familiarize myself with.
(5) Technology isn't overdone, though. Toyota has done a good job combining old-fashioned and new-fashioned in the dash. The radio volume control and automatic temperature setting are both set by turning a dial. Way easier to do than with a push button. (Naturally the steering wheel has the usual sort of fingertip ready buttons, including volume and changing stations/audio modes.)
(6) The power liftgate has grown on me. At first I thought the power rear liftgate was a useless extra. Now I use it all the time. I would have been happy to keep on lifting the hatch like I did with the 2006 Highlander. There's something satisfying, though, about pushing a button and watching the hatch instantly do my bidding. Wish there was a way to have this option installed on my wife.
(7) Bigger is a little bit better. l thought our 2006 Highlander was nicely sized. It held everything we needed to take to central Oregon on regular long weekend trips to a co-owned cabin. The 2014 Highlander is several inches longer, and somewhat wider. At first it felt much bigger to me, which was somewhat disconcerting. I'm getting used to the car now, though. I drive it more than my wife, who has called it a "tank." That's an exaggeration. It's a mid-sized SUV. And what's wrong with a tank? (See #2 above.) The interior is decidedly roomier. The side mirrors do seem larger; this might help explain why my wife feels the car is so much bigger than our old Highlander; I fold the driver's side mirror when I pull into our narrow carport.
(8) Yay! for the in-dash shelf. Simple thing to do. Great idea. The 2014 Highlander has a long open in-dash shelf where cell phones, dark glasses, and such can be stored and retrieved. Both the driver and passenger can easily access it. Plus, there's a cavernous storage bin between the seats. Way bigger than the bin in our 2006 Highlander.
(9) Amenities, amenities. It's marvelous to now have keyless entry. Along with heated seats. Plus the aforementioned automatic climate control system. Not only searately for driver and passenger, also for back seats.
(10) Should be much better in snow. Our 2006 Highlander Hybrid, though it had AWD capability via the electric motor, wasn't a true all-wheel-drive SUV. Early on I realized that it sucked in snow, largely because of the tires. I couldn't get up our sloping driveway until I got Blizzak winter tires. Our 2014 HIghlander has Bridgestone all-season tires that are highly rated for snow and ice. And the car has much better AWD options, not all of which I fully comprehend yet (still have to read the manual closely).
So there's my ten pluses. My main negative so far, and this isn't a big one, is the lack of a digital speedometer. Seems like it would have been easy to put a digital speed readout in the driver information. display.
I like how my 2011 Mini Cooper shows the speed digitally. It is just easier to keep track of my speed, and to compare a speed limit sign with how fast I'm going. An analog speed display with a moving needle just seems so old-fashioned -- though I'm sure there are good reasons why Toyota did this.