In 2006, I bought a minivan. As a dad of two children and a third on the way, I realized that I needed a vehicle that would accommodate my growing family. Actually, my wife was the one who convinced me. I was willing to load my family into a car that more suited my personal style. As my wife’s belly swelled, her minivan argument became more compelling. Despite my misgivings, I acquiesced because I wanted to make her happy (note to husbands: do whatever it takes to make your pregnant wife happy).
As I signed the paperwork for the minivan purchase, I felt all of my cool points evaporate. No longer would I be the hip, urban dad I once was. Henceforth, I would be something I never expected – a suburban soccer dad. Although I’ve accepted my fate, I still wish that it included a vehicle that was less minivan-y.
The 2014 Toyota Highlander is that vehicle. It gives you the space and versatility of a minivan without sacrificing your street cred (even if the streets are in the suburbs). Toyota has been actively making changes to their vehicle’s designs and marketing to appeal to men. The Tundra is the toughest looking truck on the road. The Sequoia has enough muscle to tow a trailer loaded with the entire Game of Thrones cast. Even the much-maligned minivan has new appeal thanks to Toyota’s Swagger Wagon campaign.
Toyota’s commercials for the new Highlander featured the manliest of men – Terry Crews. Even though the campaign also included the Muppets, Terry’s pecs ended up stealing the show.
But you don’t have to have a body like Terry Crews’ to enjoy the Highlander. It is the perfect vehicle for families with an active lifestyle.
The fist thing you notice about the 2014 Highlander is it’s looks. I must admit that I never really paid much attention to previous Highlander models because they blended in with the other small, boxy SUVs. You can’t help but notice the new Highlander. With it’s more-angular body design (it’s wider and longer than previous models), bolder grille, and 18 wheels, the Highlander has more than enough swagger to stand out in this crowded segment.
Although Toyota decided to beef-up the Highlander’s exterior, they took a gentler approach with the interior. With more soft-touch materials on the dash and doors and wood-grain trim, the Highlander feels more refined and luxurious than you’d expect from a vehicle at this price point ($39,640 as tested). The seats are comfortable and offer several adjustment options to give you the perfect fit. The Highlander comes with all of the creature comforts you’d expect such as premium infotainment center, backup camera, and navigation, but it also has a couple of delightful surprises.
My favorite feature is the in-dash shelf. This handy shelf gives me easy access to my phone, chargers, parking tickets, and other stuff. This is the type of feature that begs the question, “Why hasn’t anyone thought of this sooner?”
My second favorite feature is Driver Easy Speech, a one-way PA system that projects your voice throughout the vehicle. Never before has it been easier to threaten to leave my on the median to be raised by squirrels after they’ve asked me “Are we there yet” for the millionth time. I don’t even have to raise my voice or turn my head around. This is the best parenting invention since the stroller.
I was able to easily fit my family of five in the 2014 Toyota Highlander. Unlike many SUV’s third rows, the Highlander’s third row is spacious enough to sit in. My sons enjoyed the second-row captain seats, while my daughter cherished the notion of having the entire back row to herself. During the week I had the vehicle, I ran errands, shuttled kids to their activities, and took my wife on a date. The Highlander handled all of the tasks with style and comfort.
Later that week, I met a couple of other dads for a Father/Son bike ride at a local park. I loaded two full size bikes into the cargo area with no problem. In addition to the impressive cargo space, the 2014 Highlander also gets high marks for drivability. The 270-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 engine with six-speed automatic transmission (available in the Limited edition) delivers a nice balance of power and fuel-efficiency. If you want to improve the vehicle’s efficiency, you can switch to the fuel-saving Eco mode. The Sport mode gives you some extra kick when you need it.
On the road, you will notice that the Highlander’s cabin is rather quiet. The diminished road noise makes it easier to listen to music or enjoy a quiet drive. It also helps to amplify the Driver Easy Speech. I often used it to torture my kids with my renditions of their favorite pop tunes.
If you’re looking for an minivan alternative, the 2014 Highlander is the vehicle for you. It is stylish, roomy, versatile, and fun to drive. You’ll even earn back a few of those cool points.