2013 NYIAS Unveiled: 2014 Toyota Highlander

Toyota pulled back the curtains on the latest iteration of its beloved midsize Highlander SUV this morning. The 2014 model has been completely refreshed for an increased emphasis on fusing capability, comfort, fuel efficiency and dynamic driving performance.

The exterior of the Highlander has been revised to emphasize a sleeker, more upscale image, while the truck’s fascia has been completely redone to highlight a prominent trapezoidal grille. The front of the Highlander has also received new LED daytime running lights and sculpted front and rear fenders designed to give the car a premium look. The truck is also now available with 19-inch Chromtec alloy wheels to contribute to what Toyota refers to as the Highlander’s “dynamic profile.”

The suspension has been completely redesigned, with designers swapping out the old strut towers for a new double-wishbone rear suspension and a MacPhearson tuned front suspension to improve driving dynamics and performance, generate a smoother ride and increase cargo and passenger space. Toyota engineers have fitted the Highlander with multiple powertrain options, including a 2.7 L four cylinder engine and a punchy 3.5 L V6. The power is passed to the road through a brand-new 6-speed automatic transmission, designed specifically to enhance the SUV’s fuel economy. In addition, Toyota also is continuing to offer the midsize SUV segment’s only Hybrid option for the fuel conscious driver.

When evaluating the previous model for necessary changes, designers attempted to integrate the Highlander’s new sleek lines with real-world functionality and driver comfort. As such, the A-pillar has been repositioned to allow for better visibility, a problem that plagued previous models of the Highlander, and the rear quarter-panel glass has been greatly enlarged.

The interior has been radically altered in accordance with Toyota’s push for a more upscale driving experience. Soft-touch materials have found their way into various parts of the car, specifically the steering wheel and shift knob. The interior of the car has also received a unique in-dash shelf designed to accommodate everything from the driver’s sunglasses to their smartphone in an easy-to-reach location. The Highlander has also received a new infotainment display featuring an integrated backup camera with an optional 8-inch touch screen navigation system. Finally, the traditional dashboard has been replaced by a 4.2-inch digital display to allow easier access to important information.

Toyota has continued to emphasize safety and durability in the wake of the disastrous 2009-2011 runaway acceleration scandal, and the Highlander comes with a large assortment of safety equipment standard. This includes a blind-spot monitoring system, rear cross traffic alerts, a lane departure alarm and a dynamic cruise control enabled pre-collision braking system.

In the day’s most surprising announcement, the Highlander will begin a new partnership with Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob Squarepants program in order to continue to appeal to the Highlander’s targeted family demographic. Toyota Division Group VP Bill Fay was quick to explain that SpongeBob has been America’s top children’s program for several years and represents a unique conduit to their market.

The Highlander will be built exclusively in the U.S. at Toyota Manufacturing Indiana and will be available in dealerships later this year.