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2014 Toyota Highlander First Look

The Toyota Highlander is all new for 2014 with a more angular look that better matches what competitors are doing.

The Highlander's front grille switches from a hexagon to a trapezoid, which extends halfway down the front end, and the headlights are shorter, but extend further down the front quarter panel. The taillights have flat tops and sculpted bottoms, reminiscent of the 2014 RAV4, and extend further up the rear quarter panel. The beltline is no longer flat, instead angling up as it extends further back. As a result the greenhouse is less of a rectangle and more of a trapezoid.

On the inside, the previous car's giant knob-theme is gone, although there are still knobs for volume, tuning, and the automatic climate control (if equipped). Up-level models get a three spoke steering wheel, which is much slicker than the old four-spoke number. The gear shifter catches our eye -- not because it's groundbreaking, but because it looks like it was lifted, almost completely untouched, from a Lexus. In fact the whole Highlander interior has a "cut-rate Lexus" feel, which is a nice step up from the current model.

We focus on the Highlander's look because its running gear is almost completely unchanged. As before, the Highlander offers three engine choices: an I-4, a V-6, and a V-6 hybrid. While the new car's power output figures haven't yet been announced, we expect them to fall in line with the last generation's. That means 187 horsepower and 186 pound feet from the 2.7-liter I-4, 270 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque from the 3.5-liter V-6, and 280 net horsepower from the hybrid, which uses a 3.5-liter V-6 and two electric motors (one as part of the Hybrid Synergy Drive system, one driving the rear wheels for all-wheel drive capability). Both non-hybrids use a six-speed automatic transmission.

With an all-new model comes the typical host of improvements: Toyota claims that the floor-pan is lined with 30 percent more sound insulation, the exhaust has been slightly re-routed, and the dashboard silencer panel is larger. These improvements, in combination with the acoustic glass on the windows and optional panoramic sunroof, should decrease interior noise and vibration.

Highlander uses a new all-wheel drive system, which includes a variable torque-split center differential. AWD models (not including the hybrid) will now send power to the front wheels under most situations, but can send up to 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels under hard acceleration or wheel-slippage situations; drivers can also lock the differential themselves. Toyota also says that it's tuned the electric power steering, spring rates, and shock absorbers for better handling.

On the inside, there's still three rows of seats that provide either seating for either seven or eight. The third row is 4.3 inches wider than before, which should make things more comfortable for those seated there; ingress and egress is also easier thanks to a new one-touch second-row slide function that provides three more inches of space. Toyota also claims cargo space behind the 60/40-split third-row is up 34 percent.

As you'd expect from a crossover of this size, Toyota's 2014 Highlander has all sorts of available comfort and convenience options, including Entune infotainment with navigation, a 12-speaker JBL sound system, an available rear-seat entertainment system, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and passive entry/ignition.

Toyota says the crossover will reach showrooms in the first quarter of 2014 at a price yet to be announced.