Toyota Motor Corp. will launch a larger, redesigned version of its Highlander crossover this summer, providing more room to occupants.
The 2014 Highlander will be nearly three inches longer and a half-inch wider than the current version, Toyota said.
Toyota will stay with a three-engine strategy for the Highlander: a base 2.7-liter four-cylinder, a 3.5-liter V-6 and a 3.5-liter hybrid. The four-banger and V-6 now come with a six-speed automatic transmission.
The Highlander’s styling continues Toyota’s move toward a more sculpted, angular appearance — seen in the recent Camry, Avalon and RAV4.
Toyota sold 121,055 Highlanders in 2012, up 20 percent from a year earlier. That put the Highlander in second place among seven- and eight-passenger crossovers, edging ahead of the rival, but also aging, Honda Pilot.
The Ford Explorer led the segment by a margin of 43,000 units.
The current Highlander’s sales peaked in 2007, with 127,878 units sold. Its best-ever year was 137,409 units in 2005.
The Highlander’s all-wheel-drive technology has been upgraded to Toyota’s new Dynamic Torque Control system. The system is an electromagnetically controlled coupling in the rear differential that usually sends 100 percent of torque to the front wheels, but automatically governs to up to a 50-50 front-rear split when more traction is needed.
The rear suspension is now a double wishbone setup, replacing struts-and-shocks, for more cargo capacity.
Toyota reduced Highlander cabin noise by increasing the amount of sound dampening materials in the floor by 30 percent, while using acoustic glass for the windshield. Toyota said it reduced vibration through a larger dash silencer, increased body sealant and the location of three hydraulic engine mounts.
Second-row seating is a choice of a bench seat for three, or two captain’s chairs. The second-row seats slide forward by three inches to make access easier to the third row of seats.
The third-row seats offer four more inches of seating width and a standard reclining function. The second- and third-row bench seats are 60-40 split seats. Toyota said storage space behind the third row has increased by 34 percent.
Standard features include eight airbags, 18-inch wheels, Bluetooth connectivity, voice recognition, six-inch center screen and Entune telematics system. The rear liftgate has one-touch power open/close, with selectable memory-height settings. Interior features include a roll-top center console box large enough to hold a large handbag.
All Highlanders will be built at Toyota’s Princeton, Ind., assembly plant. Toyota expects to sell about 140,000 units annually in the U.S. But as the plant has a 200,000-unit capacity, there is the possibility for both more U.S. volume as well as considerable exports to countries like Australia and Russia.
Toyota expects to begin production of the 2014 Highlander in December and it should begin showing up in U.S. showrooms in January or February.