Early in December, 2013 when the weather had turned cold, I was lucky enough to escape and hop a plane to Monterrey, California to join other lifestyle bloggers in celebrating the unveiling of the new Toyota 2014 Highlander.

I was expecting to drive around, learn about the car and have a wonderful time meeting the folks from Toyota.  What actually happened was a whole lot more.

But First – The Highlander

I loved it.

It was:

1 – Hardworking yet luxurious – think Lexus – plush, sophisticated and beautifully appointed. You’d have no problem doing a road trip with the kids and dogs in this car. Or, on the other hand, it would be perfect to go out on the town for the evening – just you and your honey!


The dashboard looks simple and clean but it is loaded with easy-to-use features

2 – Comfortable – the seats were super comfortable with lumbar support.  The folks in my car varied from me, at 5’4″ to one of the guys, at 6’4″.  Both of us agreed that it was easy to adjust and get comfortable in the driver’s seat.

As a passenger in the front and the back, I was ready to do my normal, close my eyes and catch a few winks routine, and could have very easily done so with the smooth ride the Highlander offers, but I didn’t want to embarrass myself.

It seats 8 or you can get the middle seat with two captains chairs instead of a bench.  Either way, it is easy to maneuver for getting kids in and out of seatbelts, booster seats and car seats.

3 -The dashboard and steering wheel had all the bells and whistles that are being found in all cars and more:

  • bluetooth and audio safety – yes, it has hands free phone, voice command and cruise control all activated from the steering wheel
  • built in GPS/rear video back up screen
  • clustered controls so you don’t have to go searching all over the place AND they were easy to figure out
  • USB and phone recharging outlets
  • a great wide storage shelf on the lower part of the consul that spans from the wheel to the passenger’s window where you can put your phones, bags, change, etc.
  • as a perk, this car has the coolest thing called Driver Easy Speak.  Instead of turning around to scream at the kids to stop fighting, you can talk and your voice will be amplified through the rear speakers.

4.  Keyless starting – if the key fob is somewhere in the car,  just press the START button on the dash and off you go. It’s magic.

5.  Safety: Airbags everywhere, a blind spot monitor and a rear cross traffic alert and lane departure alert (it beeps when you’ve crossed over the line). When you are inside you FEEL safe. The structure is solid and you feel like you’re riding in a tank, albeit an uber-luxurious and quiet one!

6.  Driving & handling. For a large vehicle, crossover SUV, it was extraordinarily responsive.  We had a part of the trip where the road zig-zagged up and down a steep mountain – the kind you see in spy movies for chase scenes.  With me behind the wheel, I felt that the Highlander met the challenge of the road and took each snakelike curve with utter ease.

The Rest of the Story

As much as this trip was about the Highlander, that was literally the vehicle behind something bigger.  As a Japanese company, Toyota is very aware of its place in the United States as a business and a consumer product.  What might surprise you is the extent to which they contribute, support and participate as a member of our communities.  They have 11 manufacturing facilities plus other aspects of their physical business invested here and they supply a great number of jobs to Americans.

where are artichokes grown?

The beautiful artichoke fields at Pezzini farms.

There’s more.


Pezzini Farms is a 50 year old family farm in Castroville, California, “the “Artichoke Capital of the World!” Where the rich, fertile soil of the Salinas Valley meets the sands of the Monterey Bay, these fog-shrouded fields prove to be the ideal location for the commercial cultivation of artichokes.” click here to learn more about Pezzini Farms.

Tanimura & Antle

Tanimura & Antle, is one of the largest ‘salad’ farms in the country. Click here to learn more about them.


They care about our culture and this trip was about the family farm and the food banks.  We started off driving by visiting one, if not the largest artichoke farms in the United States, Pezzini Farms where we toured and sampled deep fried artichoke hearts in dipping sauces. From Pezzini we drove to another family business, Tanimura & Antle,  one of the largest salad and greens producers in the country supplying such vendors as Costco, Shaws, Whole Foods, Krogers and BJ’s plus more.  After a fascinating tour, they had boxes of fresh produce ready for us to load in the back of our Highlanders to donated at our next stop, the Monterrey Food Bank. Responsible for feeding 90,000 people a year by supplying over 6 million pounds of food, the food bank organizes canned and packaged foods in addition to the continual supply of fresh foods from the local farmers.

We all volunteered for a couple of hours sorting and organizing donated food and could not have been happier then when at the end of the day the folks from Toyota surprised us by donating a check for $5000. in our names to the Food Bank of Monterrey instead of giving the bloggers swag and gifts.


Thoughtful, caring and giving

In retrospect as I looked over my notes on the Highlander and how Toyota integrates themselves into communities, I realized that they take great pride and responsibility for the vehicles they produce and respect those who drive them just as much.  It was refreshing to know that such a large corporation like Toyota is putting values and ethics into their business plan.

toyota community building

We helped at the Monterey Food bank donating our time, but Toyota donated $5000.