The midsize SUV segment is not one traditionally known for its particularly sexy or daring styling, with a few exceptions. And over the last decade, the brand has often played it the safest when it comes to styling is Toyota, which has personified safe, predictable and non-offensive design. So the rather rakish lines of the 2014 Highlander took us a little by surprise.

It still doesn't rival Range Rover, or arguably even Mazda in terms of taking styling risks, but for a Toyota, it's probably one of the most eye-catching SUV designs we've seen from them since the debut of the Venza in 2009. Starting at the front, the 2014 model has a much deeper, larger grille opening, with headlamp and turn-signal housings that taper halfway up the front fenders, giving the new model a much more powerful road presence from the front.

The side surfacing is also distinctly different on the new model, with a pronounced beltline crease that runs from the rear of the front wheelwell to the rear taillights and an indentation along the bottom of the doors. The most notable side surfacing on the 2013 model was pronounced vertical fender flares front and rear.

Around back, the 2014 Highlander shows a number of influences from other peer vehicles, such as the Nissan Pathfinder, Mazda CX-9, and, dare we say it, even Toyota's own Sienna minivan, which we think is one of the best-looking models on the market, so it's meant as a compliment. There's even a hint of Jeep Grand Cherokee, especially from the rear three-quarter angle, with its triangulated rear-quarter window and horizontal taillights.

Moving to the inside, the styling has a considerably more angular feeling to it. Although we sometimes use the term "angular" to connote dated or uninspired, in this case, it lends the Highlander's cabin a more upscale look, similar to the effect the redesign had on the Avalon sedan. The shifter receives a leather boot from last year's gated gear selector, and the steering wheel adopts a sportier-looking three-spoke design. The 2013 model's recessed cylindrical gauge housings have been scrapped in favor of a more traditional cluster, which we think looks less busy and contrived.

Possibly the biggest news for the 2014 Highlander is a significant 4.3 inch increase in width in the third row, generally the least desirable seat in the house, at least if you're an adult. This facilitates a snug, but credible eight-passenger capacity in the 2014 model, whereas the 2013 model was limited to seven-passenger seating, even with a second row bench.

All in all, we give the 2014 Toyota Highlander a thumbs-up for its redesign, giving it a more assertive, distinctive presence while simultaneously increasing practicality. What do you think of the new Highlander's styling?