The Toyota Highlander holds a strong hand when it comes to some of the more mundane needs of a large family SUV: versatility, practicality, and very competitive cost of ownership. However, while it’s the cheapest entry point into a car of this size on this side of a SsangYong, it doesn’t make a huge difference when compared to some premium competitors more geared towards the European market.
The latest Toyota to be sold in the UK has a pedigree built from strong sales over the past two decades, albeit outside the European market.
Roughly 21 years after its introduction in the United States, Australia and Japan, the Highlander landed in the UK at a time of high sales of this type of vehicle. Full-size SUVs are popular and profitable, but high-quality badges dominate the market. Toyota believes that with over 20 years of experience elsewhere, it could be perfectly positioned to become a mainstream newbie.
At 4,966 mm long, 1,930 mm wide and 1,755 high, the Highlander is significantly larger than the RAV4 with which it shares its platform – the GA-K version of Toyota’s TNGA architecture. It’s not the only large SUV in Toyota’s UK range, however; the Land Cruiser goes further, but the Highlander is a whole different proposition. With its more modern platform and only available with hybrid drive, it is a larger family SUV with a more street-oriented approach compared to the brand’s robust and larger SUV.
Two versions are prepared for the British market. The Highlander Excel will make up the lion’s share of sales and retail at £ 50,595. The standard comfort and comfort equipment includes black leather covers on all seven seats of the Highlander, the driver and front passenger have heated seats, a three-zone automatic air conditioning, a heated steering wheel, a panoramic roof and an electrically operated trunk opening. Puddle lights, front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera are also available.
The cabin technology includes an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment unit with navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, an 11-speaker sound system from JBL and a wireless smartphone charger hidden in the central storage compartment; the analog instruments are replaced by a seven-inch driver information display. There’s also more luxurious Excel Premium trim available from £ 52,575. Among other things, this introduces a head-up display, a top-down parking camera, heated rear seats and ventilated fronts.
Both versions of the Highlander have a 2.5-liter petrol engine, a small battery and an electric motor system, which together form a power-split hybrid system. This means that the Highlander can only drive electrically over short distances, but the electric motors also drive the wheels when the combustion engine comes into play, with the petrol engine acting as a generator for the battery.
With a platform and powertrain setup modified from the RAV4, there are strong similarities between the midsize and large Toyota SUVs behind the wheel, the most obvious of which is getting buyers used to the quirks of a vehicle’s CVT transmissions. Fortunately, the torque from the line is strong thanks to the subtle thud of the electric motor, so the two-ton Highlander doesn’t require a strong, rev-stimulating pounding of the accelerator.
Once you’re up to city speed, you can put the Highlander into EV mode using a button near the clunky gear selector. While it’s not an all-electric driving mode anywhere near as profound as the plug-in hybrid version of the RAV4, it’s useful and readily available. You can sneak through the city streets silently and at speeds of up to 60 km / h before the gasoline engine comes in to back up the small battery. It automatically switches to EV mode even at cruising speed and switches off the engine for a short time.
As a result, connecting the engine to a CVT on the freeway or on the A and B country lanes isn’t as intrusive as you might think – it only climbs steep hills and when you drive at full speed, accelerate to typical speeds, and the noises from the engine compartment are well muffled. It’s quiet on the autobahn – the sturdy front section and the huge mirrors above all make a little wind noise.
Power isn’t sharp but reasonable, with 0-62 mph in 8.3 seconds and a top speed of 111 mph. The Highlander even has a sport driving mode, but similar to the paddles behind the steering wheel, which are supposed to create artificial levels in the CVT’s fluid ratio, it feels largely pointless and changes little in the driving experience. It is best to leave it in normal or even in eco mode; These provide more than enough power to move about.
As with most TNGA platform cars, there is a sweet spot in ride quality that is just beyond low speed. In the city, the Highlander can pick up scars and scratches on the asphalt, but it is not overly tough. It settles well at speed and is extremely comfortable on the autobahn, but the weight means that the body rolls a little despite the smooth ride on the winding and undulating asphalt of the B-road.
Although it is certainly not touted as a sporty large SUV, it has a corresponding steering. That means it can be precisely and easily placed on the road, and defies its size in a way that some large SUVs struggle with.
In terms of fuel economy, Toyota claims between 39.2 and 39.7 mpg, and by and large, that’s a number that we think is representative of what you’re getting in the real world. According to the on-board computer, it’s a number we just dwarfed on our test drive where we saw a reported 40.6 mpg.
Buyers of SUVs of this size and price will want a quality interior, and the Toyota has its advantages and disadvantages. We like the quality of the soft-touch plastics at arm height and the veneer paneling around the cabin, while the seats are upholstered in soft leather and everything feels exceptionally well made.
It doesn’t feel cutting edge, however. We’ve drawn attention to the eight-inch Touch 2 infotainment system in the past because it feels very dated compared to the systems from competing manufacturers, and this goes for the Highlander’s setup. It’s a shame because Highlanders in the US are being sold with a brand new 12.3-inch widescreen system that the UK lacks.
What the Highlander lacks in shine on the inside is made up for in exceptional versatility. There are endless storage spaces around the cabin – in the doors, in the dashboard and in the huge central storage compartment. Front and side visibility is great, although the view from the rear window is a bit limited.
There is also plenty of space and the cabin is highly configurable. The second row can be moved 180 mm and is pushed all the way back so that the passengers sitting there have plenty of legroom.
The third row of seats, which is equipped with seven seats as standard, offers space for adults on shorter journeys if the sliding second row of seats is placed in the middle position, which does not restrict the space too much. It can be pushed all the way up in the first row for easy access to the two rearmost seats, and all seven seats can be tilted back and forth for more comfort.
In five-seater mode, the completely flat loading area in the rear up to the tarpaulin is very useful 658 liters. The capacity is 1,909 liters up to the roof when the second row is folded flat, and even with all seven seats there is enough space to compete with the trunk of a supermini with 332 liters.
For families who want seven SUV-style seats, the Highlander ranks strong as one of the more versatile large SUVs on the market. But while the list price undercuts major competitors, that doesn’t translate into a straightforward equation for monthly funding.
Make a 36-month deposit of 10 percent on a Highlander Excel with 10,000 miles with PCP and pay £ 774 a month. That’s a little less than an Audi Q7 will set you back, but it’s a number to keep you thinking when both the Land Rover Discovery and Volvo XC90 are available in the same stadium, or even for less.
But because it’s a hybrid, and because it has CO2 emissions of just 160g / km, the Highlander’s VED bill is just £ 530 for the first year. For private buyers, this means decent savings on the first day of ownership, when some petrol competitors cost well four-digit taxes for the first time. But mild hybrid diesels, like the Volvo XC90 B5 (D), run a lot closer at £ 830.
|Model:||Toyota Highlander Excel 2.5 Hybrid AWD-i|
|Engine:||2.5 liter 4 cylinder gasoline hybrid|
|Power / torque:||244 PS / TBC|
|Transmission:||CVT automatic, all-wheel drive|
|0-100 km / h:||8.3 seconds|
|Top speed:||111 km / h|
|CO2:||160g / km|