In an ever-expanding world of SUVs, it can be hard to stand out. Plus, with nearly every manufacturer offering their own high-riding model, the competition is supremely fierce so a car needs to be pretty good indeed to stand out.
And while a lot of SUVs have been invented specifically to take advantage of this surge in popularity, the Toyota Highlander is a car that has actually been on sale for many, many years - just not in the UK. It’s now into its fourth generation, but prior to 2021 had only been available in Australia, Japan and America. Now, the ultra-large SUV isn’t just on the market in the UK, but right the way across Europe, America, Asia and the Middle East, showcasing just how much of a ‘world car’ it really is.
It hits British roads with a sharp exterior design, an electrified powertrain and a range of sound-deadening measures designed to ensure that the Highlander feels as refined and quiet as possible when on the move. However, it’s got an awful lot more to offer - so let’s take a look at what Toyota has packed the new Highlander with.
The Highlander utilises one of Toyota’s latest hybrid setups. It’s a so-called ‘self-charging’ hybrid, which means it can’t be topped up by the plug and instead relies on the energy generated when coasting to add charge to the batteries. The engine can be called upon to add charge, too.
Combining a 2.5-litre petrol engine with an electric motor on each axle, it actually makes the Highlander the most powerful hybrid Toyota has ever made. With 254bhp generated from the combination of petrol and electric power, the Highlander should manage the 0-60mph sprint in 8.1 seconds.
With that electrical assistance comes added efficiency benefits, too. Toyota says that the Highlander should return up to 39.7mpg, while CO2 emissions stand at between 160 and 163g/km depending on specification and wheel size. The Japanese firm also estimates that it should be possible to conduct around 80 per cent of driving on emissions-free electric-only power, which isn’t bad for a non-plug-in model.
Ride and handling
The first thing you notice about the Highlander when you get behind the wheel is the sheer size of it. Make no mistake, this is no compact SUV and that means it takes a little bit of time to get used to its rather large dimensions. However, you soon get acclimatised to the Highlander’s footprint and, once you are, you can enjoy the silent and effortless power that the hybrid setup provides. It’s quiet and responsive, while the well-judged suspension is soft enough to cope with even the worst of the UK’s roads.
Thankfully, despite its large size and pliable suspension, the Highlander doesn’t fall into a heap when asked to go around corners. In fact, it’s remarkably composed in the bends, which makes it surprisingly easy and confidence-inspiring to drive. As you’d expect, it’s also accomplished on the motorway too, where outside noise is kept to a minimum - this helps to create a general feeling of calm and refinement when you’re in the cabin.
Interior and equipment
Though just two trim levels are available on the Highlander - Excel and Excel Premium - both bring an impressive level of standard equipment. Even base-spec cars boast 20-inch alloy wheels and three-zone climate control. The heated leather seats are wonderfully comfortable and offer a decent amount of adjustability, while the central eight-inch infotainment system - though smaller than rival offerings - incorporates satellite navigation and media functions.
Move up to Excel Premium and you’ll find a wider range of alloy wheel designs made available, alongside ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and a head-up display. A worthwhile addition is a 360-degree parking camera which, given the Highlander’s size, will come in very handy indeed. You also get a heated steering wheel, which will no doubt prove a hit when the weather turns chilly.
Prices for the Toyota Highlander kick off from £50,595, rising to £52,575 for an Excel Premium-grade car. Though that is a relatively high list price, the level of standard equipment accompanied by this new SUV is comprehensive, meaning that few people are going to be left wanting more features.
When it comes to running costs, the Highlander’s hybrid powertrain will surely pay dividends. Though a plug-in hybrid might’ve proved a more compelling option, the self-charging powertrain fitted to this Toyota will still deliver low running costs and tax bills. It’ll likely be a hit with business users, too.
The Highlander’s decent amount of electrical assistance will make it a great option for those who do lots of around-town driving, too, though it should also be just as adept at journeys further afield.
The Highlander will no doubt go down a storm with in-market SUV buyers. It’s big, comfortable and practical and, as a result, will be a hit with families. The low running costs afforded by the hybrid powertrain will also prove appealing, either to private users or business owners, too.
It might arrive with an expensive list price, but given the level of equipment and features fitted as standard, the Highlander more than justifies the outlay.
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