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Born in the USA: Toyota Highlander GXL Petrol Review

When Toyota launched the new Highlander earlier this year, there was much fanfare surrounding the popular seven-seater SUV now sporting Hybrid options in the line-up. This is of course not surprising as just about every other Toyota in the range, bar the Hilux has Hybrid tech first introduced with the first Prius all those years ago.

At launch it was apparent after my preview drive of both petrol and hybrid versions of the new Highlander, as far as first impressions went, the Hybrid showed itself to the best all-round offering. However, due to that pesky COVID-19 rearing its ugly head yet again, my in-depth time with the new Highlander range to date has consisted solely of the GXL Petrol. Here is how a week in its company went down.

With a Toyota Driveaway Price of $60,990, the Highlander GXL AWD Petrol is the entry point in the Highlander clan, see what I did there? Fork out an extra $3k and you get the AWD Petrol in Limited spec. The Limited Petrol is also the same price as the entry level GXL AWD Hybrid at $63,990 TDP. The remaining models are the $66,990 TDP Limited Hybrid and flagship Limited ZR Hybrid at $74,990 TDP with all the fruit.

So, what provides the petrol power? Well, under the bonnet sits a 3.5L naturally aspirated V6 engine producing 218kW and 350Nm of torque sent to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox. It is an eager unit and sounds pretty nice too, but more on how it performs in a tick. Toyota claim combined fuel consumption figures of 8.8L/100km and 205g/km of C02 emissions.

What makes the new Highlander unique over the previous generation is its American roots. Yes, that’s right, this Highlander is being built in Toyota’s US plant in Indiana. Made predominately for left hand drive markets only, New Zealand and Australia are the only right hook countries to get it.

The American-ness shows when you clap eyes on the new Highlander for the first time. Those orange reflective indicators and that almost Chrysler-like spindle within the high-gloss front grill are the most obvious features.

The new Highlander is less aggressive than before and mirrors plenty with its smaller RAV 4 counterpart. It sits on Toyota’s New Global Architecture Platform and is also longer by 60mm and 5mm wider. It also weighs 75kg less than the previous generation. Both the GXL Petrol and Hybrid also get 18-inch alloys and LED headlights as standard.

Inside you are greeted with a very well laid out cockpit. The revised centre console dominates the dashboard and while too many buttons can be somewhat overwhelming, there are just enough placed around the cabin for my liking. All the switchgear feels good too, as does the premium soft touch materials for the dash itself. The cloth seats are both comfortable and supportive while that extra girth all-round means there is somewhat more head and legroom than before.

The Highlander gets plenty of standard kit including LED headlights, rain sensing wipers, hill start assist, parking sensors all around, reversing camera, blind spot monitoring, keyless entry with push button start, five USB ports and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. While it doesn’t get wireless charging as per the Limited grade cars, the hidey-hole where it otherwise would be still makes for a great place to keep your phone.

Toyota’s Safety Sense Package is standard across the range with Pre-Collision System with Autonomous Emergency Braking, Emergency Steering Assist, Lane Tracing Assist, Lane Departure Alert, Radar Cruise Control, Curve Speed Reduction, and Road Sign Assist.

Rear seat passengers have plenty of room to swing a feline companion and this being a full seven-seater, said companion and two others can sit in the rear. The second-row rear seats can be tilted, moved back and forth and folded into a 60:40 rear split. Boot space is compromised with all seven seats in place at 241L, but there is still sufficient room for a light weekly shop. Drop the third row and this increases to 658L.

Fire up that V6 and what emits from those tailpipes is a sweet sound which is becoming less and less common. While the sound of the Highlander’s six pot is melodious to say the least, it does require a firm foot to get it to shift. Apply some go and you move forward with gusto, but its not overly quick. However once up to speed, it settles down and becomes a very comfortable place to cruise.

The V6 petrol engine in cruise mode is very civilised and quite refined. Another aspect of refinement is found in the ride. It manages to be soft yes, but not overly so. While there is a bit of a wallowy feeling in the corners, steering is quite direct. Its happy place is a motorway cruise. Set the radar cruise control just so and you can munch up miles with comparative ease.

The Highlander has multiple drive modes like ECO, Normal, and Sport, plus a barrage of off-road settings when you feel like roughing it. That said, I reckon the roughest your average Highlander customer will get is the annual trip to the ski field or along a gravel road. I reckon those in the fleet and rental sectors are more than likely to opt for the petrol over the Hybrid.

The Highlander GXL Petrol is a great seven-seater package and a well sorted refining of the formula of a seven-seater SUV with a premium feel. Despite my belief in the Hybrids being the better all-rounder, there is still something to be said of the petrol Toyota Highlander GXL. It’s still a good package. Plus, its ideal for those who want to milk one last hurrah for petrol from Toyota’s entrant into this ever-growing segment.

RATING: 7.5/10

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