When Toyota announced their Highlander would incorporate some hybrid power into the line-up, it came as no surprise to those of us in the specialist motoring press. While the petrol models will still continue, the hybrids, which are part of Toyota’s spearhead into bringing down emissions and increasing the fuel efficiency of their SUV family, are expected to be the bigger seller.
The new Highlander was launched mid last year and since then I have only been able to sample the entry level GXL petrol over the course of a week. As you may imagine, the reason for this was COVID related. Anyway, fast forward to April 2022 and it was finally Highlander hybrid time.
The range starts at $60,990 TDP (Toyota Driveaway Price) for the entry level GXL Petrol but the hybrid family starts at $63,990 TDP for the GXL Hybrid AWD. My test car was the mid range Limited Hybrid at $67,990 TDP whereas the flagship Highlander, the Limited ZR Hybrid, will set you back $74,990 TDP.
Regardless of which hybrid spins your wheels, they all share the same revised version of the 2.5L four-cylinder petrol engine used in the RAV4. The electric motors and hybrid system have also been given a refresh too.
Throw this together and you have 184kW of grunt on tap and 242Nm of torque to play with via all four wheels and a seven-speed E-CVT automatic transmission. Small wonder Toyota claim the new Highlander is good for towing 2,000kg. Toyota also claim combined fuel consumption figures of 5.6L/100km which for a 2685kg SUV is pretty decent. CO2 emissions are also quoted around the 128g/km point for all hybrids.
Styling wise, the new Highlander looks very American in stance. This might have something to do with the Highlander being built and styled at Toyota’s US plant in Indiana. Also, the only right-hand-drive markets which get the new generation are New Zealand and Australia
You can tell the Highlander has some major influence from the “Land of the Free.” Features like the orange reflective indicators so common among all cars specified for the American market and a high-gloss front grill with winged spindle feature. In fact, that spindle has a certain whiff of Chrysler about it. This being the Limited, you get 18-inch two-tone grey and black alloy wheels and silver roof rails.
It is easy to see the new Highlander also shares many visual cues with its smaller RAV-4 sibling. Those LED headlights follow the same style but are more rounded off and less edgy. On the whole, it is far easier on the eye than the previous generation. The new car also sits on Toyota’s New Global Architecture Platform, is 60mm longer, 5mm wider and also weighs 75kg less than before.
Inside that extra girth is felt by way of ample head and legroom. The 10-way electrically adjustable seats give plenty of support while sporting a good level of overall comfort. In terms of ergonomics, things are very intuitive. Plus, button lovers rejoice. There is just the right amount of chunky feeling buttons and switchgear without going overboard and leaving the centre console resembling an old scientific calculator.
Talking of the centre console, it commands your attention and the way all the buttons and toggle switches are laid out is very nice. Atop the console sits the 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system which like all Toyota systems is very easy to use.
The Highlander gets a plethora of standard kit. This includes Rain Sensing Wipers, Hill Start Assist, Parking Sensors all around, Reversing Camera, Blind Spot Monitoring, Keyless Entry with Push Button Start and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.
Toyota’s Safety Sense Package is also 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.
This being the Limited, you get additional features like Dynamic Guidelines for your Reversing Camera, Power Tailgate, Chrome Interior Door Handles, Leather Trim for the interior doors, a 7-inch Multi-Information Display, Sat Nav, Three Zone Climate Control, and some buttock warming heaters for those leather seats.
The Highlander is also a full-seven-seater. The third row is stored away which when in place considerably compromises cargo space. However, store it away and that space grows from 241L to 658L. The second-row rear seats can be tilted, moved back and forth and folded into a 60:40 rear split. Basically, there is plenty of room to get comfy.
Turn it on and you are met with the tell-tale audible sign of electric hybrid silent running. However, move off and before long that 2.5L four pot wakes up and helps things along. It is quite a loud unit on start up and I found it tended to drone a bit more than first expected. However once warmed up it settles down and the two power units work as one in the way you would expect to great effect.
A combination of low stress motorway cruising and inner city commuting yielded average fuel consumption of between 6.8L and 7.4L/100km. This being a Toyota hybrid you can have fun trying to beat your best eco drive score.
While it shrinks around you while on the move, three-point-turns in your local supermarket carpark without the aid of those parking sensors can keep you on your toes. That said, those leather seats have you sitting upright and high up so your field of vision is very good front and rear.
Eco, Normal and Sport drive modes are featured and Trail mode can be accessed if you are taking your Highlander off the beaten path. However, while a few Highlanders may frequent the ski fields on occasion, most will be mostly ferrying large families around city limits.
Give the throttle a firm press when on the great wide open and there is a gentle surge as petrol and electric power propell your forward. Also in Sport mode, the steering weights up a tad giving the driver more feeling as to what those four wheels are up to in the corners. That said, a cruise is where the Highlander Limited Hybrid excels. It is happiest with the revs low and radar cruise control set just so.
While a few will champion the petrol variants, the Hybrid by far makes the most sense. Who wouldn’t want to have a comfortable seven-seater AWD SUV which will greatly reduce the times your wallet hemorrhages with each fill up? The new Highlander is darn good SUV in every sense of the word. While the serious rough stuff isn’t really its bag, it is still a solid all-rounder of comfort, refinement and driver dynamics. Plenty to like here me thinks.