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Stepping Up: Toyota Highlander Limited ZR Hybrid Review

You might have noticed that I reviewed a Toyota Highlander Limited just a few weeks ago, what’s that about you may wonder? Let me answer that for you, yes that was a Toyota Highlander Limited but this is different. This is the step up from that, this is the Highlander Limited ZR Hybrid. Not only have you earned two extra badges, there’s a lot of other stuff that comes with it.

The Toyota Highlander is an interesting car because it is the quintessential Kiwi lifestyle mobile. You have the ground clearance for our steep roads & driveways, seven seats for your team, boot space for the dog, a roof long enough for most of your canoe and then the ability to tow your boat. A car that can do all of those has to tick many boxes both inside and out so is this top-spec Highlander up to the task?

Close-up of the front of 2021 Toyota Highlander Limited ZR Hybrid
Bright lights, big wheels and hybrid badges make the ZR special

Behind that tall, imposing front end lies a body of smooth lines and comforting design. Yes, the Highlander is a large car and the new lights are meant to make it look sharper which it does. But it hasn’t lost that certain family friendliness that made this SUV so popular. The new lines accentuate the Highlander’s size without overdoing it. You could probably start at the front badge and end up at the rear one just by following that statement upper line.

Since this is the ZR model, you get a sprinkling of more chrome including the shiny 20 inch wheels. Note the hybrid badge on the side as well which alludes to the fuel sipping ability of this mighty car. This top-spec model especially offers you a sense of luxury, walk up to the car at night with the key in your pocket and the puddle lights illuminate. Place your hand on the handle and it unlocks, use the running boards to step into the bright cabin which is where we are headed next.

Interior of the 2021 Toyota Highlander Limited ZR Hybrid
A well lit cabin shows off the array of buttons across the interior, excellent!

By now you would have noticed that I photographed this car at night, a decision taken with two reasons in mind. Number 1, the colour is white and I found that less light helped accentuate the new design of the car. Secondly, the lights. This Highlander is just littered with them. Bright LED lamps on the outside, puddle lights and then the interior. The only reason it is so well lit is down to the physical buttons and controls, I cannot thank Toyota enough for keeping them.

I have tested three Highlanders in a row and this one had the best fit and finish by far. Everything was screwed in better than the lower spec models. The leather seats and surfaces certainly help with uplifting the air of quality further. I especially enjoyed the extended panoramic sunroof with the cover always left retracted whether rain or shine. There was another ZR spec option that I loved and that was the 11-speaker JBL audio system. Thumping bass was always on the menu courtesy of that subwoofer but if your music taste is more refined then you will be happy to note that classical, jazz and rock also sound excellent through the system.

Taillight of the 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Sharp lines and bright lights accentuate the new styling

Hit that blue starter button and you awaken….nothing! The hybrid model starts off in EV mode provided it has sufficient charge. Gone are the days of worrying that you will wake the neighbours in the mornings. The Highlander will quietly tip-toe away if you feather the throttle and then awaken the 2.5 litre four cylinder petrol engine at higher speeds.

Remember that Toyota have been making hybrid powertrains for over a decade and they have perfected their craft over time. The interchangeability has improved, fuel efficiency is excellent of course. And for nerds like me, the active energy monitor tells you where the power is going and how much of it you are using. 142kW and 242Nm on tap means this hybrid is no slouch. Don’t be fooled though because it will give you an unbelievable 5.6 litres per 100km!

Rear three quarter shot of the Toyota Highlander Limited ZR Hybrid
Fun for the whole family

The Verdict

I like the Toyota Highlander, it’s a practical family SUV. Yes, the size is noticeable in smaller car parks and narrow lanes but you should expect that from a roomy seven seater vehicle. It sips fuel miserly though the cabin is anything but. Premium materials and sound make you float over the road. It’s great value overall and while the infotainment is starting to feel outdated, it offers a pro in the form of buttons. That is a good note to conclude on because the 2021 Toyota Highlander Limited ZR Hybrid tips the scales with a plethora of pros compared to its negligible cons.

2021 Toyota Highlander Limited ZR Hybrid: 5/5

Thanks for reading! For more news and reviews, check out Tarmac Life.

Words and pictures by Matthew D’Souza

Review Date
Reviewed Item
2021 Toyota Highlander Limited ZR Hybrid
Author Rating
Product Name
2021 Toyota Highlander Limited ZR Hybrid
NZD 76,300
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