ON THE ROAD- IAN LYNAS DRIVES THE TOYOTA HIGHLANDER
The Highlander now joins the list of premium SUVs available and is a new member to the Toyota line up in Europe, earlier versions having been available in Japan and the US from 2000. It is the largest SUV from Toyota and is offered in an all-hybrid model range. In some markets, Japan and Australia it is known as Kluger, to avoid a clash of names with Hyundai.
Toyota has drawn on twenty three years in making hybrid vehicles and to date there have been more than 16 million sales worldwide, quite an achievement. The Highlander’s fourth generation self- charging system provides up to 80 per cent emissions free driving, combined with Toyota’s renowned quality, durability and reliability. The large Japanese carmaker now have a formidable SUV line up as the newcomer joins RAV4, C-HR and the forthcoming Yaris Cross; making this Europe’s largest hybrid SUV range. Up to now, electrification of large SUVs has tended to focus on plug-in hybrid technology, yet despite the benefits this offers, customers in this market tend to take longer journeys with a greater percentage of motorway journeys that a PHEV’s electric range may not be able to deliver. Highlander’s self-charging hybrid power train and an electric cruising speed of up to 126kph (78mph) meets the segment’s customer needs. Overall performance, rest to 100kph (62mph) in 8.3 seconds with a top speed of 179kph (111mph). The Highlander is built on the company’s GA-K platform, and it will prove popular with families having seven seats and indeed with some business users. With all-wheel drive, it is a vehicle for all seasons and with its 245bhp/182kW hybrid power train is exceptionally quiet and offers reasonable fuel fuel economy with 160 to 163g/ CO2.
I would best describe the Highlander as a large RAV4, yet I found it very nimble, which I must admit came as something of a surprise, much more like a well designed saloon rather than an SUV and this will be a strong selling point for this Toyota. Dimensions are, 4,966mm long, 1,930mm wide and 1,755mm high and a 2,850mm wheelbase and the exterior is sophisticated worthy of a premium SUV, yet it has the power, strength and durability of a rugged and versatile all-wheel drive vehicle.
Lots of street cred, flared wheel arches and the trapezoid shape of the upper and lower front grilles deliver a broad and powerful stance and chunky twenty inch alloy wheels add to the premium quality appearance with silver five-triple-spoke for the Excel model and dark grey/machined ten spoke with the range topping version; (which I tested) and there are three versions in the Republic of Ireland, Highlander, Sol and Platinum. The powerful look is further enhanced in the wide flaring of the rear wheel arches, while the rear end is characterised by sharp, slim rear light clusters. Exterior colour choice, seven paint colours are available, including a new Moondust blue pearlescent which uses a two-layer coating process which gives a solid look with the lustre of pure metal.
Moving to the interior, practicality, durability and flexible space-on-demand are the clear highlights. The instrument panel has a solid central element that houses the eight-inch multimedia display and flows across the full width of the dashboard, framed by smooth, soft-touch padding. It is visually supported by a wide, square centre console and satin and wood grain trim finishes add to the ambience, while the soft-touch padding uses finely textured leather with quality stitch work, for a moment I thought I was in control of a Lexus. Equipment levels are of a high standard; a power tailgate has a kick-sensor function on the Excel Premium model giving easy hands-free access to the load compartment and with all seven seats in place, 332 litres of storage, including 27 litres beneath the floor and when second and third row seats are folded flat, the space increases to 1,909 litres, plus there are more storage spaces throughout the cabin, together with power, USB and external HDMI sockets and ports in the front and second row seat areas. All versions have triple-zone air conditioning, a panoramic roof, LED headlights, wireless phone charging, heated front seats and 11-speaker JBL sound system while the range topper adds head-up display and digital rear-view mirror, which I did not particularly like.
The Highlander is entering a very busy market, but given its quality of finish, equipment and all round safety package it stands a very fair chance.