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Driven: 2021 Toyota Highlander. Image by Toyota.

Driven: 2021 Toyota Highlander
Despite its hybrid powertrain, Toyota’s newest seven-seat SUV is decidedly old school, but it has character.

   



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2022 Toyota Highlander

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Seven-seat SUVs are big business, but customers looking for such a thing in Toyota's otherwise modern range have been stuck with the off-road-orientated Land Cruiser for some time. Now there's another option, in the shape of the seven-seat Highlander, which aims to merge the talents of the smaller RAV4 and larger Land Cruiser. But will that make for a compelling family SUV?

Test Car Specifications

Model: 2022 Toyota Highlander 2.5 Hybrid Excel Premium
Price: £55,210
Engine/motor: 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol, twin-motor hybrid
Transmission: continuously variable transmission, all-wheel drive
Battery: 288-volt nickel-metal hydride
Power: 248hp
Torque: 239Nm (engine), 270Nm (front electric motor), 121Nm (rear electric motor)
Emissions: 160-163g/km
Economy/Range: 39.2-39.7mpg
0-62mph: 8.3 seconds
Top speed: 111mph
Boot space: 268-579-1,909 litres

Styling

The Highlander takes most of Toyota's now-familiar SUV design cues and grafts them on to an even larger lump of metal. That means there are squinting headlights and a wide, downturned grille, as well as a slightly swollen appearance around the bottom of the doors and the rear wheel arches. It isn't the prettiest car on the market, but seen from the side elevation in particular, it's quite a competent design. But there's a decidedly American air about it.

Interior

That American theme continues inside, where the Highlander feels spacious and airy. But there’s also something very Toyota-ish about the plastics, which manage to fall down the gap between premium and cheap, and the wood trim, which isn’t especially convincing. The touchscreen isn’t brilliant either, with a slightly blocky display and an aging navigation system, while the instrument display uses conventional dials, as opposed to a more modern digital display. All that said, however, the build quality – the way in which everything is bolted together – is exemplary, all of which plays into the Highlander’s rugged personality. And with plenty of standard equipment, including leather upholstery, it’s a reasonably pleasant place to sit.

Practicality

As you'd expect, there's plenty of space in the Highlander. In two-seat configuration, the Highlander has almost 2,000 litres of boot space, and that's more than enough for most customers' needs. Even with five seats up, the 579-litre space up to the window line will give you plenty of capacity, and even the 268-litre space behind the third row of seats is more than enough. There's lots of space for passengers, too. Even the third row can accommodate adults, albeit not for a long journey, but there's more than enough capacity for a family or for four grown-ups to travel in comfort.

Performance

The Highlander is only offered with one engine, or should we say powertrain? Unlike so many large SUVs, the Toyota has eschewed diesel in favour of hybrid power, which means there's a 248hp, 2.5-litre hybrid system under the bonnet. That drives all four wheels to give the car plenty of off-road capability, as well as providing ample acceleration and performance. Getting from 0-62mph in just over eight seconds is no mean feat in a car this big.

But while the performance is commendable, economy is the name of the game, and the Highlander achieves just under 40mpg on the official economy test. That's fairly good going, but we can't help thinking a diesel would be more frugal on long runs. Using a six-cylinder diesel would probably prove more refined, too, because the Highlander's petrol engine roars unpleasantly at higher revolutions.

Ride & Handling

It's no surprise to find the Highlander is not the most agile SUV on the market, and it's better at a leisurely pace than at high speeds. With light steering and plenty of body roll, it's hardly blessed with dynamic capability. At the same time, though, it isn't especially comfortable, thanks to a nuggety ride that feels compromised by the car's size and ground clearance. The Highlander feels decidedly tough and rugged, however, and while we didn't get a chance to try it in the snow, some light off-roading suggested ample capability for most customers' needs. It can certainly deal with the odd wet field or muddy farm track, and there's plenty of clearance for rocky surfaces. And because it's a Toyota, the chances are it won't let you down.

Value

With a price tag in excess of £53,000, nobody will ever call the Highlander cheap, even if it does come with lots of standard equipment. Leather upholstery, satellite navigation and heated seats are all included as standard, not to mention memory settings for the seats and climate control with separate settings for the rear. Nevertheless, diesel alternatives to the Highlander are cheaper to buy and run, and some of them are better on the road, too. And premium alternatives cost about the same money, even if they aren't quite as spacious.

Verdict

In many ways, the Toyota Highlander isn't that good. The hybrid system isn't as refined as you might hope, the ride is compromised and the efficiency isn't all that impressive. But by remaining slightly old-school in its attitude, the Highlander has managed to show something that's often missing in mainstream models across the automotive industry: character.



James Fossdyke - 26 Nov 2022



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2021 Toyota Highlander 2.5 Excel Premium 2.5 Hybrid AWD-i. Image by Toyota.2021 Toyota Highlander 2.5 Excel Premium 2.5 Hybrid AWD-i. Image by Toyota.2021 Toyota Highlander 2.5 Excel Premium 2.5 Hybrid AWD-i. Image by Toyota.2021 Toyota Highlander 2.5 Excel Premium 2.5 Hybrid AWD-i. Image by Toyota.2021 Toyota Highlander 2.5 Excel Premium 2.5 Hybrid AWD-i. Image by Toyota.

2021 Toyota Highlander 2.5 Excel Premium 2.5 Hybrid AWD-i. Image by Toyota.2021 Toyota Highlander 2.5 Excel Premium 2.5 Hybrid AWD-i. Image by Toyota.2021 Toyota Highlander 2.5 Excel Premium 2.5 Hybrid AWD-i. Image by Toyota.2021 Toyota Highlander 2.5 Excel Premium 2.5 Hybrid AWD-i. Image by Toyota.2021 Toyota Highlander 2.5 Excel Premium 2.5 Hybrid AWD-i. Image by Toyota.








 

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