Japanese giant Toyota has filled a gap in its comprehensive European range with its seven-seat Highlander. The people carrying SUV is big – just 50mm shy of five metres long. It has been on sale in the US and other markets since 2001 but now a more efficient all wheel drive petrol/electric hybrid Highlander comes to Ireland for the first time.
For Toyota its good news as it can now offer a Highlander to people who may find its five-seat RAV4 (4.6 metre) too small for purpose. The demand for large ‘seven-seaters’ is quite small especially if you exclude van-based offerings, but there is choice in the market. The new Kia Sorento (4.785m) is a favourite of ours at Motorhub, its sister car the Hyundai Santa Fe, VW Tiguan Allspace and Peugeot 5008 are popular too. Premium brands also dip their toes in this category with excellent offerings from Volvo, BMW, Land Rover and Audi. So with Highlander pricing starting at €65,225 where does it sit?
Under the bonnet of the fourth-generation Toyota hybrid power train there is an efficient 2.5 litre four-cylinder petrol engine and an electric motor that produces 248hp and 239nm of torque. Toyota quotes an average fuel consumption figure of 6.6-7.1 L/100km (grade dependent). Emissions are relatively low ranging from 149-159g/CO2 depending on the grade. The small hybrid battery pack is nickel metal hydride and mounted under the middle seats. The Highlander is certified to tow up to 2 tonnes (braked). Its hybrid set up allows it to run on all electric power at up to 125km/h – in ideal circumstances. 0-100km/h takes a brisk 8.3 seconds although you will have to tolerate the noisy whine of its CVT automatic gearbox whenever you accelerate hard. In day to day use the auto is quiet and refined. There are four selectable driving modes eco, normal, sport and trail. The usual three have a modest impact on fuel consumption and power delivery with ‘Trail’ delivering more all wheel drive functionality. There is a selectable EV (electric drive) button but like so many hybrids it only works intermittently when it has enough electricity in the battery. This can be frustrating as when you want to use it – it can get humpy! The Highlander’s AWD-i set up is best described by Toyota: ‘The Highlander Hybrid’s AWD-i adopts a newly developed rear transaxle to improve maximum torque at the rear wheels. The rear motor system output provides 121nm of available torque and is capable of transmitting up to 1,300nm at the rear wheels, boosting vehicle performance from a standstill, under acceleration and in slippery road conditions, with no compromise on NVH, CO2 or fuel economy. Torque distribution is minutely controlled to the front and rear wheels anywhere between 100:0 and 20:80 depending on driving conditions. The amount of torque distributed between the front and rear wheels is displayed on the 7-inch TFT Multi-information display during AWD system operation.’
Exterior styling is far from pretty but the Highlander is an imposing car. Built on Toyota’s TNGA-K platform the Highlander’s design is a marriage of rugged Land Cruiser 4X4 with overtones of the more urban friendly RAV4. The Highlander at 4.950m long is longer than a Land cruiser (4.840m) and Ford Galaxy MPV (4.848m) yet it is shorter than an Audi Q7 (5.063m). The Highlander has a relatively low roofline that brings it styling a little closer to the ‘crossover’ design genre. The front track is slightly narrower than the rear’s and its flared arches add a dynamic styling element to the car’s silhouette. The dominant grille is hard to miss and clearly identifies the Highlander as a Toyota. In fairness a car of this size cannot hide its bulk but apart from its exaggerated wheel arches there is no waste or needless bulk on display.
The interior is obviously spacious thanks to its long 2.850m wheelbase. The seating is easily accessed. The middle row can slide (180mm), tilt and recline. The Highlander certainly is functional, even with all seven seats up the 241 litre boot is very usable, easily taking my five large grocery shopping bags side by side. With the 6th and 7th seat down the boot is huge at 658 litres. Fold all rear seats down and the cargo area is vast (1,909 litres). I was able to load a large flatpack into the back without needing to move the passenger seat forward or leave the tailgate open.
Three grades are available, ‘Hybrid’ (€65,225), ‘Sol’ (€71,350) and ‘Platinum’ €76,450 (our test car). Notably the entry model gets faux leather seating, LED headlamps, drivers electric-adjustable seat, Apple CarPlay/ Android Auto, reversing camera, wireless phone charging, a heated steering wheel and rides on 18 inch alloys. All models get Toyota’s Safety Sense suite of driving safety aids: Pre-collision detection with active steer (inc. bicycles and night-time pedestrian), intersection collision mitigation, sway warning system, road sign assist, adaptive cruise control (intelligent adaptive cruise available), lane departure alert and lane trace assist and auto headlights.
Comfort is the highlander’s strong point as the car is softly sprung with seating designed for generous frames. The Highlander wafts along nicely and the driving position is commanding and relaxing. The car rolls when cornering with any enthusiasm and is at its best unstressed cruising about. Motorway and long drives are effortlessly dispatched. Ventilation is good for all occupants and there is a separate control for the rear cabin climate control. Our top grade Platinum test car rode on 20 inch alloys and also came with a panoramic sunroof, powered tailgate (with kick), perforated leather seats (heated and cooled up front) and heated in the middle row also, panoramic view monitor, smart interior mirror, head up display (HUD), 11-speaker JBL sound system, blue ambient lighting, Sat Nav and projector headlights.
The Highlander is pricey – but show me a full size seven seater that isn’t! Its stature, while not quite unique, manages to fill a gap between mainstream seven-seaters and the more premium brand offerings.