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Test drive: The all-new Toyota Highlander Hybrid SUV

LLM motoring editor Lisa Curtiss reviews the all-new and much hyped hybrid Highlander from Toyota.

By Lisa Curtiss  |  May 30, 2022
Toyota New Highlander

Imposing, spacious and capable, the globally acclaimed Highlander is now available in an all-hybrid model range making it even more desirable for families who need a tough and versatile seven-seater, but want to minimise their environmental impact.

To create the new Highlander Hybrid, Toyota has drawn on more than 20 years’ experience in making hybrid vehicles and more than 16 million global sales. The model’s fourth generation self-charging system provides up to 80 per cent emissions-free driving, combined with Toyota’s renowned quality, durability and reliability. A more practical proposition than plug-in hybrid (PHEV) technology typically used for large SUVs, the Highlander’s self-charging hybrid powertrain and an electric cruising speed of up to 78mph is more suitable for those who frequently travel longer distances.

The all-wheel drive 245bhp/182kW hybrid powertrain is exceptionally quiet and offers fuel economy (WLTP combined cycle) from 39.2 to 39.7mpg with 160 to 163g/km CO2 emissions – all respectable given the Highlander’s substantial size and weight. Acceleration is smooth and powerful, and the vehicle can tow loads of up to two tonnes.

Toyota New Highlander silver

Exterior appeal

The new Highlander Hybrid is 496.6cm long, 193cm wide and 175.5cm high and has a 285cm wheelbase. It has the sleek and sophisticated styling of a premium urban SUV while communicating the power, strength and durability of a rugged and versatile all-wheel drive model.

Flared wheel arches and the shape of the upper and lower front grilles, reinforcing the car’s broad and powerful stance and viewed side on, you get a real sense of dynamism generated by a sturdy, forward-leaning lower body and a rear-sloping roofline. Large, 20-inch alloy wheels add to the premium quality appearance. Seven attractive exterior paint colours are available, including a new moondust blue pearlescent which uses a two-layer coating process.

Interior details

The Highlander’s interior is designed with all the practicality, durability and flexible space-on-demand expected of a seven-seat family SUV, while offering a comfortable and luxurious environment for everyone on board.

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. The switchgear is shaped to flow seamlessly from the panels and for ease of use. Satin and wood grain trim finishes add to the prestigious ambience, while the soft-touch padding uses finely textured leather with precise stitchwork. The interior is upholstered in black perforated leather with textured silver ornamentation and dark wood trim.

This is a remarkably spacious vehicle and true seven-seater. Unlike many SUVs there actually is spacious and accessible accommodation in the two third row seats, comfortable for even adults to use. Legroom is generous throughout.

A handy feature is the power tailgate with kick-sensor function on the Excel Premium model, giving easy hands-free access to the load compartment. When all seven seats are in place, this provides 332 litres of storage, including 27 litres beneath the floor. When second and third row seats are folded flat, the space increases to a whopping 1,909 litres. There are further storage spaces throughout the cabin, together with power, USB and external HDMI sockets and ports in the front and second row seat areas.

Toyota New Highlander silver side view

High tech

Highlander is available in two high-specification versions in the UK – Excel and Excel Premium. The Highlander Excel equipment features include seven-inch TFT multi-information display in the driver’s instrument binnacle; multimedia system with a central eight-inch display, satellite navigation and smartphone integration (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto); wireless smartphone charger; triple-zone air conditioning; heated and ventilated front seats; heated steering wheel; power tailgate; sky view panoramic roof, black leather seat upholstery; and 11-speaker JBL premium sound system.

The Excel Premium further gain kick-activated tailgate operation; ventilated front seats; heated outer second row seats; digital rear-view mirror; panoramic view monitor; and a head-up display.

Options include an essential protection pack (boot liner and chrome bumper protection plate); black side steps with stainless steel grips; and seven/13-pin towbars.

On-the-road prices are £50,595 for the Highlander Excel and £52,575 for the Excel Premium. Both are protected by Toyota’s five-year/100,000-mile new vehicle warranty.

Out on the road

Despite its size and weight, the Highlander is an engaging and pleasant drive and excels as a motorway cruiser, perfect for long family trips.

Toyota New Highlander silver on road

Smooth, powerful acceleration is delivered on demand and the car can cruise on all-electric power at speeds up to 78mph. The hybrid system’s maximum power output of 245bhp/182kW enables 0-62mph acceleration in 8.3 seconds and a maximum speed of 111mph. WLTP combined cycle fuel consumption is from 39.2 to 39.7mpg, while CO2 emissions are 160 to 163g/km. You can choose your preferred drive mode to suit the occasion or conditions – Eco, Normal, Sport and Trail. All four modes can still be used when the vehicle is operating in its (separately selectable) EV all-electric mode.

The gear ratio has been optimised for maximum fuel efficiency and dynamic performance. Resonance and noise have been suppressed by measures including polishing of the gear teeth and a new gear structure design, making the hybrid system quieter than ever before.

Noise and vibration levels are addressed with acoustic glass for the windscreen and front glazing, the positioning of silencers in the roof, dashboard and floor, and liners in the wheel arches and load space. These measures help ensure a noticeably quiet cabin environment.

Highlander displays engaging, nimble handling and comfortable motorway cruising thanks to the high body rigidity and low centre of gravity delivered by the GA-K platform, sophisticated MacPherson strut front and trailing wishbone rear suspension systems and rack-mounted steering.

The ride characteristics are made even more comfortable thanks to the ride control with torque demand. This controls drive torque to the front wheels to reduce vehicle pitch caused by fluctuations in the road surface and reduce the bonnet lift that can occur under hard acceleration.

Toyota New Highlander red side view

The intelligent all-wheel drive (AWD-i) uses a new rear transaxle to improve maximum torque at the rear wheels. The rear electric motor system can provide 121Nm of torque and can transmit up to 1,300Nm to the rear wheels, boosting vehicle performance when moving from standstill, under acceleration and in slippery road conditions, without compromising noise, vibration, CO2 emissions or fuel economy.

Torque distribution to the front and rear wheels is precisely controlled, anywhere between 100:0 and 20:80, according to the driving conditions. The distribution ratio is shown on the multi-information display when AWD-i is in operation.

Safety first

Highlander is equipped with the latest Toyota Safety Sense active safety and driver assistance technologies, designed to help prevent or mitigate collisions in a wide range of traffic scenarios.

Elements include a pre-collision system that can detect pedestrians by day and night and cyclists during daytime driving, with emergency steering assist and intersection turn assistance; intelligent adaptive cruise control with curve speed reduction; lane trace assist and lane departure alert with steering control; road sign assist; and adaptive high-beam system.

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