With its seven seat flexibility and massive boot, the Toyota Highlander is finally being sold in the UK. It’s the Japanese car maker’s largest SUV model and is now in its fourth generation. Packed with technology and driven by an efficient hybrid powertrain, it offers economical running costs with all the practicality of a large estate-styled car.
The goodStyling, practicality and easy to drive
The bad£50k-plus starting price
Toyota Highlander – First Drive (2021)
Toyota’s seven seat Highlander model has been on sale since 2000 but it has now been launched for the first time in the UK.
It’s a good looking, comfortable, practical vehicle that’s packed with technology and is also one of the safest family cars on the market.
The fourth generation version boasts the longest boot in class, all-wheel-drive plus a two-tonne towing capacity making it perfect for larger families who enjoy an active lifestyle.
The Highlander is powered by Toyota’s fourth generation full hybrid electric powertrain which is self-charging and delivers a combined 39.2-39.7mpg with carbon emissions set at 160 to 163g/km.
It mates a four-cylinder, 2.5-litre petrol engine with front and rear electric motors for intelligent all-wheel drive and there is a nickel-metal hydride battery which is located below the second row of seats.
With its maximum power output of 245bhp, the Highlander can reach 62mph from a standstill in a rapid 8.3 seconds and tops out 111mph.
Buyers can select from two generously-equipped trim levels called Excel, priced at £52,575, and Excel Premium costing from £52,575 with Toyota’s marketing experts believing about 80 per cent of customers will opt for the Highlander Excel.
Both versions have a Skyview panoramic roof, LED headlights, wireless phone charging, an 11-speaker pitch-perfect JBL sound system, triple-zone air conditioning and heated front seats. There is full smartphone integration via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, a heated steering wheel and classy leather upholstery.
The Excel Premium also gains a head-up display, hands-free tailgate operation, heated rear seats and a digital rearview mirror.
The Highlander looks good from any approach with sleek, sophisticated styling and smooth lines. There are trapezoidal upper and lower grilles, large 20-inch alloy wheels, flared wheel arches, black pillars and slim rear light clusters.
The car stretches to just under five metres in length and it is built on the same GA-K platform as the RAV4, so it has been designed with practicality and flexibility in mind with ample room for seven occupants.
Moving inside, the interior is modern in its layout with upmarket satin and wood grain finishes. There is plenty of seat and steering wheel adjustment available to help find the perfect driving position and the seating is quite elevated resulting in good all-round visibility, which is a plus factor on a car that will most likely feature strongly on the school run.
We tested the range-topping Highlander Excel Premium, so it had all the bells and whistles, and it performed impressively throughout a two-and-a-half hour drive on a range of roads.
It has a CVT transmission and the acceleration is both smooth and constant provided you don’t stamp on the accelerator pedal and it made light work of overtaking slower vehicles even when going up quite a steep hill.
With the lowest centre of gravity in the segment, the Highlander’s road holding is confident with nicely weighted steering.
The central stack is packed with dials and controls but it’s all fairly self-explanatory and it’s always nice to see separate buttons to operate the air conditioning and likes.
There are drive modes called Eco, Normal, Sport and Trail and all modes can be used while the vehicle is being driven in pure EV mode.
The Highlander has excellent insulation and is kitted out with acoustic glass, special silencers and sound absorbing materials to keep any noise intrusion at bay. In addition, the impressive suspension set-up smooths out quite rough road surfaces with ease.
I did find there was an increase in noise at higher speeds from the large mirrors, but it was blowing a hooley on that particular day! And if I’m being really picky, which I am, the ride got a little floaty on bumpier surfaces. But those gripes aside, the Highlander performed admirably throughout.
There is easy access to the duo of back seats as the second row of seats slide and fold forward, and if visibility through the rear-view mirror is blocked by passengers’ heads, the driver can switch to a digital rear-view mirror that offers a camera view of what’s going on behind the car. Clever stuff.
Another practical feature on the Excel Premium model is the powered tailgate which can be opened by kicking your foot under the rear bumper. This is really handy if your arms are full with shopping. And with seven seats in place, there is still 332 litres of storage space, including 27 litres beneath the floor. This increases to a whopping 1,909 litres with the seats in rows two and three dropped flat and they do drop completely flat.
Although the Highlander has not and may not need to be tested for a Euro NCAP rating due to the low volume of sales, it is packed with safety kit with Toyota Safety Sense fitted as standard. This includes a pre-collision system that can detect pedestrians by day or night and cyclists during daytime driving. There is emergency steering assist and intersection turn assistance, lane trace assist and lane departure alert, road sign assist, intelligent adaptive cruise control with curve speed reduction and adaptive high beam assist.
Additional safety kit includes trailer sway control, traction and stability control, eCall, hill descent control, Isofix child seat fixtures on outer second row seats and a full suite of airbags.
All in all, the introduction of the Highlander to the UK market is quite a big step for Toyota. We all know how popular SUVs are in the current climate and this latest addition to the line-up not only introduces SUV practicality, but it also brings with it seven-seat flexibility.
The Highlander is protected by Toyota’s excellent five-year, 100,000-mile warranty.