Toyota’s Highlander has long been regarded as the quintessential large sport utility vehicle.
It’s known for its four-wheel-drive capability, powerful petrol engine, seven-seat configuration and high levels of refinement.
All of those attributes have been expanded on with an all-new model landing here early this year.
The new Highlander has lost none of its credibility, it has had an engine upgrade – power is up 17kW and 13Nm yet it also gets a 1.1l/100km fuel usage saving – it is now listed from a 9.1 to 9.5l/100km (31mpg) combined cycled average.
Elsewhere, the Highlander reeks of sophistication, it is comfortable and has a wealth of specification, especially in Limited form as tested. Column space doesn’t allow for comprehensive detailing, but I can report it wants for nothing yet it could well be described as a value for money model.
The new Highlander is also available in two-wheel-drive variations, there are three grades with the range starting at $63,490 for a 4WD GX variant, a GXL lists at $66,490 and $70,490 (4WD), while the Limited 4WD sits at $81,490.
That’s top price for a car in this category, but if you want the epitome of sophistication it is the SUV that sets standards in the big sector.
As mentioned, there’s a new engine in Highlander. It still gets a variation of the old V6 that has served Toyota and Lexus well, but the new engine has an edge over it with higher levels of refinement and those performance increases. It is now rated at 218kW with 350Nm of torque coming in at 4700rpm. Such is its smoothness it’s hard to fathom with a displacement of 3456cc all that reciprocating mass could be so unflustered.
It is also a flighty engine when required, it sings freely through the rev band and likes to show off its strength.
Drive is carried through an eight-speed automatic transmission, once again it is a beauty with undetectable shifts and a ratio structure that promotes quick acceleration and relaxed engine operation at highway speed. The more ratios that are packed into a gearbox always provide a smoother driving experience, and the Highlander’s driveline is a beauty, it also ushers in quick acceleration, with a likely standstill to 100km/h time of 8.7sec.
Cruising at that speed it will sip fuel instantaneously at the rate of just 7l/100km (40mpg), the engine is very lethargic turning over slowly at just 1400rpm. I spent a lot of time in city traffic in the test car, so my overall average didn’t match Toyota’s, but when I took the test car back to the dealership it was still showing 9.6l/100km (29mpg) which I didn’t think was excessive.
I took the test car on my usual loop west taking in a back road from Sheffield to Coalgate. It’s a badly rutted route, and from the outset the Highlander impressed with its suspension control over the corrugations and ability to put power to ground. The tyres on the test car were a Toyo compound (245/55 x 19in) and they extracted grip well along with providing a quiet ride on sealed surfaces.
The same could be said of the entire vehicle, it sits on the outer periphery of the luxury car market so its levels of noise, vibration and harshness are extremely low. That makes for a relaxing highway cruise.
The steerage and suspension combine to prove an almost sporty sensation from behind the wheel, and that takes into account that at over two-tonne it is heavy wagon, yet it feels composed and far from bulky when a tricky corner presents itself.
The suspension is a complex fully independent system, the Highlander isn’t quite as rugged underneath as its Fortuner stablemate, but both are destined for different markets, the Highlander is a cross-country charger, and is certainly not a full off-road vehicle.
That aside, most won’t venture far from the seal, and that’s why front-wheel-drive only models are available, but for those who do want to take the family camping to those high country lakes the four-wheel-drive variant is capable.
The Highlander has space to burn inside, even with the rear row of seats upright. Toyota claim 195-litres extending to 1872-litres with all rear rows folded flat.
Toyota have been served well by Highlander, it has been a popular model here. That doesn’t surprise me, it imparts an involving driving sensation, one of solidity and safety, the latter of course, five-star Australasian New Car Assessment Program rated.
The new Highlander is sourced from Toyota’s United States manufacturing operation and reeks of quality. It is the family-friendly wagon which does everything without fuss and always pleases with its all round performance and reliability.
Price – Toyota Highlander Ltd, $81,490
Dimensions – Length, 4890mm; width, 1925mm; height, 1730mm
Configuration – V6, four-wheel-drive, 3456cc, 218kW, 350Nm, eight-speed automatic
Fuel usage – 8.7l/100km