Toyota Highlander review
Extremely comfortable to drive and very versatile, the seven-seater Toyota Highlander hybrid SUV is nonetheless slightly outclassed by similarly priced rivals
- Good interior quality
- Comfortable ride
- High finance prices
- CVT gearbox
- No plug-in hybrid option
|Car type||Fuel economy||CO2 emissions||0-62mph|
Toyota has a long history with hybrid power, and one of its latest offerings is an electrified version of the Highlander family SUV. Although available with petrol power in other markets for several generations, it was introduced to the UK for the first time in 2021 as a hybrid only.
While it's a relative newcomer to the UK, the Highlander nameplate is a veteran of the 'full-size' SUV class, with over two decades of sales in America, Australia and Japan under its belt. Although it arrives at a time when SUVs continue to increase in popularity, the UK’s large SUV market is dominated by premium manufacturers like Audi, Land Rover and Volvo producing hybrid versions of their top sellers.
Even Toyota already offers UK customers plenty of hybrid SUVs, including the Yaris Cross, RAV4 and C-HR, and a seven-seater in the form of the non-hybrid Land Cruiser. But, unlike its other hybrid SUVs, the Highlander is only available in seven-seater form, and it's a far more road-focused package than the somewhat rough-and-ready Land Cruiser.
Regardless of the trim level you select, all Highlanders use the same 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, paired to a small battery and electric motors. Pulling away, the motors' power and 239Nm of torque means there's no need for you to break out the lead foot to get the seven-seater behemoth off the line.
In terms of fuel economy, Toyota claims the Highlander will return from 39 to nearly 40mpg, which is fairly adequate for an SUV of this size that isn't a plug-in hybrid. However, because it isn't a plug-in, the Highlander can only cover short distances on electric power. But the motors can still drive the wheels when the engine is being used as a generator for the battery. There are other quirks, mainly due to the CVT auto gearbox.
The Highlander can get from 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds and reach a top speed of 111mph. It does features a 'sport' mode, although you'll never feel inclined to take it out of normal or even eco mode, as its extremely comfortable ride and hybrid system are best suited to driving around town or cruising on the motorway.
The only noises intruding into the cabin are from the wind over passing over the side mirrors at higher speeds. Where the Highlander falls down is on a curvy B-road, where its two-tonne weight can cause it to wallow through bends.
However, Toyota doesn’t pitch the Highlander as a sporty SUV. Instead, it hopes it'll sell on its excellent practicality and seven-seat versatility. You get 1,909 litres of boot space when both rows of rear seats are down, and 658 litres with only the third row laid flat. Even with all three rows up, you can carry 332 litres, which is more than some family hatchbacks can manage.
We also can’t knock the Highlander's superb build quality, with leather seats across all three rows and plenty of soft-touch plastics. Even in the basic Excel trim, you get heated front seats and steering wheel, three-zone climate control, a glass panoramic roof and a power-operated boot opening. The higher level Excel Premium adds a head-up display and top-down parking camera, among other features.
When we tested the Highlander in 2021, it came with just an eight-inch touchscreen, which, next to what you get in this car’s premium European competitors, felt small and dated. But, as of July 2022, the seven-seater gets a 12.3-inch unit as standard, not to mention a 12.3-inch digital driver's display, wireless charging pad, wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto.
Looking solely at starting prices, the Highlander undercuts its seven-seater hybrid rival, the Volvo XC90, by a hefty margin. But if you’re planning to lease your next seven-seater SUV, there's not much difference in the monthly payments. That puts the Toyota in the same bracket as the XC90, and those looking for a vehicle of this size may be inclined to go for the more prestigious brand.