Initially, the new Toyota Highlander was going to be a hybrid-only affair here. But protests from the faithful demanded a V6 again, like the ones owners know and love. And so Toyota New Zealand duly added the V6 to the range.
But we do wonder whether these people are merely afraid of the hybrid unknown? Is it that a four-cylinder simply won’t do? Is it a dyed-in-the-wool mentality that all those newfangled electrics will just go wrong? While we’d happily pay the $3000 premium for the hybrid, the V6 isn’t without merit, apart from the fact that it sucks gas. Comparing fuel use, the V6 is rated at 8.8L/100km on average, to the hybrid’s 5.6. The urban fuel use figures are telling; 11.8 for the V6, 6.0 for the hybrid. Driving the V6 over a week, we averaged 12.5L/100km, while the hybrid ended up at 6.1 for the same sort of urban driving, running around after the kids.
The 3.5 V6 makes respectable numbers, and pulls where it counts in that everyday driving zone, your ramblings easily achieved using no more than 3000rpm. At 100km/h it’s snoozing along at 1200rpm, so it has good touring legs, and it’s quiet on the move. The eight-speed auto is a decent operator too and yet the powertrain simply isn’t as smooth and easygoing as the hybrid’s.
The new V6 is an improvement over the old one, which felt underwhelming until you found the Sport mode and that required a deep dive into the trip computer menus. This feels much lustier and toggling between those drive modes is much easier with a console-mounted button. But you’ll likely never get out of the default mode, it works so well.
While the V6 is quicker than the hybrid when you really gas it, there’s not much in it, the six ahead by just 0.3sec over both the 0-100 and the 80-120 runs.
Highlander is based on Toyota’s new modular platform so is now a decent steer; where old Highlanders were somewhat plough-like in the bends, this turns much better, the front and rear ends working in harmony to keep it tracking around the bends. The steering does a decent job, and the ride gets a pass mark, though there is room for improvement; you’ll notice a few of the shorter, sharper bumps. And that goes for progress both in and out of urban areas. All Highlander models are AWD, the V6 getting mud, rock and sand modes, though we think the snow mode will get more use, especially in southern parts of the country.
The turning circle is okay considering the size of the thing, which is now a bit longer in the wheelbase (and overall) to benefit interior space, chiefly in the rearmost quarters. Behind the wheel, you’ll find a comfortable seat accepting of all body types, and sound adjustment at the wheel.
The cabin looks similar to that of the RAV4, so not all that novel or wowing. But it’s functional, a decent slathering of buttons making for straightforward control of the heating and infotainment systems. The latter isn’t the greatest unit you’ll encounter, again functional but lacking that flash factor. And there are no extraordinary parking aids, just a run-of-the-mill reversing camera complete with average screen resolution. A new electric park brake is a definite upgrade on the old foot-operated mechanism.
There are plenty of charging sockets, no charge pad though, but good storage about the place with an especially large centre bin. The build is solid, save for a wonky knob on the gear lever, and most materials are pretty good too, though the fake leather trim of the Limited is on the nose. We prefer the cloth coverings of the GXL.
All of Toyota’s safety minders are present, the active lane keeping keen to chide you for lax lane discipline but, because you know better, you can disarm the overseer easily enough.
Suppose we better mention the practicality of the Highlander. It’s big, with space enough for three teens across the middle row, the seats here split 60/40 and set on sliders to adjust the amount of legroom in each row. And they fold easily, giving adequate access to the rear.
The bench back there is wide, and is accepting of adults, though leg room is tight. As always, kids fit best. The seat is split 70/30, so you can sit one bod in the rear and leave the other side folded to deliver plenty of useable boot space. And with the third row folded, the hold is sizeable, being particularly wide while with all seats in use there’s now more space left over for luggage. So, yeah, it’s practical, and can tow up to 2000kg.
The V6 starts at $60,990 for GXL, the Limited at $63,990 which gains a few spec items like the vinyl leather, sat nav and a powered tailgate that takes seemingly five minutes to open while making an annoying noise.
Overall, the Highlander is a sound seven-seat choice, but for the same money as this Limited V6, we’d insist on the GXL hybrid.
|Engine||3456cc, V6, DI|
|Drivetrain||8-speed twin auto, on-demand AWD|