4.1 out of 5 4.1
Parkers overall rating: 4.1 out of 5 4.1

A capable and seriously practical family SUV with hybrid power as standard

Toyota Highlander SUV (21 on) - rated 4.1 out of 5
Enlarge 16 photos

At a glance

New price £50,610 - £52,590
Lease from new From £563 p/m View lease deals
Used price £39,165 - £43,290
Used monthly cost From £977 per month
Fuel Economy 39.2 - 39.8 mpg
Road tax cost £480
Insurance group 40 How much is it to insure?
New

PROS

  • Very well equipped as standard
  • Diesel-rivalling efficiency
  • Highly practical interior
  • Refined and relaxing to drive

 

CONS

  • Third row not as spacious as Land Rover Discovery
  • Drab interior styling
  • Sub-par infotainment
  • Plug-in rivals can be even cheaper to run

Written by Tom Wiltshire on

The Toyota Highlander isn’t a car that’ll be familiar to most people in the UK, but if you live in the USA, Russia or Japan you may well recognise it. This fourth-generation model is the first that’s been available in Western Europe and the UK, with Toyota now deciding that it has a gap to fill in its passenger car lineup.

The Highlander is a large, seven-seater SUV in the same vein as cars such as the Kia Sorento, Skoda Kodiaq and Land Rover Discovery – but with a uniquely Toyota character and specification. Chief among these is its hybrid powertrain, which is the only engine option and promises low running costs and a smooth, easy driving dynamic.

It sits really comfortably in between Toyota’s RAV4 SUV and its Land Cruiser off-roader, which was previously the only seven-seat Toyota car and only available with a rather agricultural diesel engine.

Simple model lineup makes for an easy choice

Toyota’s really made choosing a Highlander easy. There’s a pair of well-equipped trim levels and just one engine, so there’s no need for buyers to navigate a confusing mess of option packs.

The range kicks off with Excel models, which have almost all the equipment you could want – 20-inch alloy wheels, heated leather seats, tri-zone climate control, LED headlamps and a panoramic sunroof to name but a few highlights.

Excel Premium trim adds a few choice luxury touches, such as a head-up display, ventilated front seats and a ‘smart’ rear view mirror (actually a screen with rear camera feed), but unless you’re truly committed to owning the best variant there’s almost no need.

This does mean that the Highlander’s starting price is significantly higher than some of its main rivals, but the gap narrows when you consider similarly-equipped models. It effectively straddles the line between premium hybrid SUVs, such as the Volvo XC90, and more value-oriented offerings such as the Kia Sorento.

Hybrid engine is particularly good

Toyota’s been building hybrid engines for more than two decades, and its latest effort in the Highlander is a particularly good offering. It’s a self-charging hybrid rather than a plug-in – Toyota says drivers of cars like this typically take longer trips than would suit their limited electric-only range. Though it hasn’t totally ruled out a plug-in Highlander in the future (the mechanically similar RAV4 has a PHEV option), it would likely involve losing the two rearmost seats to make space for the battery – making it unlikely.

It pairs a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with two electric motors, shuffling between the two power sources as it sees necessary. It’s got plenty of power, even for such a big car, which means you don’t have to work the engine hard. That eliminates a typical issue of hybrid cars, namely that they tend to rev uncomfortably high – not an issue with the Highlander unless you really try to press on.

It’s also highly refined – nearly silent at a cruise – and very efficient, easily matching its diesel competition in this area. Smooth and powerful, it’s a great match for the Highlander’s bulk.

Hugely versatile interior

The Highlander seats seven, though the third row is somewhat tighter than rivals such as the Land Rover Discovery – it’s better suited to children or short journeys with adults.

There’s loads of room in the two forward rows, though, and the centre row slides forwards and back by 180mm to balance legroom and luggage space.

The boot’s incredibly practical, too. With all seven seats in place there’s more luggage space than you find in a Land Rover Discovery or a Volvo XC90. In five seat mode, it’s bigger yet, and with all the rear seats folded there’s a cavernous 1,909 litres of space up to the roof, with a completely flat floor.

Click through the next few pages to read more about the Toyota Highlander - what it's like inside, how practical it is, how cheap it is to run and what it's like to drive - and click here to jump straight to the definitive verdict.