What is it?
The Toyota Highlander is a large SUV with a 20-year history in North America and Japan. The seven-seater is similar in length to a Camry, with which it has shared its unibody underpinnings since day one. For the latest, fourth-generation model, which launched in the US and Canada for the 2020 model year, that means adopting the impressive GA-K architecture that also sits beneath the RAV4.
In early 2021, the Indiana-built Highlander will come to Western Europe for the first time, including the UK market, but only in Hybrid form.
The Highlander Hybrid gets Toyota’s latest, fourth-generation hybrid electric powertrain, which made its debut in the Camry. It’s based around a 2.5-litre, Atkinson-cycle petrol inline-four with electric motors front and rear for AWD and a nickel-metal hydride battery beneath the second row of seats.
What's it like?
From the outside, the Highlander’s rounded corners and flared arches serve to break up its sheer size – a smidge under 5m in length – which will doubtless be more noticeable on UK streets than on our test roads in Calgary, Canada. It’s not unattractive but perhaps lacks the distinctive style of a Ford Explorer, Volkswagen Atlas or Kia Telluride.
Inside, Toyota has succeeded in taking the Highlander upmarket with this new model. The upscale cabin, at least on our high-end Limited model, has convincing woodgrain trim, comfy leather seats, an imposing, 12.3in infotainment screen and rock-solid build quality.
There’s all the space you’ll need, too, particularly for passengers in the first and second rows, with a moon roof to enhance the cabin’s airy feel. Access to the third row is easier than average but adults still won’t want to spend long periods back there, even with the second row sliding a useful 180mm to give your knees some breathing space. Folding the third row flat unlocks a cavernous boot.
On the move, the interior is quiet bar the odd vibration from an unoccupied second-row seat, but we would have preferred to have felt a little less of the road surface through the test car’s 20in rims. They’ll make it to the UK, but we’d assume without the Goodyear all-season tyres. Expect the suspension to be retuned for European roads, and not just because of the tyre switch – the relaxed body control over larger undulations and body roll on corners was surprising even for a North American vehicle in 2020. The Highlander Hybrid does a good job of absorbing smaller bumps, however.