NEW TOYOTA HIGHLANDER

Supremely practical and efficient, this classy family SUV devours every trip cost-effectively and with some style.

As you already know, Toyota has an unwavering focus on reducing customer vehicle emissions. Almost two in five Toyota passenger cars and SUVs sold here last year were hybrids. The RAV4 spearheaded the hybrid SUV movement and now Highlander hybrid is set to add more impetus further up the SUV chain. The best-dressed Limited ZR model caps the new Highlander range and costs $74,990 driveaway.

In most respects, Highlander hybrid impresses as the family SUV for today. It seats up to seven in comfort, protects with an advanced suite of safety features, and its refined and responsive powertrain can achieve overall fuel economy of just 5.6L/100km. It helps that electric-only manoeuvring and coasting are on the cards. As for the emissions, an average combined figure of 128g/km compares very favourably with 205g/km for the revised 3.5-litre V6 model.

To get you up to speed with the architecture, the fourth-gen Highlander is built in Indiana on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform and features a 60mm longer wheelbase. It’s also slightly wider than the outgoing generation, with new suspension and slightly wider tracks contributing to improved comfort and stability.

Our extensive launch drive through Northland began in central and suburban Auckland. The top-spec hybrid instantly proved refined, responsive and user-friendly. A trump card, of course, is Toyota’s proven hybrid technology that has now become mainstream but is subject to regular revision. Highlander is the ninth model in the current product line-up to feature a system that is well suited to a large SUV that will tackle plenty of long journeys in addition to town and around running. It comprises the RAV4’s 2.5-litre petrol four and an electric motor on each axle for four-wheel drive. The larger drive motor produces a total system output of 184kW and there’s 2000kg braked towing capability.

Despite the Limited ZR’s near-five-metre length and 2090kg weight, it’s a pleasure to drive. This Highlander has drivers engaging with the road and enjoying the scenery rather than focusing on the fuel gauge. The electric torque helps you get underway briskly and the integration of the engine and motors is virtually seamless. Relaxed, effortless cruising is helped by that ability to briefly run on electric power only.

Three hybrid model grades sit in a price range between $64k and $75k with the Limited ZR top of the tree. It certainly gets a roll-call of classy features: a panoramic sliding sunroof, three-zone air-conditioning, and 20-inch alloy wheels with a special chromed finish that complements the chrome-framed bonnet grille. ZR Limited also receives projector-type LED headlights and a powered back door with kick sensor functionality.

Safety will be top of mind for many buyers and Toyota Safety Sense has evolved into a super-comprehensive suit of armour. Invaluable core features (like ABS, a Pre-Collision System and seven airbags) are joined by new smart features like Road Sign Assist, Curve Speed Reduction, Intersection Turn Assist, Emergency Steering Assist and Intelligent Clearance Sonar. Drivers don’t need to think about these things; Safety Sense sensors are always scanning like a falcon in flight and the tech comes into play as soon as circumstances dictate or hazards arise.

Elsewhere in the cavernous cabin, leather features throughout and the heated front seats are wrapped in accented leather with a premium quilted finish. There’s 10-way power adjustment including excellent lumbar tweaking and two memory settings on the driver’s side.

For maximum versatility, the Highlander features sliding and 60/40-split folding second row seats with more travel than before. There’s a similar set-up for the two third row seats that are now more easily accessed via larger rear doors.

But wait, there’s more. So much more that you’ll wonder how Toyota NZ CEO Neeraj Lala and his team can sell the top-spec hybrid at such an approachable price point. Additional premium features not previously seen in Highlanders include an 11-speaker JBL premium sound system, a colour Head-Up display, and that vast electric sliding glass roof. Meanwhile the multimedia system boasts an 8-inch touchscreen display atop the centre console and incorporates Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

The full-size family SUV for today? Well, the pre-launch sales figures speak for themselves with roughly 85 per cent of the first 700-plus Highlander orders specifying the hybrid powertrain. Limited spec accoutrements are very much in demand. The decision to upgrade the family SUV may never have been easier.

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HIGHLANDER LIMITED ZR

ENGINE 2487cc 4-cyl + 2 elec motors

POWER 184kW (244bhp combined)

TORQUE 242Nm @ 4400rpm

TRANSMISSION E-CVT

DRIVETRAIN All-wheel drive

LENGTH 4.95m

WEIGHT 2090kg

WHEELS 20-inch chromed alloy

TYRES 235/55 R20 (f, r)

0-100km/h 8.3 secs

FUEL CLAIM 5.6L/100km

PRICE $74,990

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