With more space, practicality and refinement than the previous model – but also a hint of style – the all new Toyota Highlander is a seven-seater SUV with a multitude of applications.
And with Pacific Toyota’s new vehicle sales manager Mike Ranstead confirming in advance they had already pre-installed a tow-bar on our test car, we thought we’d start by hooking up a couple of brand new Seadoo jet skis from Action Sports Direct on Hewletts Rd.
Managing director Grant Nicholson has been looking at options for a new tow vehicle, so who better to put the new Highlander through its paces?
Having test driven the outgoing model, Grant was keen to know what was different about the new model to the previous one. Mike told us that in basic terms the engineers – both at the Calty design studios in California and back in Japan – have focused on increasing the feel of refinement through out the vehicle, including a 3.5-litre V6 engine found in the Lexus RX350 delivering 218kW of power and 350Nm of torque connected to an all-new eight-speed automatic transmission.
Add to this a claim of “artificial intelligence” that ties in with a clever torque distribution system that can send up to half the available momentum to the rear wheels and the finishing touch of an aggressive new face on it all. “As a seven-seater crossover, the Highlander will take some serious beating,” says Mike.
Standard kit includes 19-inch alloy wheels, three-zone climate control air-conditioning including temperature settings for the rear passengers, leather trim on part of the seats, steering wheel and gearshift lever, keyless entry and push-button start. There’s also electric seat adjustment for the driver including lumbar support, cooling and heated front seats and a self-dimming rear-view mirror. It also includes dusk-sensing headlights framed in LED daytime running lights, a decent eight-inch touchscreen linked to a reversing camera, comprehensive trip computer sitting inside a 3.5-inch screen nested between the instrument dials and dark-tinted windows from the passenger doors back. The inclusion of the Panoramic View Monitor gives you complete confidence when low speed manoeuvring and parking. Toyota Safety sense package adds pre-crash Safety System, Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert, and automatic Highbeam. Also rear Cross Traffic Alert has been added.
The Highlander sits tall on its almost five-metre-long stretch, making a step into the high-set driver’s seat more of a climb than a slide. Once in, though, the new Highlander’s seats are wide and well-supported, with plenty of adjustment from the driver’s seat and reach-and-rake steering wheel. A big leap ahead of the previous-generation Highlander is the sense of quality. Everywhere a hand falls or an elbow rests is covered in soft-touch materials. The dash is dominated by huge air vents and a defined multimedia interface sitting above the controls for the air-conditioning system. There’s a clever two-thirds cabin-wide storage tray built in underneath it that includes a small port so you can feed through a cable to the USB slot mounted beneath it.
Touch-sensitive buttons replace traditional ones for root-level menu functions, while the touchscreen allows you to dive in and play with various functions including the phone and audio settings. A seatbelt reminder shows if any one of all seven occupants hasn’t buckled in.
A row of buttons in front of the gear lever include a central diff lock to stop the Highlander from behaving like a front-wheel-drive car – handy in low-grip situations – a snow setting that dulls the throttle, a hill descent mode for crawling down steep, slippery hills and a stability control override.
The third-row seats fold flat into the high-booted floor, and once upright is roomy enough for adults or children. They fold out separately, allowing one unoccupied side to be used for luggage. Lift up the boot floor and a retracting luggage area cover is hidden away beneath it. All three rows of seats have air vents and map lights.
The electrically opening tailgate can be activated via the key fob, a button in front of the driver, or the soft-touch release, with door-lock function, on the tailgate. It lifts quite high, so a closing switch on the D-pillar is welcome.
Toyota’s Highlander has evolved into something that is bigger and much more refined, than the previous model. Whether you need a family-sized people mover, a recreational vehicle with off-road capabilities or just something to tow the boat or jet-ski – this vehicle does it all. With a three-year 100,000km warranty, three-year free servicing, three years AA roadside assist and an affordable price point – it is seriously the complete package.
• ENGINE: 3500cc V6 VVti Petrol
• TRANSMISSION: 8-speed Automatic Transmission
• LAYOUT: Front-engined, all-wheel-drive
• POWER: 218kW@6200rpm
• TORQUE: 350Nm@3700rpm
• Reversing Camera with Backing Guide Lines
• Rain Sensing Wipers
• Heated and Cooling Front Seats
• 8.0” Touchscreen Display Audio with Satellite Navigation
• 9” Roof Mounted DVD / Blue Ray Player
• RRP: From $81,490
Dealer: Pacific Toyota, 119 Elizabeth St, Tauranga. Ph: 07 5781099
Jet skis were supplied by Action Sports Direct, 30 Kereiti St in Mount Maunganui. Ph: 07 9288045.