Toyota Highlander long-term test

The all-new 4x4 Toyota Highlander can seat up to seven and has hybrid power to boost efficiency. We're living with one to see if it's worth a place on your shortlist...

LT Toyota Highlander header

The car Toyota Highlander 2.5 Hybrid AWD-i Excel Run by Max Edleston, junior photographer

Why it's here To see if a big, go-anywhere 4x4 can also be an efficient choice

Needs to Be practical, good off road, comfortable for long trips and not break the bank on running costs

Mileage 11,708 List price £50,610 Target Price £48,878 Price as tested £50,595 Test economy 37.4mpg Official economy 39.5mpg Dealer price now £40,511 Private price now £36,010 Trade-in price now £38,313 Running costs (excluding depreciation) Fuel £2040

20 November 2021 – The photographer's apprentice

The Toyota Highlander is a compelling proposition in the large SUV market; it’s big, spacious and wonderfully practical, yet also offers its driver the chance to dramatically lower their running costs thanks to its clever hybrid technology. At least, that's the theory. Well, after covering more than 7700 miles behind the wheel of my Highlander over the past few months, let’s see if the reality is as good as the concept.

Firstly, and probably the most obvious weapon in the Toyota’s arsenal, is space; I was never short of it. As a photographer who is continually on the road, I need all the room I can get for all of my kit, and that extends not only to a big boot, but also to numerous nooks and crannies where I can store things like my camera, wallet, keys and laptop away from any prying eyes. The Highlander shone here, never leaving me short of space. 

Toyota Highlander with Max

I even managed to fit a ladder into the Toyota's boot by dropping its rear seats, which thankfully was a straightforward process. And with the ladder removed, I had space for six passengers to accompany me on my travels. Not that I wanted to do that very often, though, firstly because the few friends who have tried the back row complained about feeling nauseous after a relatively short drive, and secondly because you have to rely on muscle power to raise and lower the third row and move the second row forwards.

I have been blown away with the amount of technology that comes as standard on the Toyota. Wireless charging for my phone, Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring, heated seats and steering wheel… all worked fantastically. I’m glad I stuck with our recommended Excel trim, because although Excel Premium adds some nice-to-have extras such as a head-up display and gesture control for the tailgate, it also costs substantially more.

Toyota Highlander door handle

I also liked the Toyota’s keyless entry system, which meant I could get into the car and start it even if my hands were full of clutter. And when I was on the move, the adaptive cruise control system helped to take some of the stress out of long journeys by keeping me a safe distance from the car in front. Adding to the ease of use in the Highlander is the fact that all of its buttons are well marked, meaning I wasn’t continually hunting for the right function, as I have done in some cars I’ve driven.

These are all small touches, but they add up to make the Highlander very easy to get along with. In real terms, they helped to make sure that, even after an early start and a long drive, I arrived at my shoot locations relaxed and ready to work.

Toyota Highlander rear

Using the Highlander’s electric power for short stretches around town was helpful, but in reality anything other than the lightest of presses on the accelerator pedal would have the 2.5-litre petrol engine firing up. And when it did, I was impressed by how quickly the Highlander could pick up speed, even laden down with people or luggage, but it certainly wasn’t quiet in the process. Indeed, joining a motorway was a noisier experience than in other large SUVs I’ve tried, although the engine did quieten down a lot once I’d reached cruising speed.

So, what of my overall fuel economy? Well, despite my epic mileage, I ended up almost matching the official figure of 39.5mpg, which is very good and has helped me to spend less time at the pumps than in some of my previous cars. It goes from good to great, though, when you also consider how easy the Highlander has been to live with, giving me space, comfort and clever driver aids in abundance. I’d go so far as to say it has been the perfect photographer’s assistant, and, given the chance, I’d happily put another one on my driveway.

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