Think 4×4 anywhere in the world and Toyota percolates to the top
Not intended as an insult to Land Rover, emphasises Iain Robertson, although jingoists may read it that way, venturing off the beaten track has been a Toyota remit, ever since the first ‘Land-Bruiser’ grappled for traction on a slimy slipway.
Whether a fan of some of Islam’s less savoury pursuits, or keen to make headway in climatic and environmental disaster zones, or attempting to visit outlying building sites, farmland and beauty spots, an all-wheel driven vehicle, preferably with Toyota’s ‘twin oval’ logo adorning its bonnet and tailgate, is a veritable must-have. Although far from synonymous, Toyota and Peugeot are the two vehicle brands that have governed mobility decisions in darkest, deepest Africa, for decades. Yet, for reach, only Toyota can hold the world-wide bragging rights.
There is one solid reason for such a situation to exist and I remind you of BBCTV’s ‘Top Gear’ show, when Messrs Clarkson, Hammond and that geography teacher attempted to annihilate an ageing example of Toyota’s Hilux pickup truck. Despite flooding, demolition and a perma-swinging, automotive Sword of Damocles suspended above it, using only proprietary tools, it never failed to restart and be driveable. Dependability of the highest order has long been a Toyota benefit, right through the most tediously boring part of its product timeline, to date, and every single registration is ringed with the same blue-chip asset value.
In many ways, I admire the manner in which Toyota does its business. It is not an effusive blowhard. Its advertising is assuredly effective. Its 4x4s are simply renowned and it produces a comprehensive and well-engineered line-up for its world market, some of which will never be seen in the UK, although perceiving that there is enough wiggle room here, it is soon to launch a large 4×4 estate car that has already gained world-wide accord, in the form of the up-to-seven-seat Highlander.
At just over 4.9m in length, Highlander is hardly a shrinking violet and riding on 20.0-inch diameter alloy wheels, it possesses a most positive street vibe that will be much to its credit, once prices and delivery schedules are arranged and finalised. All I know at present is that Highlander is scheduled to debut (apart from here, right now) sometime in early-2021, which gives plenty of time for potential customers to contemplate their options.
Intriguingly and inevitably the new model will be powered by Toyota’s tried and trusted hybrid technology. Now well into its fourth generation, having serviced the requirements of over 15m hybrid customers over the past 23 years, the core motor is the Atkinson-cycle, 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol unit, hooked up to a pair of electric motors; the rear axle unit providing the car with four-wheel drive capabilities. The high voltage, NiMh (Nickel Metal hydride) battery pack is located beneath the middle row of seats.
While the hybrid powertrain can provide only a very limited (less than one mile) all-electric means of propulsion, Toyota’s intelligent system flexes between regular fuel, electricity and coasting across its entire operational range, without driver intervention, although the way it is working can be monitored on the centre stack programmable screen. The total, combined power output is given as 241bhp, with a posted fuel return of 42.8mpg and the exhaust chucking out 146g/km, according to the WLTP measurements, which are not excessive in the full-size SUV class.
As with other Toyota hybrids, the driver is given the choice via the vehicle’s Drive Mode Select system to switch between Eco, Normal, Sport and Trail modes. Each of them can also be used, when Highlander is running its separately switchable EV all-electric mode, however limited it is. Built on the GA-K platform, it has enabled Toyota to create a surprisingly lightweight but exceptionally rigid body shell and a low centre of gravity, aided by the positioning of the battery pack, which reportedly lends the SUV an agile handling and road-holding envelope, while enabling relaxed and comfortable motorway cruising.
Toyota’s recent developments into noise, vibration and harshness have resulted in a most refined cabin, which is fronted by an acoustic windscreen, with anti-drum pads within the roof-lining, dashboard and floor-panels, with liners in the wheel arches and load space, which offers up to 1,909-litres of space, when the five passenger seats in the mid and rear rows are lowered into the boot floor. Access to the boot can be achieved in all the usual ways, with a foot waggle below the bumper, should the arms be full. The calm interior supplements the inherently smooth and quiet performance of the hybrid powertrain.
The Highlander is a range-topper for Toyota, as evinced by its spacious cabin for up to seven adults. The company has not skimped on storage slots, of which there is an abundance, plus USB ports for both front and middle row occupants. At last a decent upmarket multi-media system, that incorporates sat-nav, wireless mobile charging, smartphone connectivity and high-quality sound reproduction is fitted as standard. It is an intuitive system, with an easy to reach touchscreen and an ability to tailor it to each driver’s needs.
Hot and cold ventilated front seats, a multi-adjustable driving position and a digital rear-view mirror to provide a virtual wide image that is unobscured by rear passengers, or head restraints, are part of a comprehensive equipment package. Naturally, Highlander is equipped with the latest Toyota ‘Safety Sense’, a package of active safety and electronic driver assistance systems. Fairly common on most new cars these days, it includes a Pre-Collision System with active steer assist, to provide collision avoidance support. It can also detect pedestrians and bicycle riders in the vehicle’s path, both during the day and at night-time. Other features include full-range Adaptive Cruise Control, complete with Road Sign Assist, Lane Departure Alert and Lane Tracing Assist, as well as Automatic Headlamp High Beam.
Conclusion: Highlander is unlikely to become a ‘best-seller’ but it does offer an important step-up, especially for owners of Land Rover products, thoroughly disappointed by bouts of expensive unreliability. Its pricing is sure to reflect its market intentions but it finally looks the part too.