Highlander SUV driving Toyota sales
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Toyota expects SUV sales to increase in 2017
Avehicle sales forecast from Toyota New Zealand last week suggests the growing prominence of high-riding SUVs on our roads is still a long way from reaching a peak.
Market leader Toyota is looking for a 40 per cent increase in its own SUV volumes in 2017, building from 6882 sales in 2016 to a forecast of 9829.
Even with SUV sales continuing to boom -- the segment has surged from 14,000 units back in 2006 to 44,500 last year -- and overall industry growth again being forecast this year, Toyota's number seems like a bullish target.
But Toyota says its RAV-4 supply had been constrained for much of 2016 and there is also the new C-HR compact model now just weeks away from debuting in the fastest-growing SUV sub-segment which will further widen the line-up.
And sales growth is also forecast for other Toyota SUV model lines including an update of the third-generation Highlander that launched here in 2014.
The headline of the 2017 Highlander upgrade is the V6 petrol engine getting its efficiency and responsiveness boosted by the adoption of direct injection and the addition of two more gears.
Built in Indiana (and stealthily holding the status of being New Zealand's top-selling US-built vehicle), the seven-seat Highlander has refreshed styling and enhanced equipment content for 2017.
It continues to offer front-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive choice while prices have moved up -- by $2000 for the entry level GX model, a $3000 step for the mid-grade GXL and $3500 on the luxury Limited.
The new 2GR-FKS 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine achieves a 17kW increase in power to 218kW at 6600rpm plus an additional 13Nm of torque so the Highlander is now rated with 350Nm at 4700rpm.
The engine employs Toyota's VVT-iW (intelligent variable valve timing-wide) technology and has the D-4S injection system with both direct in-cylinder and port injection and the ability to run in the Atkinson cycle with reduced pumping losses at light throttle.
The compression ratio has increased from 10.8:1 to 11.8:1 and Toyota says the improved output and consumption figures are valid for 91-octane fuel.
Fuel efficiency improves by 10.8 per cent on the 2WD model and 10.4 per cent on 4WD versions, thanks to the lean combustion characteristics of the engine and the wider spread of gearing from the new eight-speed automatic transmission (the same unit as used in the latest Lexus RX models).
The improved combined cycle consumption numbers are 9.1L/100km for the Highlander 2WD and 9.5L/100km for the 4WD models.
On a short press-launch drive, it was the smooth and responsive shifting along with the taller gearing of the new 8-speed transmission that provides the biggest improvement to the Highlander driving experience.
Visual elements of the 2017 refresh include a new trapezoidal grille design and revised headlamps now with integrated daytime running lights.
There are new LED tail lamps and the GX model receives the 18-inch alloy wheel design previously used on the GXL while a new 18-inch design is introduced for the GXL. There's a new 19-inch style for the Limited.
A change in bumper profile means the new model is 25mm longer than its predecessor.
Across the range, the Highlander introduces Trailer Sway Control and there is a new Power drive mode and a new 4.2-inch colour multi-information display on both GX and GXL models.
The 2017 Highlander upgrade also introduces Celestial Silver, Merlot Red and Rustic Brown as new colours among nine choices.
A new feature for the Highlander GXL is a remote power tailgate opening mechanism and a separate glass hatch opening.
The main equipment highlights introduced from the GXL level include three-zone air conditioning, black leather seat trim, smart key locking and engine start, a 12-way power driver's seat adjustment, silver roof rails and the 8.0-inch touchscreen display offers satellite navigation with SUNA live traffic updates.
The price increase on the Limited is $3500 but the upgrade runs deeper than the GX and GXL models with the introduction of a four-camera panorama view monitor, rear cross traffic alert, front parking sensors and what Toyota calls a silver woodgrain interior trim.
The Highlander Limited also gets the Toyota Safety Sense package with Pre-crash Safety System, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Automatic High Beam and Lane Departure Alert that includes steering assist and sway warning functions.
Toyota NZ says it has prioritised the introduction of the Safety Sense package on the other grades but it's not yet in production from the Indiana plant.
The entry level GX 4WD model starts the Highlander price ladder at $63,490 while the GXL grade 2WD and 4WD models are $66,490 and $70,490 respectively. The top-of-the-range Highlander Limited is now $81,490.
Last year as SUV sales soared in New Zealand, the Highlander achieved 1989 registrations which ranked it among the top-15 passenger vehicle models in New Zealand and ninth best-selling among SUV models.
2017 Toyota Highlander line up
3.5 V6 Highlander GX 4WD - $63,490
3.5 V6 Highlander GXL 2WD - $66,490
3.5 V6 Highlander GXL 4WD - $70,490
3.5 V6 Highlander Limited 4WD - $81,490