Toyota Highlander: Taking to the high road
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Family SUVs are everywhere. Take my latest review for example. Conveniently I dropped off one large SUV and picked up another, this time the Toyota Highlander GXL.
It has a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine with all wheel drive - plus 7 seats, creating a range of options for getting your family from point A to point B and on weekends to point C.
Families need to travel and they need to travel in relative comfort. This segment of the market is definitively jam-packed with options from every corner of the globe and it seems at every price point, too. Driven was given the mid spec Highlander GXL to consider for the family get away.
This AWD model comes in at a touch over $60K, about on par with the prices of other mid-range vehicles in the category.
The top spec Highlander, the "Limited", is another 21K more than the GXL -- a very big jump compared to the other manufacturers' top of the line models. You can always step down to the entry-level 2WD GXL and you will only part with $53,490.
Alternatively, you can go full 4WD and get Toyota's Fortuner, at essentially the same price but the key difference is comfort. The Fortuner is rugged, sits much higher and is ideal for towing. Therefore if you are just moving your family around town and need the extra space, take the Highlander road -- and do it with a bit more comfort.
The Highlander GXL is a happy medium between 2WD and 4WD.
Its AWD system delivers drive to all the wheels as required and it delivers much better control on sharp bends which helps alleviate the extra body roll that all large SUV's have.
If you are interested in this type of "soft SUV", it's likely because you have children and you need to transport them soft places where there is tarmac the whole way.
Unless you live 10km up a skifield road or are towing large loads, 4WD is not really necessary. Besides, who goes off-road with the kids in the back anyway?
Go buy an ATV and you can tow it with the Highlander -- although you won't be able to tow a decent-sized boat or anything too heavy.
With a diesel SUV or the same-sized engine Nissan Pathfinder that boasts 2700kg, you can. But with the somewhat limited 2000kg braked towing capability on the Highlander you won't be towing a caravan anytime soon. Okay, maybe a pop-top.
The Highlander makes up for the lack of towing with space inside. There's plenty of room with all the seats laid flat and with all seven seats up you've got a people mover, just don't expect to move that many "big" people.
In all seven seaters, the back row is always a marketing feature rather than a working feature. toyota have done their best here with an easy-to-use moving middle row.
Both sides slide forward in a 60/40 split to enable easy access to the third row. Once you sit in the third row, you had better hope the people in the middle row are kind enough, or short enough, to slide forward to allow you to keep your legs on.
There are ways around this issue if you have a good range of height amongst your offspring, as the seating arrangements are varied. Those in the back have access to a three-zone climate control system, so even if the legroom is a bit cramped at least they won't be too hot.
There are leather seats, heated in the front, and the driver's side is fully electronically adjustable. You get keyless entry, sat nav and, of course, a 5 star ANCAP rating for safety.
There are no movie screens in this model and curiously none in the Limited either. Family SUVs need entertainment options and you only get audio in this model; the same goes for the Limited.
The Highlander is a well-priced, stylish SUV, on the outside at least. Inside there's a brown leather streak in the doors that makes no sense aesthetically or practically.
A storage shelf cut into the dash gives you an opportunity to lose your phone and other belongings on each bend and again, what is that brown streak for?
Ignore it and focus instead on the high quality leather throughout and the Highlander is well-appointed and comfortable to sit in during long journeys.
The AWD system makes up for the SUV sway, the V6 engine delivers better performance around town, and the interior is both comfortable and quiet.
The Highlander may not be the best choice for wading through hubcap-deep mud, but for getting your whole family and all their stuff around town it's definitely at the top of its game.
Toyota Highlander GXL
Engine: 3.5L V6 petrol
Towing: 2000 kg
Price: $60,490 + ORC
Pro: All wheel drive helps to offset some of the usual SUV wobble
Con: Why is there a brown streak?