Error parsing XSLT file: \xslt\FacebookOpenGraph.xslt First drive: Toyota Highlander
Cookies on Businesscar

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we will assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on the Business Car website. However, if you would like to, you can change your cookies at any time

BusinessCar magazine website email Awards mobile

The start point for the best source of fleet information

First drive: Toyota Highlander

Date: 20 April 2021   |   Author: Pete Tullin

Pitched into a sector jammed with some formidable opposition, does Toyota's state-side inspired seven-seat SUV have what it takes to upset the established apple cart?
Standard equipment:
20in alloy wheels, CVT Automatic transmission, leather, heated seats, powered tailgate, wireless mobile phone charger, three-zone climate control, 8in infotainment display with satnav, Apple Carplay, Android Auto, automatic lights and wipers complete with de-ice function, front and rear park distance control, panoramic glass roof, Toyota Safety Sense with pedestrian day and night, and cyclist's detection, autonomous braking function and emergency steering assist, adaptive cruise control with corner speed reduction, lane centring assist, lane departure alert with steering control, speed limit recognition and adaptive high-beam.
Petrol: 2.5 4cyl - electric hybrid
Equipment grades:
Excel, Excel Premium
CVT auto

Toyota would love us to think of the Highlander as a more affordable alternative to the Volvo XC90. In truth, it is more a rival for the latest Kia Sorento and not a million miles removed from its more luxurious in-house sibling, the Lexus RX L.

At around £50,000, the Highlander is a proper full-size, seven-seat SUV and as it is a Toyota, it comes as no surprise that is powered by a petrol-electric hybrid powertrain. 

A non-turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine linked to a couple of electric motors, one upfront and one on the rear axle, delivers a healthy combined power output of 248hp, as well as the traction benefits of four-wheel drive. 

Trouble is, it cannot run for extended periods on electric power alone and, consequently, it is not privy to the same low-level tax advantages as the latest Kia Sorento plug-in.

What's more, although fuel consumption is commendable for such a large vehicle, at 39.7mpg with a CO2 output of 160g/km, the way the BIK system is currently policed, the Highlander's tax implication is only one percentage point lower than the top whack 37% bracket levied against its more luxurious, more powerful, Lexus stablemate. 

So, where does this leave the Highlander? Some might say up Glen Coe without a St Bernard, at least until the plug-in version's arrival. That said, if the price walk from a RAV4 hybrid to a RAV4 plug-in is anything to go by, this will add at least another £10,000 to the Highlander's already hefty sticker price.  

There's no question Toyota's CVT transmissions are efficient power delivery systems, but they work best when combined with the assistance from the more powerful batteries and electric motors that come with plug-in variants. 

Sadly, the Highlander has no extension lead and it is also a very heavy vehicle, consequently, without sufficient electrical assistance, even gentle initial accelerator pedal inputs send the engine's revs racing like the clappers. 

Apart from the engine's vocal acceleration signature, which, to be fair, is masked to a certain degree by wind and road noise when putting your foot down at higher speeds, the drive is reasonably well resolved. 

The suspension is softly sprung and, given this inherent softness, body roll is well controlled, so it never feels like you're driving a runaway truck.

Although the weight of steering can be a wee bit inconsistent, it generally provides sufficient feel, to let you know what the front wheels are up to. The brakes are super strong to cope with the potential passenger load, and the pedal feel is surprisingly precise by regenerative braking standards. 

What is also quite surprising is the number of disturbances that enter the Highlander's cabin, with significant clunks from the front suspension and vibrations from the powertrain making their presence felt via the steering wheel and through the floor. 

What really confirms the Highlander as neither a Volvo nor a Lexus rival, is its cabin appointment. Although many of the materials are soft to the touch, the overall finish is pretty dour, and the design is almost complete devoid of wow factor.  

On the plus side, the amount of storage solutions is truly impressive, with mobile phone and tablets slots, and drinks holders dotted all over the place, plus a truly cavernous box beneath the centre armrest. The amount of overall space on offer is also wholly impressive. 

Access to the rearmost pair of seats is simplicity itself, thanks to a smoothly sliding 60/40 split folding middle row, which can be operated in one fell swoop via a chunky side-mounted lever. 

You will have to scooch the middle row forwards a fair bit to provide enough room for a couple of pairs of size eights in the cheap seats, though, and even then, knees will be in close proximity to chins. At least there is plenty of airy glass back there, so the kids will be perfectly happy in their giggling back row retreat. 

With all seven seats upright, there's sufficient boot space left for a baby buggy and there is also a neatly chiselled underfloor storage trench to accommodate the luggage covering roller blind when it is not in use. 

When required, both the middle and rear row can be folded flat to create a ballroom-sized 1,901-litre load bay and the Highlander is also capable of towing up to 2t. Whether its capable of pulling its weight in this rarefied sector is quite another matter.

In our cost comparison, we've had to mix hybrid against diesel, as it's difficult to compare like with like, although all have seven seats.

Toyota Highlander Excel Auto   

P11D: £50,010 

Residual value: 42.4%

Depreciation: £28,797

Fuel: £8,095

Service, maintenance and repair: £2,798

Cost per mile: 66.2p

Fuel consumption: 39.2mpg

CO2 (BIK %): 160g/km (36%)  

BIK 20/40% a month: £308/£617

Luggage capacity: 268/579-658/1,177 litres

Petrol engine size/total system power: 2,487cc/248hp


  • Lots of space
  • Comfortable ride
  • Plenty of standard equipment
  • Expensive tax implications
  • Compromised powertrain
  • Dull interior