TOYOTA has launched it's seven-seat Highlander SUV for the first time in the UK and it's one of the most practical, comfortable and safest family cars on the market.
The Highlander has actually been around since 2000, but this fourth generation version is the first to be sold in the UK and it has plenty of all-round appeal, including the longest boot in class, all-wheel-drive with a two-tonne towing capacity and a wealth of on-board kit.
The vehicle is powered by Toyota's fourth generation full hybrid electric powertrain which is self-charging and delivers a combined 39.2-39.7mpg with carbon emissions set at 160 to 163g/km.
It matches a four-cylinder, 2.5-litre petrol engine with front and rear electric motors for intelligent all-wheel drive and there is a nickel-metal hydride battery which is located beneath the second row of seats.
With a maximum power output of 245bhp, the Highlander can reach 62mph from a standing start in 8.3 seconds and maxes out 111mph.
Customers can choose from two generously-equipped trim levels called Excel, priced at £52,575, and Excel Premium costing from £52,575. Toyota believes about 80 per cent of customers will opt for the Highlander Excel.
Both models have a Skyview panoramic roof, LED headlights, triple-zone air conditioning, wireless phone charging, an 11-speaker pitch-perfect JBL sound system and heated front seats. There is full smartphone integration via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, a heated steering wheel and leather upholstery.
The Excel Premium also gains a hands-free tailgate operation, head-up display, heated rear seats and a digital rearview mirror.
The Highlander is definitely a looker with sleek, sophisticated styling and smooth lines. There are flared wheel arches, trapezoidal upper and lower grilles, large 20-inch alloy wheels, black pillars and slim rear light clusters.
Measuring just under five metres in length, it is built on the same GA-K platform as the RAV4 and has been designed with practicality and flexibility in mind with ample room for seven occupants.
The interior is modern in its layout with upmarket satin and wood grain finishes. There is plenty of seat and steering wheel adjustment available to find the perfect driving position and the seating is quite elevated resulting in good all-round visibility, which is a plus factor on a car that will most likely feature on the school run. And all dials, controls and readouts are perfectly positioned for driver usability on the fly.
We tried the top-of-the-range Highlander Excel Premium, so it had all the bells and whistles, and it performed impressively on a range of roads over a two-and-a-half hour drive.
The acceleration via the CVT transmission is nice and smooth provided you don't stamp on the accelerator pedal and it made light work of overtaking even when going up quite a steep hill.
With the lowest centre of gravity in the segment, the Highlander's road holding is confident with nicely weighted steering.
The central stack is packed with dials and controls but it's all fairly self-explanatory and it's always nice to see separate buttons to operate the air conditioning and likes.
The driver can choose from drive modes called Eco, Normal, Sport and Trail and all modes can be used when the vehicle is being driven in EV mode.
The Highlander features excellent insulation with acoustic glass, special silencers and sound absorbing materials to keep any noise intrusion at bay and the impressive suspension set-up smooths out quite rough road surfaces with ease.
I did find there was a little noise at higher speeds from the large mirrors, but it was blowing a hooley on the day! And if I'm being really picky, which I am, the ride got a little floaty and wallowy on bumpier surfaces. But those gripes aside, the Highlander performed admirably throughout.
The second row of seats slide and fold forward to offer easy access to the rear seats, and if visibility through the rear-view mirror is blocked by passengers' heads, the driver can switch to a digital rear-view mirror that offers a camera view of what's going on behind the car. Clever stuff.
The powered tailgate can be opened by kicking your foot under the rear bumper which is really handy if your arms are full with shopping and, with seven seats in place, there is still 332 litres of storage space, including 27 litres beneath the floor. This increases to a whopping 1,909 litres with the seats in rows two and three dropped flat and they do drop completely flat.
Although the Highlander has not and may not be tested for a Euro NCAP rating due to the low volume of sales, it is packed to bursting with safety kit with Toyota Safety Sense fitted as standard.
This includes a pre-collision system that can detect pedestrians by day or night and cyclists during daytime driving. There is emergency steering assist and intersection turn assistance, intelligent adaptive cruise control with curve speed reduction, lane trace assist and lane departure alert, road sign assist and adaptive high beam assist.
Additional safety kit includes trailer sway control, hill descent control, traction and stability control, eCall, Isofix child seat fixtures on outer second row seats and a full suite of airbags.
All in all, the Highlander is quite a big step for Toyota in the UK. We all know how popular SUVs are in the current climate and this latest addition to the line-up not only introduces SUV practicality, but it also brings with it seven-seat flexibility.
The Highlander is on sale now with models protected by Toyota's excellent five-year, 100,000-mile warranty.