Toyota Highlander – There can be only one

Ian Lamming has a fling with Toyota’s new hybrid model the Highlander.

FOUR hundred and twenty two miles, in a day, now that’s excessive, especially when it comprises mixed motoring.

I should be exhausted, achy, head pounding, but I’m not. Instead, I feel, well, normal, happy, contented and the reason is the sheer quality of the car that has been my steed.

The 7.15am starting point is the Lake District, journey’s end the same 15 hours later. In the middle is a diverse range of road conditions, from motorway to high speed A roads, narrow lanes and traffic-choked towns and cities, including Barnard Castle, York, Hull and Durham. That’s what you get when you have a rugby playing schoolboy in tow and a late photographic job at a North-East hotel.

But it’s all fine and dandy thanks to the brand new Toyota Highlander, a massive seven seater SUV powered by a trusty petrol/electric motor.

Hybrids do not come any better than those offered by Toyota which was the first to get into them more than two decades ago and now leads the field thanks to years of development.

The 2.5 litre petrol/electric is a fourth generation self-charging system providing up to 80 per cent emissions-free driving.

Acceleration is smooth and powerful and Highlander can tow loads of up to two tonnes. Yet the trip computer reads 42mpg on long journeys and the huge Toyota is such a relaxed drive that it munches miles like you would not believe.

When and where it can the EV takes the strain giving the 2.5 litre petrol motor respite and lowering cabin noise to barely more than a whisper. The benefits to the driver are immense as noise, harshness and vibration normally have a wearing effect on pilot and passengers alike. When they are absent then life is so much more relaxed.

The final leg home allows me to make the most of the JBL hi-fi, hooking it up with my iPhone and Spotify to listen and sing along with my favourite tunes. No wonder I’m hoarse but happy when I pull in the drive.

Comfort levels really are exemplary in the mammoth Toyota. Internal space is vast and the panoramic sunroof seems to add infinite levels of head room. The multi-adjustable driving position is spot on and the general ergonomics seem perfect to me. Dials are clear, controls easy to use, Highlander really does have a fabulous interior with nothing to distract or detract from the driving experience.

With almost 250BHP on tap and a seamless, responsive CVT gearbox performance is never wanting. It is powerful, smooth, all you could ever need for today’s roads, and economical to boot. Then, somehow, Toyota manages to combine this with a dynamic chassis that seems to shrink what is a truly large vehicle into something surprisingly agile. Ride is utterly composed, all-wheel-drive grip self-assured and handling comfortable and controlled.

Highlander is practical and accommodating too. There are cubbyholes galore, places for drinks and trinkets and ports to plug in your digital devices. With all seven seats in place there is still a boot but when you only need the first two rows the load bay is massive.

Smart 20in alloys finish off nicely the attractive well-proportioned looks so there is literally nothing to find fault with on this endearing and capable SUV. If you have many miles to travel, rugby fixtures to support and jobs to do, this is definitely the vehicle for you.

Fact file

Toyota Highlander Hybrid AWD Excel Premium

Engine: 2.5 petrol plus electric

Power: 248BHP

0-62mph: 8.3secs

Top speed: 111mph

Combined: 39.7MPG

Transmission: CVT

CO2 g/km: 159

Price: £52,590.00