Read Caroline’s Toyota Highlander review for everything you need to know about buying Toyota’s flagship hybrid SUV in Ireland!

The Toyota Highlander is now on sale in Ireland for the very first time. The brand’s new large, seven seat SUV slots above the RAV4 in the Toyota range. It’s hybrid only and all wheel drive, with a more friendly, road-going image and presence than the perennial Land Cruiser for example. It should be more efficient too, all going well.

SUVs are hot right now and so is hybrid. So is the new Highlander any good? It was time for Changing Lanes to take it for a drive to find out.

The new Toyota Highlander on test for Changing Lanes
The new Toyota Highlander on test for Changing Lanes

What’s so special about the Toyota Highlander?

With seven seats as standard, a huge amount of passenger space and lots of luxury features on board, the Highlander is new territory for Toyota in Ireland.

Priced from €71,305, it’s expensive for sure and a significant step up from the popular Toyota RAV4. All wheel drive comes as standard as does a 2 tonne towing capacity.

The Highlander epitomises the term ‘big car’. This car has presence and takes up quite a lot of space for a modern SUV at nearly 5 metres in length!

It’s built on Toyota’s TNGA-K platform architecture, which also underpins the new Camry, and uses the Japanese brand’s fourth generation hybrid technology on board.

The Highlander shares a familiar solid and rugged look with other Toyota SUVs like the Toyota RAV4. It’s an impressive vehicle from any angle. LED headlamps and 18″ alloy wheels come as standard.

The new Highlander has seven seats as standard
The new Highlander has seven seats as standard

Inside the new Highlander

Inside, the Highlander gives you something of an armchair experience, with a comfortable and high driving position. It’s properly lofty from behind the wheel.

The design is hardly cutting edge but the cabin of the Highlander does feel high-end for this brand. Satin and wood grain trim finishes add some prestige, as does a full leather interior and plenty of soft touch materials.

There’s also every interior feature imaginable including an 8” multimedia touchscreen featuring navigation and smartphone integration via Apple CarPlay™ and Android Auto™,  wireless phone charging, 3-zone air-conditioning, keyless entry and a Blind Spot Monitor (BSM).

Still competition is stiff among seven seat family SUVs, with the likes of the Volvo XC90 and even the Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento bringing excellent quality and design to the segment, and arguably more impressive digitisation on board.

The Highlander comes well equipped from standard. But step up to a Sol (from €77,900) and enjoy extra features such as 20″ alloy wheels (five spoke), JBL premium sound system, and heated front seats.

The top of the range Platinum (from €83,330) adds head-up display, 20″ dark grey machined finish alloys (10 spoke), panoramic roof and pre-collision system with pedestrian and cyclist detection.

Inside the new Toyota Highlander
Inside the new Toyota Highlander

Is it practical?

The Toyota Highlander is huge inside! It’s a very on-trend way of carrying multiple people and their things.

With a generous 2850 mm wheelbase, the Highlander feels like a genuine 7 seater. It offers more space and better access than many to passengers in the third row. The second row seating can slide forward by 180 mm to make third row accommodation more spacious and accessible. While with all seven seats in place, there’s still 332 litres of boot space, comparable to a small hatchback.

In row 2, it’s lounge-like, with big square windows, comfy seating and a flat floor. In five seat mode there is 631 litres of boot space in the Highlander, with a small bit of underfloor storage and a kick-sensor operated power tailgate.

Hybrid in the Highlander

The Highlander uses the same 2.5-litre hybrid powertrain as the RAV4, but here it puts out 248 hp. Driving modes are also included: Eco, Normal, Sport and Trail.

This is a standard hybrid; it’s not like a plug-in hybrid that can be charged and driven electric for a limited range. Granted the Highlander’s small capacity battery does mean that in low speed stop start town driving for example the SUV can run off its battery power when certain conditions are met, boosting efficiency.

Boot space in the Toyota Highlander
Boot space in the Toyota Highlander

This is a considerably sized car so I was very curious to see how well the Highlander would perform over motorway and town driving. But there were no ugly surprises, with my fuel consumption averaging at 6.9 litres per 100 km over a week of driving. Hybrid technology has come a long way and the Highlander feels acceptable in terms of efficiency.

Of course, steps have been taken to improve the car’s aerodynamic performance. The front bumper bottom edge, front bumper sides and roof spoiler have all been shaped to smooth the flow of air passing over and leaving the vehicle.

A radiator air guide ensures that airflow is efficiently directed to the radiator with minimum resistance. When the radiator does not require additional air flow cooling, grille shutters close to both reduce airflow resistance and assist with engine warm-up.

A first for a Toyota vehicle, new aero-ventilating aluminium wheels combine both brake cooling and aerodynamic performance. The underbody features an extensive, flat undercover to smooth the passage of air beneath the vehicle.

Airflow exhaust mechanisms have also been fitted on the insides of the front and rear wheel arches. Reducing air pressure inside the wheel arches increases the contact load of the tyres, enhancing both grip and vehicle stability.

Rear legroom in the Highlander
Rear legroom in the Highlander

Driving the Toyota Highlander

On the road, power is delivered smoothly with not too much interruption from the CVT gearbox. To meet its more premium billing, the new Toyota Highlander uses an acoustic windscreen and front glazing. There’s also roof, dash and floor silencers, and wheel arch and boot space liners.

The Toyota Highlander is clearly a car designed for gentle driving, and it excels at transporting those on board in comfort. Yet it’s still agile for its size, with good grip and body control for a large SUV.

Ride character is made more comfortable through a system that controls drive torque to the front wheels to both reduce the vehicle pitch motion caused by road surface fluctuations and reduce bonnet lifting behaviour under hard acceleration.

Did you like it?

The Toyota Highlander builds on Toyota’s recent success in hybrid cars and SUVs. The brand can now offer buyers an on-trend, large family SUV with seven seats that packages much of what has made the smaller RAV4 a success for example.

Chunky SUV styling meets the brand’s best hybrid powertrain yet. The Highlander is quite unique in the segment as a standard hybrid, so it will suit those buyers where plug-in hybrid is less attractive, but who still require an economical petrol-driven SUV.

The interior of the Highlander gives a feeling of prestige but it is hardly the most high-tech cabin in the segment. Still it’s old school Toyota quality that feels great from behind the wheel.

This car is truly huge inside with a generous blend of seating and cargo space. The Toyota Highlander is a step up for sure but it’s one Toyota fans will love.

The Toyota Highlander is on sale now
The Toyota Highlander is on sale now

Model tested: Toyota Highlander Platinum
Engine: 2.5-litre petrol electric hybrid
248 hp
8.3 seconds
Top speed:  180 km/h
CO2 emissions:  
160 g/km
Motor tax: 
€280 per year


Written by Caroline Kidd

Founder and Editor of Changing Lanes