‘Nearly’ ticks all the SUV boxes

Toy­ota has just facelifted its highly pop­u­lar High­lander. ROB MAET­ZIG takes the top ver­sion camp­ing.

Kapi-Mana News - - MOTORING -

You’d have to think you’re do­ing some­thing right when a par­tic­u­lar ve­hi­cle en­joys sales growth of more than 100 per cent over 12 months.

That was the case with the Toy­ota High­lander last year. Not only that, but within that dou­bling of sales there was a 180 per cent in­crease in sales to pri­vate buy­ers.

It’s all rather im­pres­sive – and Toy­ota New Zealand claims the rea­son be­hind the pop­u­lar­ity of High­lander is be­cause it ‘‘ticks the boxes’’ more than any other SUV in the Toy­ota lineup.

What the com­pany means by that is that High­lander’s fun­da­men­tal de­sign con­cept is for the ve­hi­cle to de­liver car-like per­for­mance, but with an SUV’s prac­ti­cal­ity and off-road abil­ity. For that rea­son the com­pany is de­scrib­ing the High­lander as the com­plete SUV.

But is it? Over the Jan­uary hol­i­day pe­riod we had the op­por­tu­nity to take an all-wheel drive Lim­ited ver­sion away for a few days’ camp­ing and to test out just how com­plete this High­lander is.

This Toy­ota has just been facelifted, but the ve­hi­cle’s di­men­sions re­main ex­actly the same as be­fore.

The ex­te­rior has un­der­gone some fresh­en­ing in de­sign, par­tic­u­larly at the front where there are new hor­i­zon­tal lines that flow along the bon­net, grille and bumper, and there are new­ly­de­signed head­lights that help give what Toy­ota de­scribes as an ar­row­head de­sign.

Over­all, the ex­te­rior change doesn’t amount to much, re­ally. Not much has hap­pened to the in­te­rior ei­ther, apart from the in­tro­duc­tion of a new high gloss sil­ver trim on the in­stru­ment panel.

But that’s OK, be­cause the in­te­rior of the High­lander al­ways has been spacious, com­fort­able and ver­sa­tile.

Our Lim­ited road tester boasted seven seats, with the mid­dle seat in the sec­ond row able to be re­moved to en­able the two re­main­ing seats to be­come ‘‘cap­tain’s’’ chairs, while the third row can be folded down into separ- ate cubby holes to pro­vide a flat load space. And if the sec­ond row is folded down as well, the amount of avail­able lug­gage space in­creases to 2700 litres, which is a lot of room in­deed.

We took full ad­van­tage of all that room, load­ing up the High­lander with tent, bed­ding, cloth­ing, food, fridge and other nec­es­sary camp­ing equip­ment in­clud­ing drinks and golf clubs.

I hon­estly didn’t think the ve­hi­cle would be able to ac­com­mo­date ev­ery­thing we wanted to take away, but it did. What helped no end was a heap of floor room be­tween the sec­ond-row seat squabs and the front seats, which proved an ideal stor­age area for bed­ding and clothes.

A fur­ther ma­jor help was the de­sign of the rear hatch­back which is ver­ti­cal un­til it reaches the rear win­dow – and the win­dow it­self can be lifted in­de­pen­dently of the rest of the hatch. This meant we could load up the rear of the High­lander as much as we could, close the lift­back, then fin­ish the load­ing via the open win­dow. It all re­sulted in a very safe and se­cure cargo.

I think SUVs are very much like utes in that they ride and han­dle much bet­ter fully laden than they do with not much aboard, and as we headed out on the camp­ing trips this rapidly be­came quite ob­vi­ous.

The High­lander rode and han­dled nicely, and its 3.5-litre quad cam V6 petrol en­gine of­fered sound per­for­mance. This is the same 2GR-FE en­gine that is aboard the Au­rion sedan and the Pre­via peo­ple-mover, al­though it has been slightly de­tuned to suit its par­tic­u­lar SUV re­quire­ments. Power out­put is 201 kilo­watts and the torque is 337 new­ton me­tres, both of which are less than the grunty Au­rion, but it is suf­fi­cient to pro­vide a re­lax­ing sort of driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

And I didn’t no­tice the High­lander to be lack­ing in any per­for­mance po­ten­tial, with maybe the only thing hold­ing it back be­ing its au­to­matic trans­mis­sion which ‘‘only’’ has five speeds.

Over­all, how­ever, the ve­hi­cle just did the job as we toured to the in­tended camp­ing lo­ca­tion at Raglan in the Waikato, with the only down­side be­ing fuel con­sump­tion – I couldn’t get any­where near the claimed of­fi­cial com­bined con­sump­tion fig­ure of 11.6 litres per 100 kmh.

But it didn’t re­ally mat­ter. The High­lander has a 72-litre fuel tank (and runs on 91 oc­tane petrol), and this meant we still had more or less a half a tank of gas by the time we ar­rived at our des­ti­na­tion, which was suf­fi­cient to let us tool around the delights of Raglan for sev­eral days with­out hav­ing to re­fuel.

The ve­hi­cle is easy to drive at the lower speeds too, but don’t ex­pect to be able to pull off quick U-turns on nar­row streets be­cause the High­lander’s turn­ing cir­cle is a some­what high 11.8 me­tres.

The SUV fea­tures an elec­tric power steer­ing sys­tem which gives a light steer­ing re­sponse for easy park­ing at low speeds, and a solid feel at higher speeds for more con­fi­dent driv­ing on the open road.

Anti-lock brak­ing is stan­dard, with elec­tronic brake­force dis­tri­bu­tion and brake as­sist, steer­ing-as­sisted ve­hi­cle sta­bil­ity con­trol and trac­tion con­trol are also aboard the High­lander.

For more ad­ven­tur­ous driv­ing, the High­lander is a ca­pa­ble off-road ve­hi­cle. Its full-time all-wheel drive sys­tem has a cen­tre dif­fer­en­tial that pro­vides a 50:50 torque split be­tween the front and rear axles, and the ve­hi­cle also boasts trac­tion con­trol, hill-start as­sist con­trol (HAC) and down­hill as­sist con­trol (DAC) to help han­dle the more slip­pery con­di­tions.

HAC is de­signed to help stop the ve­hi­cle from rolling back­wards when start­ing off on a steep hill, while DAC helps con­trol down­hill speed in the of­froad en­vi­ron­ment when en­gine brak­ing alone isn’t enough. Both sys­tems work very well and I love them aboard any SUV.

High­lander is avail­able as a $54,490 front-wheel drive ve­hi­cle (I drove one of those a few weeks ago and en­joyed the ex­pe­ri­ence), and the 4WD ver­sions are a base model for $58,990 and the Lim­ited for $66,990.

For the ex­tra cash, the Lim­ited model has per­fo­rated leather seat trim, power front seat ad­just­ment with front seat heaters and vari- able seat cush­ion length ad­just­ment for the driver’s seat. The ve­hi­cle also has a dual-zone front cli­mate con­trol sys­tem and an­other sys­tem at the rear, and a more so­phis­ti­cated au­dio sys­tem with a six-CD changer.

So is the lat­est Toy­ota High­lander the com­plete SUV? Does it tick all the boxes? Al­most – I had a cou­ple of nig­gles, pri­mar­ily that I just couldn’t seem to get the driver’s seat ad­just­ment right for my par­tic­u­lar size and shape, and that when un­laden the ve­hi­cle feels a bit too un­com­mu­nica­tive. And I think it de­serves an au­to­matic trans­mis­sion with one more ra­tio. But over­all, High­lander ap­peals as an out­stand­ing SUV. Lit­tle won­der it’s go­ing great guns in the sales depart­ment.

Ca­pa­ble and com­fort­able: The Lim­ited spec in­cludes leather and high­end elec­tron­ics.

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