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- The most ecologically sound car on sale?
- Zero tailpipe emissions except water
- A relaxing and comfy car to drive
- Rear seats are cramped and the boot is small
- Extremely limited refuelling infrastructure
- A rare-groove car – but a taste of the future?
Latest small SUV is good to drive and economical
Is the Toyota Yaris Cross any good?
If you're in the market for a small SUV, you're never going to complain that there isn't enough choice out there. With models from Audi to Volvo on offer, there really is something for everyone. And yet, into this mosh pit of new car activity, Toyota has entered the fray, giving us the hybrid-powered Yaris Cross, a funky new offering based on, yes, the Yaris supermini.
It gets Toyota's new, fourth generation hybrid powertrain, and should appeal to those looking for an economical and fun-to-drive small family car that offers lots of room and a family-friendly interior. The firm says it's a genuine SUV, benefiting from all the experience it has amassed with the RAV4, with two models in the range benefitting from AWD-i intelligent four-wheel drive.
However, it's up against a herd of rivals, and it needs to be good to stand out. Top of your shopping list will be the 2021 Parkers New Car of The Year-winning Ford Puma. But the Peugeot 2008, Nissan Juke, Renault Captur, Skoda Kamiq and Volkswagen T-Cross are all highly-talented alternatives.
The good news is that it has the looks and the hardware to impress in this crowd – as our early drive of a pre-production prototype here in the UK demonstrates.
What's it like inside?
Two words comes to mind after spending time in the Yaris Cross: grown up. It might be closely related to a big-selling small car, but thanks to the high seating position and roomy cabin, it feels like a car from the market sector above. The dashboard, which is similar to its namesake, is fully featured and dominated by a high-set central infotainment screen above digital climate controls (with physical temperature control knobs – yes!)
Features include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (both tested wirelessly), with an optional head-up display, adaptive cruise control and a fully digital instrument panel also on offer.
It's solid and well laid-out, with plenty of storage space for your smartphones (room and charging for two), as well as a roomy central cubby hole between the seats and spacious door bins. Our test car was marked down for extensive use of black plastics and dark materials, which means it doesn’t feel as bright and airy inside as some rivals. Having said that, for families, a dark interior is easier to keep clean.
It's 240mm longer than the Yaris hatchback, which allows more room inside. There's plenty of space up front and in the rear, with a pair of tall back-seat passengers being able to make themselves comfortable without too much difficulty. The 40:20:40 split folding rear seat, electric tailgate and split-level boot floor are all positive points. The boot floor panel can be divided in two and the luggage compartment has a flex belt system to keep items securely in place when driving.
What's it like to drive?
The Yaris Cross comes in only one guise and pairs a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine with an electric motor. The total power output of the two is 116hp, which compares well with its rivals. It's based on on the 2.0- and 2.5-litre powertrains in the Corolla, C-HR, RAV4 and Camry, and is good for a WLTP combined fuel economy figure of 65.9mpg and CO2 figures of less than 120g/km (135g/km for the four-wheel drive model).
Maximum speed is 105mph and the 0-62mph time is 11.2 seconds (11.8 for the four-wheel drive version). Although those performance figures don't promise an exciting drive, it feels quick off the mark and smooth in general driving when underway, with the three-cylinder engine humming away quietly in the background. It's best suited to town work, although it's quiet and refined on the motorway, too.
As a conventional hybrid (you don't plug it in), the battery and motor are there to assist the car in certain situations, but a dashboard indictor lets you know how much time it's spent in pure EV mode, and it can be surprising just how much that is. On our mainly urban test route, it reported we were in EV mode for anywhere between 60-75% of the time. We saw it running on battery comfortably up to motorway speeds. Impressive.
Handling is very good, too, with accurate and well-weighted steering, little bodyroll and a feeling of precision that's quite unusual in this market sector. We wouldn't describe it as sporty, but it's certainly keen and will keep you entertained on B-roads if you're cracking on. Despite this emphasis on roadholding, the ride quality is actually above average – it's firm, but well-damped, which means you'll feel the lumps and bumps, but they don't come crashing through uncomfortably. Overall, a very good effort.
What models and trims are available?
There are four models to choose from, plus a fully-featured Premiere Edition version, available for one year only. The entry-level Icon model comes well-equipped, but then it should, as it's not as cheap as many of its small SUV rivals.
It comes with 16-inc alloy wheels, an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment set-up with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, reversing camera and automatic headlights and wipers. Next model up is the Design, which adds larger wheels, LED headlights, aluminium roof rails and rear privacy glass.
Toyota expects the Yaris Cross Excel model to be its biggest seller, and with that, in addition to the above you also get 18-inch wheels, power-asssted tailgate with kick sensor, a larger 9.0-inch infotainment scren, Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross Traffic Alert with auto brake, heated steering wheel and front seats and dual-zone automatic air conditioning.
The top-of-the range Dynamic model adds even more features, listed below:
Bi-tone paint finish with black roof
Door mirrors with auto-retracting function
Power lumbar adjustment on driver’s seat
Optional intelligent all-wheel drive (AWD-i)
The limited-edition Yaris Cross Premiere Edition gains black leather interior, a JBL eight-speaker sound system, and 10-inch head-up display.
What else should I know?
All models feature Toyota Safety Sense and driver assistance systems as standard. It can warn the driver of an upcoming collision and help steer and brake it out of trouble, or at least lessen the effects of a collision. It also has pedestrian and cyclist recognition, Lane Departure Alert and Road Sign Assist.
Toyota Yaris Cross verdict
Should you buy one?
Based on the pre-production prototype we've driven so far, it's looking very good for the Toyota Yaris Cross. It's good to drive, practical, roomy for passengers and luggage and in our hands on a fairly congested test route, very economical on petrol. We'll reserve judgement on just how good it is compared with the class-leading Ford Puma and Skoda Kamiq until we've spent more time with it.
Against the popular Peugeot 2008 and Renault Captur, the Yaris Cross looks very good – it's well made and well-equipped although that's reflected in the fact there are no low-priced entry-level models to tempt you into the showroom. But it's a Toyota, so the reliability is a given, the dealer support is excellent, and the warranty cover is now an unprecedented 10 years if you keep it in the dealer network.
It's looking like a safe and sound choice, which might lack the excitement and interest of some of its rivals, but it's looking good for pain-free long-term ownership.
What we like
Despite the bits of camouflage tape on our test car, we can see that it's a good-looking thing, perhaps more so than the Yaris hatchback it's based on. We like the fuel consumption and low emissions, and the fact it's available as a four-wheel drive in the top-of-the-range version.
Handling and ride are definite plus points, as its refinement and smoothness in town. The driving position is good, the controls and features are all easily managed, and there isn't an over-reliance on the touchscreen for basic functions that you'll find in certain rivals.
What we don't like
It's a shame that in offering an all-hybrid line-up in the UK (good), as it comes at a cost (bad). With a starting price well above £20,000, there will be buyers who will be put off going for a Yaris Cross, despite it offering good value for money at a higher price point.
What's planned through 2024? Read on.
The world will very much continue despite the coronavirus pandemic currently sweeping the globe. Although it's way too soon to know when life will return to normal, automakers are still preparing future models. Today, a massive leak has been exposed thanks to AllCarNews on Instagram revealing what Toyota and Lexus have planned through 2024. Some of the following has already been rumored but there's at least one new vehicle we didn't see coming.
First up, the next-generation Toyota 86 and its sister ship, the Subaru BRZ. Both are expected to debut in July 2021 and the 86 will be rebranded the GR86. Power will come from a new turbocharged engine with a reported 255 horsepower. Rear-wheel-drive will remain, of course. Next, the Toyota Camry will also receive a mid-life refresh that year, followed by the Avalon in 2022. The next-generation Camry isn't due until 2024.
Also in 2021, we'll be seeing a new Corolla-based crossover whose name has yet to be announced. One possibility is Corolla Cross with production potentially taking place at the joint Toyota-Mazda plant in Alabama, which is still under construction. As we previously reported, the Toyota Venza wagon-crossover is also due to return in 2021. In all likelihood, it'll share a decent amount of its components with the Camry, once again.
Moving on to trucks and SUVs, the leaked report indicates an all-new Toyota 4Runner and Sequoia will debut for the 2023 model year. Both will share the next-gen Tundra's TNGA-F architecture. The Sequoia and Tundra will ditch the 5.7-liter V8 in favor of a new twin-turbo hybrid V6. The 4Runner will get this engine as well. The redesigned Toyota Tacoma will arrive for 2024, but no precise details about it are yet available.
As for the Toyota Land Cruiser, it appears it will come in 2022 but unlike the current model, it'll be a stripped-out off-roader without a hint of luxury. In other words, it's going back to basics. Sweet.
As for Lexus, unlike the Land Cruiser, its LX counterpart will take the exact opposite approach by becoming a Bentley Bentayga rival, powered by the same twin-turbo V6. In general, Lexus is dropping all V8 models priced below $90,000. An all-new twin-turbo V8 will power the long-awaited LC-F in 2022. Also that year, the ES and LS will get a refresh. Surprisingly, the Lexus GS is being replaced outright by a Toyota Mirai-based RWD sedan.
Before that, the next Lexus IS, last updated in 2016, will debut in 2021, followed by a new RX and GX in 2023. Lastly, a new Lexus NX will come in 2021 and it'll ride on the TNGA-K platform with a total of five different powertrains and a new 14-inch touchscreen.
This is a lot of new information to take in, but Toyota and Lexus clearly have a very aggressive new product offensive on the way. We can hardly wait.
We get behind the wheel of the second-generation Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell car
Toyota has learned a great deal about fuel cell cars since the first Mirai was released back in 2014 - and it shows. The new model is improved in pretty much every measurable way, and most subjective ones, too. While limited refuelling options, a cramped interior and a high purchase price mean the Mirai won’t be for everyone, it’s a rolling proof of concept that shows hydrogen will play a big part in a zero-emission future - just maybe not for passenger cars.
Dare to search out the type of pub monologue given by a person with the confidence only a few drinks can bring, and you’ll hear that the future of motoring isn’t in electric vehicles, but hydrogen.
Here, then, is the all new Toyota Mirai, powered by that very fuel that’s seemingly always been on the cusp of the mainstream. It’s the sleeker, more handsome second-generation model of the brand’s hydrogen fuel cell car, and it proves that the world’s most abundant element can play a huge part in our zero-emission future - just not necessarily for cars.
Hydrogen fuel cells: do hydrogen cars have a future?
Let’s start with how the Mirai works, because this is still, in essence, an EV. A fuel cell works by passing hydrogen across an anode, which splits the atoms into protons and electrons. The electrons then pass through a circuit to generate a flow of electricity, which in turn charges a small lithium-ion battery that, like a regular EV, drives an electric motor.
A clever chemical reaction that sees hydrogen react with oxygen from the atmosphere means the only byproduct is water, as a puff of vapour from the exhaust.
All of this magic happens under the Mirai’s long bonnet. Advancements in the tech since the first-gen car was launched mean that the fuel cell is 50 per cent lighter and physically smaller, yet it makes 12 per cent more power, so the Mirai’s motor now generates 180bhp.
Progress in the Mirai is serene. A nine-second 0-62mph time is a world away from the mind-bending speed of some EVs, but the acceleration feels smooth and linear. Put your foot to the floor, and there is a slight delay before the Mirai jumps ahead, a process accompanied by a sci-fi hum that’s distinct from any other pure-electric car.
The Mirai is set up for a relaxing drive, but that’s not to say it feels stodgy. The ride is forgiving - even on top spec Design Premium Pack trim’s 20-inch wheels - yet the car is neatly balanced front to rear, so it feels stable and predictable. At speed, the only obvious noise is the subdued tyre roar.
So what are the benefits of hydrogen as a fuel source? Well mile-for-mile, it’s significantly lighter than a battery. Whereas a Tesla Model S promises 390 miles from a battery weighing roughly 500kg, the hydrogen that fills the Mirai’s tank weighs just 5.6kg and will carry you for an official range of 400 miles. It means that, overall, the Mirai tips the scales at 1,900kg - on par with a combustion vehicle of a similar size.
Toyota says that the Mirai consumes 0.89kg of hydrogen every 62 miles; in the UK, a refill costs about £10 per kg. Our test drive covered more enthusiastic driving than most will subject it to, and the Mirai consumed 1.17kg per 62 miles - equating to about £56 for a 300-mile real world range. That’s a similar cost to a petrol car achieving 32mpg.
Of course, filling a hydrogen car represents a stumbling block for the technology. While EV charge points continue to pop up at a relentless pace, the total number of hydrogen filling stations in the UK stands at 14. There are a couple of big stations under construction, but the fuel is definitely more scarce.
To create hydrogen, it needs to be separated from water via electrolysis, compressed and liquified and, if this process isn’t done on-site, transported to a refuelling station, where the fuel cell then uses more energy to generate its electrical charge, so it’s not the most energy-efficient process.
A full EV effectively skips the admin, taking electricity from the national grid. Of course, there are other factors, such as the sourcing of raw materials, but fuel cell vehicles still need lithium, too.
And while 5.6kg of hydrogen goes a long way, packaging the tanks needed is tricky. The Mirai has three. The largest is mounted within the spine of the car in the floor, which creates a high central tunnel inside. Further tanks are located fore and aft of that, squeezing the cabin from either end. As a result, rear legroom is barely any better than most superminis, and the boot offers just 321 litres - this in a car with a similar footprint to an Audi A7.
Otherwise, the cabin is well-finished and packed with tech. There’s a huge infotainment screen, a digital instrument panel and a 10.1-inch head-up display. All four seats are heated and cooled, while back-seat occupants get a fold-down centre armrest that houses controls for entertainment and climate functions.
Despite being more powerful, more luxurious and better equipped than before, prices now start from £49,995 - the best part of ten grand less than the first Mirai. This top spec Design Premium Pack costs £64,995. That’s still strong money for the performance, but there’s always a price to pay for being an early adopter.
By Toyota’s own admission, the Mirai is essentially a rolling research lab. It proves the tech works, though its finest application is unlikely to be in cars, but in commercial vehicles. Refuelling stations can be built at transport depots topping up lorries and buses at a speed and with a range that - currently - lithium-ion batteries just can’t compete with. The weight saving of hydrogen relative to a big battery is already significant in a car - it would be enormous once expanded to the size of an HGV.
The verdict: Sky-high fuel efficiency with front- or all-wheel drive remains the main draw for Toyota’s iconic Prius hybrid, even as the aging current generation grows less competitive in other ways.
Versus the competition: When Toyota unveiled this generation of the Prius more than five years ago, we lauded the car’s advancements in handling and interior quality. The intervening years, however, have seen rivals catch up on fuel efficiency and pull ahead in refinement and other technologies — though none yet offer all-wheel drive.
Toyota added the option of AWD to the Prius two model years ago, and it remains one of the most fuel-efficient cars of its type, at least before you look at plug-in vehicles. The AWD Prius comes in LE and XLE trim levels; we evaluated an XLE. The Prius can be had with front-wheel drive in five trims, including a limited-run 2020 Edition that commemorates two decades since the Prius debuted. (Heritage notwithstanding, it’s a baffling move; slapping “2020 Edition” on a 2021 model invites needless confusion, not to mention a constant reminder of a year everyone wants to forget.)
Besides the 2020 Edition, changes for 2021 include some augmented safety features and new Android Auto smartphone connectivity on most trim levels (Apple CarPlay remains standard). Stack up the 2020 and 2021 Prius or compare 2021 trim levels. Note, we separately cover the Prius Prime, a plug-in hybrid with an EPA-rated 25 miles of all-electric driving range on a full battery charge before the gas engine kicks in. (Here’s more about the main differences between a hybrid and plug-in hybrid.)
Gas Mileage: The Reason Anyone Buys a Prius
The Prius’ mileage leader is the L Eco, a base trim level that’s good for an EPA-estimated 56 mpg combined. Among plug-free cars, that rating trails only one rival: the Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid, whose base trim level, Ioniq Blue, gets an EPA-rated 59 mpg combined. That said, the L Eco trim accounts for less than 10% of Prius cars listed in Cars.com’s dealer inventory as of this writing. Most shoppers will end up with other trims of the Prius, which the EPA still rates a very good 52 mpg combined.
The Prius AWD, meanwhile, employs an additional electric motor at the rear axle, which powers the car continuously from a stop, then as-needed up to 43 mph. There’s no mechanical connection to the main powertrain, which pairs two electric motor-generators with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. A power-split device with continuously variable properties doles out power to the wheels.
The whole of it makes for a combined 49 mpg in EPA ratings — short of the front-drive Prius but outstanding for an AWD vehicle that isn’t a plug-in. Our real-world testing returned results consistent with the car’s rating, with 46.6 mpg according to our calculations based on fill-up mileage ( 51.5 mpg on the trip computer) after 215 miles of mixed highway and suburban driving.
What You Give Up to Get There
As with most hybrids, electric operation alone is possible at low speeds under light acceleration, with the engine kicking in for anything beyond that. Under a combination of engine and electric power, the Prius has enough oomph; I needed most of the drivetrain’s reserves to claw my way up to 40 mph with 17 bags of mulch aboard — at least several hundred pounds — but power felt workably adequate.
That’s not to say the drivetrain is all that responsive. Press the accelerator while already in motion, and the Prius hesitates a beat or two before raising rpm to pull noisily ahead. Most modern CVTs implement quicker rpm transitions to mimic a step-gear downshift, but such programming usually trades fuel efficiency for responsiveness, so I seldom observe it with the CVT-style transmissions many hybrids use. The Prius, unsurprisingly, does none of that: Engine revs meander up or down in a slow, old-school fashion.
A few other downsides persist. Toyota’s regenerative brakes — a feature employed in all hybrids — impart a nonlinear pedal feel reminiscent of the technology’s early days. Response is tentative in the first inch or so of pedal travel, then becomes suddenly sharper as you press harder. So-called pedal linearity has improved among many hybrids over the years, even as a few non-hybrids introduce new forms of it.
Ride quality and noise abatement also remain areas that could use improvement. At highway speeds, our test car’s efficiency-oriented Bridgestone Ecopia tires let out quite the howl, with adjacent trucks matching the ambient noise. The suspension sorts out minor bumps well enough, but anything significant sends turbulent aftershocks through the body. The Prius is not especially comfortable or quiet.
Is this the penalty for sky-high mileage at an affordable price? Maybe; the rival Honda Insight is no bank vault, either. Mass-market hybrids aren’t known for sophisticated suspensions or gobs of noise insulation, but some execute those things better than others. A redesigned Prius will probably improve on such aspects, and with the current Prius entering its sixth model year for 2021, time for a new version is nigh.
By contrast, the Prius’ hybridness has little bearing on its other deficiencies. Most trims get a touchscreen measuring just 7 inches diagonally — an inch short of what you’ll find in the base version of many mass-market cars — with modest screen resolution and undersized volume and tuning knobs. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa integration are included with the 7-inch system, but they require a tethered connection as opposed to the wireless integrations that are expanding industrywide. Upgrade to the front-drive Prius Limited and you get the Prius Prime’s 11.6-inch vertically oriented touchscreen, but it confoundingly loses Android Auto connectivity. See our impressions of it otherwise.
Where It Still Shines
An early example of Toyota’s well-executed TNGA platform, which now underpins many other cars, the Prius boasts improbably good handling. The steering has a touch of vagueness on-center, but it communicates lively feedback as you turn the wheel into corners. Body roll is nicely controlled, and the AWD model shows unexpected balance if you slide it around — something the Bridgestones easily allow.
Space efficiency, at least up front, is also among the Prius’ strengths. The low center console leaves good space for your knees and thighs, and all but the tallest drivers should find sufficient headroom, even with the seat elevated all the way. The backseat is a bit low to the floor, so adults may find their knees uncomfortably elevated, but we found sufficient clearance to fit bulky rear-facing child-safety seats behind a 5-foot-6-inch front passenger. (That’s not to say, however, that the Prius passed Cars.com’s Car Seat Check with flying colors; parents with young children should check out our full scoring.)
We measured 13.1 cubic feet behind the Prius’ backseat, a figure comparable to our audits for two other smallish hatchbacks, the Mazda3 (13.1 cubic feet) and Subaru Crosstrek (13.0 cubic feet). (Note that our independent accounting of cargo space differs from manufacturer specs, which we’ve found overrepresent hatch space, underreport trunk volume and are unreliable for comparison.)
The Prius earned top scores in most crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but suboptimal results in the passenger-side small overlap front test kept the vehicle from garnering one of IIHS’ influential, if widespread, Top Safety Pick awards. Still, Toyota’s long list of safety and driver assist features is impressive: Automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure steering assist and automatic high-beam headlights are standard, as are adaptive cruise control and hands-on lane centering. Those last two features can both operate from a standstill all the way up to highway speeds. New for 2021 is the latest generation of Toyota Safety Sense, which adds more detection capabilities, and all but the base trim level get a blind spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert. Top trims add curve-adaptive headlights.
Should You Buy a Prius?
The Prius starts around $25,500 for the cheapest front-drive trim. That’s roughly commensurate with Toyota’s immediate competition, and the base Prius doesn’t skimp on multimedia features or safety and driver-assist tech, as some rivals do. Optional AWD adds a modest $1,000-$1,400 to the Prius’ mid-level trims, depending on specifics; the cheapest AWD Prius lands comfortably under $30,000 (all prices include destination charges).
Ascending trim levels add items like faux-leather upholstery, heated front seats and a power driver’s seat. Oddly enough, you can’t get certain top-of-the-line features on any AWD model, and niceties like a memory driver’s seat, dual-zone climate control and genuine leather are unavailable on any 2021 Prius.
Loaded with factory options, the Prius tops out around $34,500. You should be able to find plenty of examples well below that, given about two-thirds of the new 2021 models listed on Cars.com are priced at or below $30,000. Still, budget-conscious shoppers might find wider affordability on the Insight, with 82% of its new 2021 models priced at or below $30,000 on Cars.com.
That said, the venerable Prius is bound to find plenty of shoppers. The current generation shows its age through its drivability and multimedia tech, but lower trim levels offer a good mix of value and efficiency — especially with AWD, a capability that hybrid shoppers would otherwise need an SUV to get.
The current-generation Toyota Corolla rolled out in 2019 as a hatchback, then followed in 2020 with a sedan and the model line’s first-ever hybrid variant. The current look is the sportiest one we’ve seen yet, as the Corolla adopted many of the styling cues of the larger Toyota Camry sedan with its gaping grille, muscular lines, and striking lighting elements.
Inside, the Corolla fills its compact mission by offering decent space for five, although four is the ideal. The sedan’s wheelbase is about 2.5 inches longer than the hatchback, for improved interior space. The cabin features a dash-mounted touchscreen for infotainment and carefully placed controls. Fabric-trimmed seats are standard; the imitation leather seats are comfortable and have the look and feel of real hides.
This year, Android Auto is standard, joining Apple CarPlay as the two most important smartphone compatibility options in the business. Base sedan models have a 7-inch touch-screen display, while all other trims come with an 8-inch touchscreen. The list of popular options includes navigation, wireless smartphone charging, and a premium audio system. Optional blind-spot monitoring is widely available. We’re not expecting additional changes for 2022.
Under the hood, the Corolla features two engine choices. The base sedan models come with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with 139 horsepower and 126 pound-feet of torque. This one shuttles power to the front wheels utilizing a continuously variable transmission or a 6-speed manual transmission. All hatchback models and some sedan trims come with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 169 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. The engine also works with a CVT or a 6-speed manual.
The larger engine is surprisingly the more efficient of the two, delivering as high as 40 mpg highway on some trims. That’s 2 mpg more than the best fuel economy of the base engine.
If you’re shopping the Corolla Hybrid, Toyota uses the 1.8-liter engine and operates it in the efficient Atkinson cycle to deliver 121 horsepower and 105 pound-feet of torque. This model makes an EPA-estimated 52 mpg combined, which is 30-percent higher than the best gas model.
PRICING & RELEASE DATE
There is no official on-sale date for the 2022 Toyota Corolla, but we expect it will arrive in the spring based on previous release schedules.
Pricing is also not available. As a carryover vehicle, we expect pricing to remain close to the current model’s $20,880 to $29,165 (destination fees included) MSRP for the sedan. Pricing for the hatchback and hybrid is slightly higher.
A capable and seriously practical family SUV with hybrid power as standard
The Toyota Highlander isn’t a car that’ll be familiar to most people in the UK, but if you live in the USA, Russia or Japan you may well recognise it. This fourth-generation model is the first that’s been available in Western Europe and the UK, with Toyota now deciding that it has a gap to fill in its passenger car lineup.
The Highlander is a large, seven-seater SUV in the same vein as cars such as the Kia Sorento, Skoda Kodiaq and Land Rover Discovery – but with a uniquely Toyota character and specification. Chief among these is its hybrid powertrain, which is the only engine option and promises low running costs and a smooth, easy driving dynamic.
It sits really comfortably in between Toyota’s RAV4 SUV and its Land Cruiser off-roader, which was previously the only seven-seat Toyota car and only available with a rather agricultural diesel engine.
Simple model lineup makes for an easy choice
Toyota’s really made choosing a Highlander easy. There’s a pair of well-equipped trim levels and just one engine, so there’s no need for buyers to navigate a confusing mess of option packs.
The range kicks off with Excel models, which have almost all the equipment you could want – 20-inch alloy wheels, heated leather seats, tri-zone climate control, LED headlamps and a panoramic sunroof to name but a few highlights.
Excel Premium trim adds a few choice luxury touches, such as a head-up display, ventilated front seats and a ‘smart’ rear view mirror (actually a screen with rear camera feed), but unless you’re truly committed to owning the best variant there’s almost no need.
This does mean that the Highlander’s starting price is significantly higher than some of its main rivals, but the gap narrows when you consider similarly-equipped models. It effectively straddles the line between premium hybrid SUVs, such as the Volvo XC90, and more value-oriented offerings such as the Kia Sorento.
Hybrid engine is particularly good
Toyota’s been building hybrid engines for more than two decades, and its latest effort in the Highlander is a particularly good offering. It’s a self-charging hybrid rather than a plug-in – Toyota says drivers of cars like this typically take longer trips than would suit their limited electric-only range. Though it hasn’t totally ruled out a plug-in Highlander in the future (the mechanically similar RAV4 has a PHEV option), it would likely involve losing the two rearmost seats to make space for the battery – making it unlikely.
It pairs a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with two electric motors, shuffling between the two power sources as it sees necessary. It’s got plenty of power, even for such a big car, which means you don’t have to work the engine hard. That eliminates a typical issue of hybrid cars, namely that they tend to rev uncomfortably high – not an issue with the Highlander unless you really try to press on.
It’s also highly refined – nearly silent at a cruise – and very efficient, easily matching its diesel competition in this area. Smooth and powerful, it’s a great match for the Highlander’s bulk.
Hugely versatile interior
The Highlander seats seven, though the third row is somewhat tighter than rivals such as the Land Rover Discovery – it’s better suited to children or short journeys with adults.
Toyota Highlander rear three quarterEnlarge0videoEnlarge16photo
There’s loads of room in the two forward rows, though, and the centre row slides forwards and back by 180mm to balance legroom and luggage space.
The boot’s incredibly practical, too. With all seven seats in place there’s more luggage space than you find in a Land Rover Discovery or a Volvo XC90. In five seat mode, it’s bigger yet, and with all the rear seats folded there’s a cavernous 1,909 litres of space up to the roof, with a completely flat floor.
Toyota Highlander practicality and boot space
The Highlander is one of the largest cars Toyota sells – smaller only than the long-wheelbase Land Cruiser and the decidedly van-like Proace Verso.
Those exterior dimensions have been well-used and translate into a spacious interior with seven seats and a cavernous boot.
The front seats are particularly wide, soft and comfortable, as you’d perhaps expect for a car that sells very well in the USA. The second row is great too, with space for a six-foot adult to stretch out.
The third row’s a little tighter. Unlike the Land Rover Discovery, you won’t particularly want to seat adults back here, at least not for long trips – but they’ll be fine on short journeys, and there’s plenty of space for children.
The second row slides fore and aft by 180mm, too, allowing you to effectively balance legroom between the seats. Isofix child seat mounting points are present in the two outer seats.
Interior stowage space is excellent, and has been very well thought out – not always a given, even in cars that purport to be family friendly. The Highlander offers a big glovebox and a large centre cubby under the armrest for larger items, while storage for smaller oddments is ample – there are smartphone-sized pockets in all four doors, ideal when every passenger has their own device.
The Highlander’s boot is one of the biggest around, even among similar large SUVs. With all seven seats in place, there’s still 332 litres of space – that’s the size of a good-sized supermini’s boot, and easily enough to accommodate a family’s weekly shop.
Drop the third row of seats, meanwhile, and you’ll liberate 658 litres – and with both rear rows of seats folded there’s a cavernous 1,909 litres up to the roof. The rear seats also go totally flat, making it easier to load bulky or awkward items, while all cars get an electric tailgate. On top-spec Excel Premium cars, it's gesture-operated by waving a foot under the rear bumper.
If that huge boot still isn’t enough for you, the Highlander will tow a trailer up to 2.0-tonnes in weight.
The Toyota Highlander hasn’t yet been tested by safety organisation Euro NCAP, but the signs are encouraging for it scoring well when it is.
North American market models were very highly rated by the USA’s Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, earning their highest commendation – a Top Safety Pick+.
The mechanically similar, albeit smaller, RAV4 SUV scored a full five stars when NCAP tested in 2019, which is a further encouraging sign.
Toyota’s loaded the Highlander with active safety aids, too, as part of its Advanced Toyota Safety Sense pack. All models come with autonomous emergency braking capable of detecting vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists in day or night conditions. There’s also Emergency Steering Assist and Intersection Turn Assist, both of which will actively steer you away from an impending collision.
Lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beam headlights, blind spot monitors and rear cross traffic alert complete a thoroughly impressive armada – and it’s all standard equipment on both of the Highlander’s trim levels.
Toyota Highlander interior and comfort
Toyota’s taken plenty of lessons from its RAV4 SUV when it comes to the Highlander’s interior trim, and in many ways that’s a really good thing.
It’s lovely and straightforward to navigate, with most of the controls positioned up relatively high on the dashboard so you don’t have to take your eyes too far off the road to work them, and in a sensible layout.
Better still, functions are, for the most part, controlled by big, chunky buttons and dials rather than awkward touch-sensitive pads. As a result, we think most drivers will feel at home in here very quickly indeed.
Build quality feels up to Toyota’s usual high standards and the Highlander looks as though it’s well-equipped for the rough and tumble of family life. Ergonomics are good, too – it’s not too high up of a clamber into the driver’s seat, and there’s plenty of adjustment. The view out of the narrow rear window is rather compromised, but that’s a gripe you’ll find on most cars of this size and shape.
Those expecting sumptuous luxury like you’d find on a Land Rover Discovery may be disappointed, though. With the exception of a little shiny trim and some token fake wood, almost everything’s a shade of dour grey or black, and the design is practical rather than stylish. Thank goodness for the standard panoramic glass roof, or the Highlander’s interior would feel very dark indeed.
The infotainment system is also rather below-par by the standards of the segment. Its 8.0-inch screen feels rather small perched atop the dashboard, and the interface is outdated and awkward to use. That’s grating against more expensive rivals such as the Land Rover Discovery or Volvo XC90 – but it’s embarrassing to think that base-model Kia Sorentos or SsangYong Rextons come equipped with a superior infotainment system.
The specification is otherwise very good, however. All models come with the aforementioned panoramic roof, but keyless entry, LED headlamps, triple-zone climate control, a wireless charging pad, leather upholstery and a premium JBL sound system are also present even on the ‘base’ model – a high level of spec that goes a long way towards explaining the Highlander’s entry price compared with some rivals’ more Spartan accommodations on their lower trim levels.
Refinement is one of the Highlander’s most impressive points. The hybrid engine is virtually silent at a cruise, and provided you don’t hoof it and keep the revs low it’s very quiet around town too. Combined with low levels of road noise, the most intrusive sound you’ll hear is a moderate level of wind noise whipping around its bluff front end and large door mirrors.
With soft suspension, the Highlander rides well over most surfaces – it’s not as pillowy soft as the Land Rover Discovery’s air springs but still deals effectively with all but the largest potholes. It resists body roll surprisingly well for such a tall car, too, helping reduce potential car sickness – ideal when you could have the back rows full of children…
The front seats are heated on all models, while top-spec cars come with heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel. Particularly toasty in the winter.
Toyota Highlander running costs and mpg
What is miles per pound?
Hybrid petrol engines 7.0 - 7.1 mppLow figures relate to the least economical version; high to the most economical. Based on WLTP combined fuel economy for versions of this car made since September 2017 only, and typical current fuel or electricity costs.
Running costs for the Toyota Highlander should prove impressively low by the standards of the large SUV class, but a slightly deeper dive than usual is required to figure out why.
It’s true that, without a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) model in the range, Toyota can’t claim anything like the 100.9mpg Volvo can for its XC90 T8 (when tested on the WLTP cycle). However, numbers like these are often only achievable with short journeys and regular charging stops. Toyota reckons buyers of large SUVs like the Highlander want a vehicle that’s also efficient on longer journeys.
To that end, fuel economy from its single self-charging hybrid powertrain ranges from 39.2 to 39.7mpg – and during a long, mixed test route we bested that with over 41mpg showing on the trip computer.
That’s a highly impressive figure and one that’s comparable to a lot of diesel SUVs. However, unlike a modern diesel, the Highlander doesn’t require a long warmup period or regular substantial journeys to clear out its emissions systems – it’ll provide strong economy on short runs just as well as it does longer ones.
CO2 emissions range from 160-163g/km, meaning the Highlander attracts a low first year VED bill and even lower company car tax. Those figures are on a par with the Kia Sorento Hybrid, which starts at 158g/km – however, once you apply a similar level of specification, the Kia’s CO2 is higher.
Few surprises here – Toyota cars are some of the most reliable vehicles you can buy, and its hybrids are legendary for their longevity. Just look at the number of Prius taxis clocking up mega miles in cities around the world…
While there’s not yet any data on the Highlander’s past in the UK – remember, this is the first time it’s been available in Western Europe – its reputation in the USA in particular is of a very solid and reliable vehicle.
Like all Toyotas, it’s backed up with a five-year, 100,000 mile warranty, and Toyota dealers are known for providing excellent, fuss-free service.
Toyota Highlander engines and performance
Strong performance, but not for speed demons
Choosing an engine for your Toyota Highlander couldn’t be easier – there’s only one, so you like it or lump it.
It’s the latest evolution of Toyota’s 2.5-litre self-charging hybrid powertrain, similar to the engine found in the RAV4 as well as some Lexus models. It pairs a four-cylinder petrol engine with two electric motors, one on each axle providing four-wheel drive – though the car stays front-wheel drive until it senses a loss of grip.
We’re pleased to say that for most drivers, it should provide stellar service.
With 248hp it’s certainly no slouch – 0-62mph is dealt with in 8.3 seconds, which is more than fast enough for a family SUV. What that power really does is mean you don’t have to strain the Highlander’s engine to make good progress.
That’s important as common to all Toyota hybrids is a continuously variable transmission. These have the tendency to send the revs spiralling high as soon as the driver asks for a bit of extra pace, making for a raucous experience. But with the Highlander’s ample pulling power, especially at low speeds where the two electric motors can really lend a hand, the engine remains hushed unless you really floor it.
It’s possible to force the Highlander to drive in ‘EV’ mode for a few miles, by pressing a button near the gear selector, but for the most part it’s best to simply let the car get on with it. It’ll shuffle between power sources all by itself, and the electric motors can cut in at speeds up to 78mph so they’re even useful on the motorway.
There are four other driving modes, named Eco, Normal, Sport and Trail. Eco dulls the throttle response in a bid to force you to drive more carefully, but it makes the Highlander feel rather sluggish. Sport goes too far the other way, sharpening responses to the point where it’s fairly difficult to drive the car smoothly. We’d recommend leaving the Highlander in Normal mode most of the time.
Trail Mode optimises the four-wheel drive system and accelerator for the best grip off-road. We haven’t had the opportunity to test the Highlander’s ability in the rough stuff, but it’s not really intended as a hardcore mud-plugger – opt for a Land Cruiser if that’s your priority.
One look at the Toyota’s bulky bodywork ought to be enough to reassure you this isn’t a particularly sporty car. But that’s fine, because it doesn’t try to be – instead, the Highlander’s strength is comfort.
That doesn’t mean it’s a wobbly mess, though. In fact, with a low centre of gravity, it controls body well much better than you’d expect for a car this size.
Toyota Highlander rear corneringEnlarge0videoEnlarge16photo
The steering is lightweight and direct, so it’s easy to manoeuvre the Highlander at slow speeds and position it where it needs to be on the road. That does translate into being slightly twitchy on the motorway, however.
A total lack of meaningful feedback, however, means those who really enjoy driving ought to opt for something more engaging, such as a Skoda Kodiaq.
Toyota Highlander verdict
Should you buy a Toyota Highlander?
The Highlander is a surprise hit from Toyota, packing an incredibly family-friendly interior into a package that’s comfortable, efficient, and very well-equipped.
It comfortably ticks every box that’s expected of a large family SUV and should prove conveniently painless to own, too.
The value story isn’t quite as strong as it needs to be for us to recommend it outright, however. A Highlander Excel is more expensive on manufacturer PCP (at the time of writing) than a Volvo XC90 B5 – a car that feels far more premium, and is better to drive too.
It’s even within spitting distance of the excellent Land Rover Discovery, and significantly more expensive than the fiercely capable – albeit slightly smaller – Kia Sorento Hybrid.
The Highlander’s low CO2 and petrol-fuelled powertrain make it a good choice for a company car, though, and if you’re a private buyer who plans on keeping it for a long time then there’s little else we’re so confident about labelling as reliable.
There aren’t that many direct rivals for the Highlander, so if a well-appointed and well-built hybrid SUV – that doesn’t plug in – is on your shopping list, we don’t think you’ll be disappointed.