A kind of magic?
Considered a mandatory part of a ’70s boy’s upbringing, car spotting for many, held sway over football and girls – for a while. In those formative years anyone could discern that the yellow car 200 feet away was a Cortina. Only the eye of one more nuanced would know the car to be a GXL and therefore worthy of knowledgeable discourse. Replete with such incendiary information, one could hold court, fellow subjects agog, mythical status achieved. Those questioning the omnipotent would face swift, often brutal retribution – indignant children reduced to bitter tears through not knowing the precise date when that exact shade of vinyl roof was first released.
Times move on. So too perceptions, interests and depths. Even in a social media obsessed world, car launches or trim changes can be easily missed. Especially when the manufacturer is whisper quiet on that front. Take for example a car that has for twenty years been a global hit, but for Western Europe. Now at last the UK customer can purchase another of the Toyota portfolio (of 29 and counting) – the Highlander.
Revealed to world (except me!) at the 2001 New York motor show, Highlander was based on the Camry platform with, at the time, unique unibody construction. The plan was always to have improved fuel efficiency, car-aping characteristics and a luxurious feel to both ride and interior over rivals. Initially built in Japan, the car’s initial name being Klüger, a moniker that remains in use in antipodean markets. Derived from the German word Klug, for smart or clever, adding the umlaut increases that mythical status to “someone who is smarter than another.”
Speaking of smart, Toyota have been their usual astute selves over the past score years as 3.5 million Highlander’s have been sold. The UK begins on the car’s fourth generation. Those early models all had petrol power. Base level models made do with the four cylinder 2.4 litre for 155bhp. V6’s of 3.0 litres (203bhp) and 3.3 for 225bhp offered just front axle or all axle drive, dependant on trim. Over 130,000 per year were purchased.
Toyota took but five years to introduce their hybrid know-how into Highlander’s driveline, badging them 4WDi where electric power was sent to the rear. 2009 saw production slide across to Princeton, Indiana where a $700M investment keeps the factory running to the hills to this day, along with Chinese made variants. Chief Engineer Yoshikazu Saeki and team sought to create a “Jumbo RAV4” (the car he had previously worked on) focussing on “premium and sophisticated tangibles.” Now there’s a target.
Maintaining the Camry’s underpinnings, Highlander Season 4 utilises the TNGA platform but let’s juxtapose some figures;
1st Generation: Length 4,681-4,714mm (185”)
Width 1,826mm (72”)
Wheelbase 2,715mm (107”)
Weight 1,716 Kgs (3,784 pounds)
4th Generation: Length 4,950-5014mm (max 197”)
Width 1,930mm (76”)
Wheelbase 2,850mm (112”)
Weight 1,880-2,018Kgs (max 4,450 pounds)
Highlander seems beyond the jumbo RAV4 – itself hardly a looker – Toyota’s own unprepossessing Landcruiser’s length of 4,840mm and wheelbase of 2,790 hardly seems inadequate. Just who requires a posh, huge, seven seater hybrid that is larger than a Landcruiser? Toyota’s UK research team must have dug as deep as the Highlander’s boot capacity to find prospective buyers – oh, we of virgin territory.
Flattening those rear seats will conjure up 1,909 litres of space – enough almost to transport a home grown kei-car (3.4m in length) which makes one wonder if Toyota wishes to make something bigger just because they can.
Returning to those innocent, pre-pubescent days, spotting a Highlander should be simplicity itself. Marching forth are but two specifications: Excel and Excel Premium (both available with a £500 hybrid event discount until the end of July ‘21 – hurry – oh, you missed it.) Macro lenses to the fore – tricky to spot adjustments ahead.
Premium begets a silver rear under run, head-up display, carbon look inserts to the upper dash and a kick-activated power back door. How could you not know – or live without? Everything else other than additional optional packs is the same; emissions, approach angles (18.1 degrees), wading depth (400mm), 111mph v-max and 68 decibels of drive by sound. Pay attention, you slackers – there’ll be questions later or the rear of your head may feel my cupped hand.
Those wishing to seek out a particular brand’s largesse will seek out their pick-up, thus, who buys or more probably, leases such a vehicle? Older Landcruiser’s can be found from farm track to housing estate with new ones seldom seen. Highlander is an altogether different beast. The car (truck?) appears to contain the archetypal features so necessary yet liberally underused of such potential rivals – the Range Rover looming close by.
A LWB Rangie is 5.2 metres long but weighs in at twice the Highlander price – £116,000. Looks certainly favour Monsieur Bolloré’s wagon and his recent statements concerning the eradication of their reliability’s recalcitrance must not go unheeded although the old (Australian) adage of being able to return from the Outback are not without merit.
Highlander’s looks remain, at best, contentious but somebody out there likes ‘em. Globally, the past few years totals over 200,000 per year. At the time of writing, only new were available on Toyota’s own UK website whereas Autotrader had over fifty. Low mileages, colours, deals to be done: savvy negotiators could bag a Premium for Excel money!
As niches go, Highlander is sore thumb shaped and whilst certainly not having the market for such items to itself finds its brutish exterior combined with seven seats and hybrid power, rather alone. Consumerism would state having such choice is good. Britain’s roads, narrow and increasingly choked by evermore enormous vehicles such as these may have reached saturation point may think otherwise.
Standing out is not necessarily a good thing. They’ll probably sell like hot cakes.
 Highlander being a naming consideration for the 1989 Land Rover Discovery.