There Is Only One

A kind of magic? 

Highlander headlamp. (c)

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.

The original 2001 Highlander. Motor Trend

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[1] 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.

[1] Highlander being a naming consideration for the 1989 Land Rover Discovery.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

27 thoughts on “There Is Only One”

  1. Good morning Andrew. The Highlander is not a car to which I’ve paid much attention, although I recall them being a common enough sight in the US. It’s instructive to line up the succession of generations as they tell the story of Toyota’s design journey over the past two decades.

    Same basic shape, if enlarged, but progressively more fussy design. The rate of change seems to be accelerating, and the fourth generation represents something of a step-change, going for the full ‘Jetsons’ cartoon look. Depressing.

    1. How calm that first generation looks when compared to its more ‘evolved’ current-model descendant.

      I may have once known this model existed. I’m not sure though.

    2. It looks like the boxy rear wheelarch is making a return with Mk4 after being temporarily smoothed out in the Mk3.

      Overall there is some resemblance between the recent Highlanders and the Mercedes GL, perhaps unsurprisingly given the GL’s status as the Gorden Standard of XXL fussiness.

    3. The first gen has even begun to look quite handsome to me relative to what else you see on the streets of America today. The grille is so tightly boxed in, creating that muscular ripple going from the bumper to hood; and the classic ‘fat hips’ that whisper more than a little ‘Harrier Zagato’ to me. It looks a bit like a tall Toyota Camry wagon, but it owns that! Compare that to the new swoopy mess and it feels quite satisfying and well-resolved.

      Something I find quite interesting is the increasing use of black plastic molding to fill in gaps starting on gen 3. Was the late 90s to mid 2000s some weird apogee for lack of cladding? It was popular in the ’80s, and here it is again in 2022.

    4. For me it’s quite clear why a lot of cars have black plastic cladding everywhere: the cars are getting bigger and higher, especially below the waistline. A good way to hide that are black sills and wheelarches. Unfortunately, you’ll also have to use overly large wheels with low profile tyres so they don’t look too forlorn below all that black mess…

  2. Morning Andrew. I thought the Landcruiser was big, but this is even bigger. Being a Toyota, it will be reliable but whether it has the badge status to draw buyers of Range Rovers, I’m not sure. It will draw those who are fed up with their poor reliability though, sensible people 🤣.

  3. Good morning Andrew. Car spotting ahead of football and girls. Not in my world I’m afraid 😳
    Thanks to Daniel for the images. The latest iteration of the Highlander looks awful to me. I do wonder what encourages design these days?

  4. I didn’t really know this existed – it must be absolutely enormous, as the Landcruiser strikes me as being huge. I guess you’d know when one was approaching, as the sun would be obscured and the birds would go silent.

    Having had my interest piqued by the article, I had a quick browse. It seems they do something called the Sequoia – is that even bigger? If so, would one have to pay council tax when it was parked?

  5. To my surprise the Highlander is in the Dutch catalogue. I don’t register having seen one in the flesh. If you want a big Toyota let me introduce you to the Mega Cruiser.

  6. On the Highlander name matter, Land Rover were unable to use it for the Discovery as Volvo had registered it. The planned use was on the M6, a four tonne 4 x 4 military truck designed and developed by Volvo’s UK operations in a bid to win a major contract to supply vehicles to the British Army.

    The trucks had a modified FL6 cabs and were powered by 5.4 litre Volvo TD 60 engines. It doesn’t look like the bid was a success. The plan was for them to be built at Volvo’s – very lowland – Irvine assembly plant using British-made components wherever possible, including gearboxes and axles, to achieve a 70%-plus local content.

    The name fits neatly with the ‘Laplander’, Volvo’s long running (1959-1988) military 4X4 and had possibly been registered long before the M6 venture. The ‘Highlander’ name was also used on a special edition 940 sold from around 1992-94.

    1. I should have mentioned that the M6 ‘Highlander’ project was live from 1986 – so around the time of development of the Land Rover Discovery.

      The winner of the MoD contact was Leyland DAF T244, its selection confirmed in June 1989. It would have been amusing to report that the latest Toyota Highlander was even bigger, but it’s not – T244 dimensions are 6.65m long x 2.49m wide x 3.34m high.

  7. Funny this being so foreign to Brits. There are so, so many on the Costco run amidst their brethren: the Honda Pilot, Chevy Traverse (C1XX et al), Nissan Pathfinder, Subaru Ascent, Ford Explorer, and the Korean twins (Palisade + Telluride). Don’t forget the new embiggened transverse VW for us too, the Atlas (Teramount in China). It seems like the size class finds certain success abroad in markets like South Korea, Australia(ish), and China, but overall the general consensus seems to be that vehicles of this size are truck-based outside the U.S.

    I find it all a bit comedic, to be honest. What capability do these really have beyond a AWD minivan, or even a MPV with snow tires? Sliding doors (at least common in America) make third rows a breeze to access, and the stunted body of these giant CUVs just seems to limit space back there. As a kid who grew up in an RL3 Odyssey, you’re not fitting a whole string quartet (instruments included) +2 parents into any of those! And you’re not getting the towing capability of something like a Tahoe or Fortuner anyway. I’ll stick with my vans and wagons, thank you very much!

    1. Good morning Alexander. Why are SUVs so popular? In the US at least, I think it is inextricably bound up in the romantic American history of frontiersmen and women striking out westwards to make a new life for themselves. It doesn’t matter that many urban-based SUV never ventures further than Costco or Walmart these days, their owners know that they could do so if required and they project absolutely the image.

      At least in the US you’ve got got plenty of space for them, even in your cities, which have largely been designed around motor vehicles. Here in the UK, the larger ones are ridiculously oversized in the narrow streets of our historic towns and cities.

    2. I think historically a lot of it has to do with the exemption of “light truck” vehicles under CAFE until 2007/8, meaning that the Big Three especially could get away with selling more and more of their larger offerings without hurting their overall fleet economy figure. As a result, pickups and SUVs/CUVs saw a huge marketing sales push buoyed by the relatively low fuel prices of the late ’90s and early ’00s which saw nameplates like Highlander, Pilot, Pathfinder, Traverse, et al. cement their places in the American psyche. The relaxed CAFE system of light-trucks and subsequent marketing push was also part of why analysts believe that America’s best-seller being a family sedan got pushed out in favor of the F-150, Ram, and Silverado/Sierra around that timeframe. Of course, not to be overlooked is the increased popularity of the ‘outdoorsman’ blue-collar archetype over the patrician white-collar ideal that used to be the status quo in the days of Oldsmobile and Buick being top sellers. It seems that this ‘ruggedness’ is somehow a more appealing identity than ‘being comfortable’ despite the fact that modern pickups are nothing more than $80k+ body-on-frame luxury sedans anyway.

      That said, I can’t help but wonder if the CUV is perfect for America in many ways. Our roads are bigger, but besides the interstates, many are poorly paved and depending on your locale, totally gravel. I’d been wary of getting an XC70 over a standard V70 from the outset, but given how many times I’ve used its ~215 mm clearance to wade through small puddles, clear jutting outcroppings on unmaintained dirt roads, and bump through 4-5 inch deep potholes, it seems like the extra ground clearance may not be so out-of-place in American environs. Add that to the fact that I park right next to trolley returns with zero worry of door dings thanks to the black plastic cladding, and it seems like American roads are a battleground of sorts where the appropriate plastic-clad wagon will make everything that little bit easier!

      Aha, you say our cities have more space, but that’s a clever American misnomer. I’m from the SF Bay area and since growing up in the early 2000s, it seems like our local community has exploded in population and with it, in commuter numbers. The illusion of space is propped up by the fact that we have a wide-ranging network of freeways and expressways to ferry 3-4 lanes of traffic wherever it needs to be. And yet, even with this sense of space, travel times have nearly tripled on weekends to local tourist destinations because of the number of road users. Now, not to sound like a ‘socialist youth’, but just looking at the space utilization of these roads in comparison with a single well-maintained rail network makes me feel like this whole highway venture might be a bit misguided.

    3. “Of course, not to be overlooked is the increased popularity of the ‘outdoorsman’ blue-collar archetype over the patrician white-collar ideal that used to be the status quo in the days of Oldsmobile and Buick being top sellers”. There´s a whole book to be written about that shift, perhaps reflecting the hollowing out of the middle class in the last 40 years.
      Regarding socialism, it´s not so bad if you consider most of Europe is run on social democratic principles. I live in Denmark with a tax rate of 50 percent, free-at-the-point-of-use health care, six weeks holidays, paid maternity leave (a year per child) free education and monthly grants for university students. I see plenty of big cars around here (not trucks though) and it all seems to work pretty well. Cars are pretty highly taxed but this is a voluntary tax – you don´t pay a lot for basic transport if you really don´t want to take a bus or train (and most don´t). Those who do fork out for a large car are kindly help pay for social services. And the roads are butter smooth too. Germany´s model affords cheaper cars if you think Denmark´s is too much; both countries´ GDP per capita are on the high side so the cost of this is pretty nugatory. Is this socialism? Not the Cuban kind anyway. The market does what it does best and the state does its part to support it all.

    4. I think it’s more the bifurcation of the middle class into more rural folks who feel alienated by globalism and tech-workers who climb higher and higher into Musk-mobiles and the like. There’s certainly something to be read about the decreasing viability of blue-collar careers as America shifts into that sector of “services dominated industries” despite our newfound fascination for cosplaying as outdoorsy folk. Subaru in particular has identified a left-wing niche for that type of stuff to sell a metric sh*tload of their mediocre CVT-laden crossovers.

      The youth here certainly have high hopes for that type of ideology to become more popular, but given the limited usability of the two-party system it seems most developments will be confined to decades of back-and-forth amounting to minimal improvement. My boyfriend “hates” cars as a gay youth who’s yet to learn to drive (and to spite me in jest), but I reckon with him that every country, no matter how socialist or developed or whatever, still has private car ownership to some degree. Now, I have a theory that the less-required a car is in a society, the more freedom can be had in car ownership with regards to not needing it as primary transportation (disregarding all the tax and regulatory red tape). It’s rather interesting to me how expensive running used cars are here compared to somewhere like the UK because here they’re a requirement and there they’re a liability. I think that ‘having to have’ a car as we do here in America limits the romance if it because it reduces it to the level of walking insofar as to the ubiquity of driving. Cars become much more troublesome, dangerous, stressful, and tiring when you absolutely need one and absolutely need it to work every single day. I think that’s what affects the reliability of certain ‘reliable’ European marques here, too. You think you have a reliable Volkswagen or Peugeot until you’re relying on it to travel 200 miles a day, at 70-80 mph, in 38 C, with the A/C at full blast. Sure today that’s no problem, but when the foreign marques first came here, that’s probably why many Japanese manufacturers committed to American R&D pretty early on. I once read a book with a chapter detailing how the engineers at Honda made a ‘road-trip’ to America to figure out why their first generation Odyssey was such a flop there. Immediately they began to realize the 4-cyl was underpowered on highway merges, the A/C unacceptable on desert mountain passes, and the cargo space unusable for Home Depot runs. Thus came the RL1 Odyssey, V6 only, LWB only, dual sliding doors only, and the rest is history as far as American-Japanese minivanning goes.

    5. Alexander: “Cars become much more troublesome, dangerous, stressful, and tiring when you absolutely need one and absolutely need it to work every single day…. You think you have a reliable Volkswagen or Peugeot until you’re relying on it to travel 200 miles a day, at 70-80 mph, in 38 C, with the A/C at full blast.” I can’t compete with that. Here in temperate Europe, (and very temperate Ireland) we fail to realise the sheer unremitting intensity of use cars receive in the US.

      With regard to the ‘romance’ of the motor car and its potential future use, tomorrow’s offering may be of interest…

    6. The Japanese and Volvo seem like the only ones who could crack that pretty early on, and both would later start developing their cars with us specifically in mind. The sheer scale of America is hard to grasp, but the scenario I mentioned is basically what happens when my roommate goes from our place in Tucson to her parents in Phoenix which she does in an ’04 Civic sedan. That’s why many Americans practically worship Japanese-engineered cars.

    7. Good morning, Alexander, and thank you for a very thoughtful meditation on the role of the motor vehicle and the experience of driving in the US. There’s plenty to unpack and reflect upon there, but well done on picking me up on my lazy generalisation about US cities being “designed around motor vehicles”. I have also sat in traffic jams in San Francisco often enough to have known better!

      On the broader issue of investment in infrastructure and public services, it is a source of great frustration to me that, here in the UK, politicians on all sides are fundamentally dishonest on this subject. They all promise transformational improvements without specifying how they will pay for these. The right say it’s all down to achieving greater ‘efficiencies’, while the left want the top 5% of earners to foot the bill. The truth is simple: you cannot have Danish levels of public services at UK levels of personal taxation. If we want really high quality public services then we ALL have to pay more in taxation for them and accept a cut in personal disposable income as a fair price to pay. We need to have a meaningful and honest debate and decide what we want.

      That said, DTW is not the appropriate forum for such a debate and my criticism is intended to be entirely even-handed, aimed at politicians of all persuasions.

    8. Ah, preaching to the choir! Is there any populace in the world whose majority approves of what their government does, though? My friends and I like to jest that the UK is where America got its ‘low taxes and high nationalism’ streak from, though as Americans we’re far more entrenched in both of those I’d wager to guess. I’d imagine it takes a great deal of trust in government to be willing to pay such a high tax as the Nordics do since neither here nor probably in the UK do the public trust that their tax money will be spent on local improvements and not on some far-off war. I hope I’m not getting too political with this, but I do wonder where the happy medium is, especially for us enthusiasts who are perhaps viewed as more ‘conservative’ because of our hobby. I’ve long thought Australia could be a haven of sorts with lax import laws and plenty of space to own plenty of weird stuff, but of course nowhere’s perfect!

    9. I´d think Germany might be a happy medium on the balance of state and private sector. There´s mostly private health insurance but other social services are free at the point of use. They have lots of great old cars, if that matters.

    10. Mmm, I have pipe dreams of someday owning a big ol’ warehouse full of ageing classics that I can just walk into and stare at, so I’m really fine with whatever country will allow me to do that as cheaply and easily as possible (here in the U.S. the property would be easy, but getting the cars I’d want isn’t). Oh, and I suppose somewhere more Western is preferable, where being gay isn’t so much a crime as it is a begrudgingly-placed tick box on a census sheet.

    11. You might try a visit to Berlin and have a look at
      Generally speaking, the west German cities are very open and tolerant and Berlin has always been especially so.
      I used to live in Cologne and know it well. Its multi-cultural, tolerant culture is renowned and also it’s handier than Berlin which is a bit sprawly versus Cologne´s compact structure. Cologne also has something like Berlin´s Classic Remise:
      As far as I understand it German labour rates are quite reasonable. I had no problem getting my Citroen XM serviced in Cologne when I lived there. Hamburg is also quite interesting and diverse. Maybe you might brush up on your German and take a trip.
      Here in Denmark it´s another story – this is not a car friendly place at all unless you want to lease a white/grey/black slab of some kind. I just blew 150 euros on part of an exhaust pipe. Erk.

    12. Hah, I appreciate you sharing firsthand experience! I hope to have something hydropneumatic and French eventually, so having access to XM-friendly mechanics sounds enticing no doubt (and would be much harder outside the continent!) And that great shared space in Berlin is just wonderful! I’ve become a bit unsure regarding Europe as a long-term goal for me since I’ve been raised in American suburbia through-and-through so I’m a bit too used to being able to run naked through my backyard and park five Volvo estates in my frontyard!

    13. Apart from the garden frolics, it would probably be okay*. And there´s plenty of German suburbia too, if that´s the kind of environment you need! Another possibility is Holland which is perhaps even more French car orientated than even France is. I had two days in Rotterdam some years back and the number of old cars I saw was delightful. The Dutch don´t have a car marque of their own since Daf and so they are quite catholic in their tastes.

      I have no experience of nudism but I have read Germans are quite keen. We Anglo-Saxons find it very peculiar indeed. It´s not my cup of tea though as I like to say, each to their own. I don´t want the sunburn, thanks.

    14. I’ll second Richard’s recommendation of the Classic Remise in Berlin. It’s a wonderful place to wander around, and generally hang out, in. There’s even a decent restaurant…

  8. For those who do not care for vehicle dynamics, vehicles are like goldfish – they grow to the size of their bowl.

    The American CUV phenomenon isn’t driven by the iconograpy of the frontiersman*, it’s driven by fear and status. Some people find driving fearful and stressful. In most of the world, they don’t drive. In America, they drive crossovers.

    The big crossover is a mom car. My wife drives a modern BMW 3, which is larger than the 5 series of my youth. She gets asked by her mom and aunts when she’s going to “upgrade” to something bigger. They all say that they want to “sit up high”, so they can see better, and they associate size with safety. Unfortunately, height and size are relative, and the result of this arms race is fearful drivers anxiously peering over ever higher steering wheels. Every year the crossovers get taller, the fronts get scowlier, the 4wd badges get larger. It’s all designed to make the fearful driver feel safe.

    As transportation, they don’t make any sense at all. As a therapy dog, they make perfect sense.

    The other blade of the scissors is status. When the station wagon became associated with frumpy older moms, younger moms bought minivans. Now that minivans are associated with our parents, younger people buy crossovers to signal that they’re not parents, they’re active, fit, beautiful Instagram outdoor influencers (even if in reality they’re fat urbanites). The only people I know who drive minivans are from cultures where parenthood is high status (immigrants and Mormons)

    Thankfully this insanity seems to be receding among the youngest people I know.

    * I think the connection between the American frontiersman mythos and the pickup truck is oversold. Pickup trucks are similar popular in Canada, Thailand, Australia, and Mexico – places with rather different cultural symbology. If you want to stand in your cargo area while loading and unloading and still fit in a garage at night, the open bed is the only way to go.

    The excess size of the American truck is due to tax structure and secondary market interactions I think I have discussed here. Every few years I buy an off-lease ex-fleet truck for less than what I would pay for a new Golf, and sell the old one for 70% of what I paid for it. A smaller truck actually has a higher lifecycle cost. Many of us truck drivers think it’s insane, but just like homeownership, if they keep subsidizing, we’ll keep buying.

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