If you’ve got time to kill, I invite you to count the number of sport utility vehicle choices available today. Take your time. You’ll need it.

Most manufacturers have a sport utility somewhere in their stable. A concept that began decades ago as a nifty idea now defines a segment ubiquitous enough to earn a significant portion of overall automotive market share.

This road test explores the 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited SUV – a sport utility vehicle made by a company that still sells a whopping number of cars in the traditional sense, including one of the top sellers in Canada.

The Highlander is sizeable – it weighs just shy of 5,000 pounds unladen. Throw in some passengers (it will seat seven), load it with fuel, some gear, hook it up to a toy-hauling trailer, and it could qualify for an area code.

Fortunately, powered by a 3.5 litre gasoline engine working in conjunction with Toyota’s Hybrid Electric Drive system, the Highlander sends a very adequate and refined 305 horsepower to all four wheels in appropriate measure. With passengers and additional cargo onboard, I haven’t felt the need for more power. My average fuel consumption for the week is 9.1 l/100km.

What strikes me most about the Highlander is the one thing I notice the least. Noise. The Toyota is quiet, even wearing winter tires with aggressive siping. If I’m puttering along in city traffic or cruising at highway speeds I can still hear myself think. Sometimes, its eerily quiet.

The Highlander is difficult to unsettle under normal driving conditions. There’s a magical place with some nasty stretches of pavement that will punish all but the stoutest of family-haulers. Let’s call this place ‘Toronto’. Driving over potholes, uneven surfaces and off-camber ruts in the city are a non-issue for the Highlander. It capably handles roads under construction and those that should be.

Spirited driving in the Toyota causes a significant amount of body roll, as well as a significant amount of input and notification from the Highlander’s active safety systems. While exploring the SUV’s upper handling limits isn’t high on my priority list, safety is not a concept left on the drawing board by engineers at Toyota.

The Highlander boasts a fairly sensitive Lane Departure Alert system with steering assist, which gently guides the car back into the appropriate lane, a Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection (without species distinction, it may be able to see family dogs as well), Rear Cross Traffic Alert, multiple tethers for Child Restraint Seats, and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. The Highlander seems very aware of where I am in relation to other traffic and is keen to keep me informed.

My only criticism from a driving ergonomics perspective comes courtesy of the Highlander’s large side-view mirrors in conjunction with the A-pillar. Together they produce a blind spot and I find that tight left turns are a little tricky.

The backseat, a place normally reserved for lesser friends and children provides a pleasant surprise. Passengers in the second row will enjoy dual captain’s chairs, acres of legroom, and full control of their own microclimate. These seats don’t offer much in the way of adjustability but are supple and provide dual armrests. As such, I can only suggest exercising discretion when choosing who to ferry around.

Third row seating is adequate but really only spacious enough for kids. Rear seats can be flipped and folded in a variety of configurations and unless you’re a pole vaulter will easily accommodate your gear.

The Highlander provides muted blue dashboard lighting that does not mess with my night vision. The dashboard itself is moderately clean, but fewer buttons surrounding the large in-dash touch screen would make it tidier. Shorter drivers (present company included) need to lean forward and reach when accessing the upper right portion of the touchscreen.

Stereo, climate, navigation, safety, and infotainment systems are extensive, user-friendly, and include a digital navigator who seems overly eager to participate in my phone conversations. Bluetooth pairing is simple, stereo sound quality is adequate, and power outlets for myriad peripheral devices abound in both front and back seats.

If you’re still tallying up SUVs on offer, you can stop now. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited is obviously not the only SUV vying for market share. It is, however, a solid choice from a manufacturer known for reliability and represents a comfortable, functional and relatively efficient competitor in the not-a-car segment. It is worth a serious look.

2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Base Price: $56,640.00
As Tested: $58,552.50
Drivetrain: Six-cylinder 3.5-litre gasoline engine with hybrid drive, 306 net horsepower, continuously variable transmission, all wheel drive
Performance: 9.1 litres per 100 km in mixed city/highway driving
VVUZZ Recommended: Load it up, hit the highway and, depending on who you have in the back, enjoy some quiet and peace of mind.

 

Images courtesy of the author.

Published on Dec 05, 2017