An American import, but not as vast as the Midwest
Gibson County, in the southernmost part of the US state of Indiana, doesn’t immediately seem like a place where a car will emanate from that could conquer Western Europe, but it could be.
Gibson County, or Union Township more accurately, is home to TMMI — it’s Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana, to you and me — which employs some 7,000 people and generates revenues of more than $2 billion a year.
It was established in 1996 and the current president of the factory is a lady called Leah Curry and she oversees the production of three Toyota models – the Sequoia, Sienna and Highlander, both in hybrid and petrol variants.
Now, to us Paddies, the Sequoia and Sienna are something completely alien, if you’ll forgive me for the obvious pun. The first is a full-size SUV based on Toyota’s Tundra pickup; the latter is what Americans call a minivan, but would be better recognized in this part of the world as an MPV. The Sienna is also a modern equivalent of the Previa, which was once sold here by Toyota and was popular in many neighborhoods.
It’s a sign of the global nature of Toyota’s business that we’ve never heard of these cars. And, chances are we never would have heard of the Highlander either unless Toyota Europe decided it needed a full-size seven-seat SUV to round out its lineup in this part of the world. world.
But, where in the world could he get such a car? Well, Gibson County, of course.
However, large cars aimed at the American market do not often cross the Atlantic with great success. Recognized in Europe for their gigantic size, prehistoric drivability, generally crappy build quality and gas-guzzling engines, American cars don’t usually register here, except for expats and enthusiasts. wacky.
So why are they sending us the Highlander? Well, even though it’s a true seven-seater and a pretty big size, this car isn’t your archetypal vast American export and, when fitted with one of the ubiquitous hybrid engines from Toyota, it fits perfectly into the company’s European game plan.
Now, of course, the company had to recalibrate several things to make the Highlander palatable to European tastes, resulting in suspension tweaks, a revised 2.5-litre engine and a host of tech and comfort features.
Technically, the Highlander fits into the Toyota model range between the RAV4 and the Land Cruiser and while the Platinum specification. the version we tested is a 4WD beast, the car is a soft-roader with off-road capability. This means that the target audience is largely the family type, albeit mildly adventurous families.
This puts it in direct competition with fierce competition, including the Skoda Kodiaq, SEAT Tarraco or Kia Sorento; heck, the Platinum version can even take on high-end competitors such as the Land Rover Discovery or the Volvo XC90. And when you compare it with several of these cars, you see what Toyota’s game plan is here.
The savvy Japanese know very well that the SUV concept is conquering the world in terms of popularity and to this end they are currently manufacturing a multitude of them.
You have the new Yaris Cross at the bottom, followed by the CH-R, RAV4 and Land Cruiser. They also plan to land a new electric SUV soon. And now you also have the Highlander.
With this car, it could have been the case that the company’s European office called their superiors in Toyota City to find out if there was anything in the expanded global production lineup that could be adapted to specifically accommodate their punters and , after a brief moment of reflection got the following response: “Yeah. We have exactly what you need. Just let me call the guys from Gibson County.
Whatever decision was made it was good because it’s a car that will appeal to anyone who needs a seven seater that could almost go anywhere, is very practical, has a touch of luxury about it and also enjoys the benefit of painless ownership, which is Toyota nailed data.
So how is it?
Well, regular readers will know these quarters’ general disdain for hybrid technology, but in this case, we’re almost ready to make an exception. The naturally aspirated 2.5-litre engine has a 134 kW electric motor powering the front axle and another 40 kW motor at the rear.
And, despite this setup being mated to a CVT automatic gearbox (something else, historically, we haven’t had much time for), the combination delivers a driving proposition that, although While not exactly likely to excite you to death, it’s actually great fun to drive in almost any circumstance.
With a peak system output of 248bhp, there’s plenty of grunt out there to move what is, after all, a considerable piece of metal. The 0-100 km/h of 8.3 seconds and the top speed of 180 km/h confirm that this is a family-oriented car, but it is far from being the most efficient.
The switch between gasoline and electric motoring is seamless and hard to spot; fast cruising takes place in near-silence. The only real pain here is that when you ask for sudden acceleration, the revs hit the roof and stay there. Judicious application of the right boot is therefore not only advised, but essential.
That said, the Highlander is still capable of near-diesel fuel consumption levels and you should see an average rate of 6.7 l/100 km (41.2 mpg) returned unless you go completely like a monkey.
The driving characteristics focus on scale comfort and as a result the ride is smooth enough to deal with the worst that the Irish road network can offer and the handling is as crisp as anything offered in a vehicle of this size.
The interior decor leans towards the top end of the market and most surfaces are pleasantly tactile, while there’s leather upholstery and the front seats are ventilated and heated, while the middle row is also heated.
A panoramic roof adds to the overall lightness offered here and those in the two front rows of seats have plenty of space. The adults in the third row, however, will only last for short distances because the room in the back is cramped. However, a sliding second row of seats helps in this regard. Boot space with all three rows of seats in use is tight, but can be increased to cavernous proportions if required.
A slight disappointment was the technology on offer. While Toyota’s systems offer everything you need on the infotainment and connectivity fronts, they feel very dated and not very up to date.
In truth, it’s not a wildly exciting car to drive, but it’s extremely comfortable, well-equipped, extremely practical, refined and efficient. And on top of that, of course, it’s a Toyota, so more than likely it’ll be bombproof too. What’s not to like?