Toyota has revealed the refreshed Highlander, coming here exclusively as a hybrid. (Toyota supplied footage)
New Zealand’s September registration data for hybrids and EVs signalled Toyota’s next move for continued expansion of its hybrid model line-up.
The hybrid registration stats noted a new generation Highlander Hybrid arrived during September. It’s an evaluation unit ahead of its launch in New Zealand early next year.
The local launch timing for the fourth-generation Highlander has been pushed back several months due to production delays related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
From next year, the only Highlander on sale in NZ will be the hybrid model.
New Highlander will strengthen Toyota New Zealand’s leadership of the hybrid SUV segment in which it already competes with the RAV4 and C-HR and will soon launch the new Yaris Cross models.
It will be Toyota’s first seven-seat hybrid model and Toyota NZ has confirmed it will concentrate solely on the hybrid version with no plans to bring conventional 3.5-litre V6 Highlanders here.
In some ways a hybrid Highlander has been a long time coming to the Kiwi market. Toyota has sold V6 petrol-electric Highlanders in North America – sharing technology with Lexus RX hybrid models – since 2006.
However, there’s a new powertrain for the hybrid version of the fourth-gen Highlander using the 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine shared with the RAV4, Camry and Lexus ES 300h.
Toyota has also improved the styling of the SUV as well as the active safety kit.
As with the RAV4 Hybrid, four-wheel-drive is achieved by a rear-mounted electric motor. Total system power output is expected to be about 179kW.
The fourth-gen Highlander boasts new styling and updated safety technology and it also measures 60mm longer than the model currently on sale in New Zealand to deliver increased interior space and load capacity. The hybrid battery is located under the second-row seats.
“The new Highlander is brand new from the ground up; a new platform for improved stability and handling, a new engine with class leading efficiency, new levels of safety and with a dynamic styling package,’’ said Neeraj Lala, Toyota New Zealand Chief Operating Officer.
The production source for the new Highlander is Toyota’s Princeton, Indiana plant. In North America the V6 petrol models launched late in 2019 and the hybrid went on sale in February.
Highlander won’t be the first US-built hybrid in the large SUV category sold in New Zealand.
Between 2014-16 there were 26 examples of the Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid sold in New Zealand. The Pathfinder Hybrid also had a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and hybrid drive in place of a 3.5-litre V6 engine.
In the luxury SUV segment Lexus has enjoyed ongoing success with its V6-engined RX 450h hybrid models.