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[Test Drive] Toyota Highlander Hybrid, a fuel-efficient family SUV

Japanese carmaker’s popular family SUV makes Korea debut

By Byun Hye-jin

Published : July 31, 2023 - 00:01

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Toyota’s three-row sport utility vehicle Highlander Hybrid (Toyota Korea) Toyota’s three-row sport utility vehicle Highlander Hybrid (Toyota Korea)

Amid the burgeoning demand in Korea for large-sized sport utility vehicles equipped for family trips, Toyota has launched its three-row SUV model Highlander Hybrid here for the first time.

Based on the Toyota New Global Architecture-K platform, the Japanese carmaker touted the family car’s strong physical structure, blended with optimal suspension control which makes for an easy drive.

“The power output of the electric motor and gasoline engine in the fourth generation model of the Toyota Highlander Hybrid 2023 show 182 and 188 horsepower, respectively,” said Kim Kyung-ho, assistant manager of the product planning department at Toyota Korea. “The similar level of output in the motor and engine enables the car to show instant and strong acceleration, 50 percent more powerful than Toyota’s RAV4 Plug-in Hybrid, which was launched in January.”

The car’s official gas mileage is 13.8 kilometers per liter, which is great fuel economy for a three-row SUV, according to the automaker. Its Korean rival Hyundai’s Palisade Hybrid gasoline model’s mileage range is between 8.5 to 9.3 km/L.

Kim said that he hopes that the Highlander -- a popular family SUV in North America, Europe and Australia -- attracts Korean customers who are interested in outdoor recreation.

A view of the driver's seat in Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid (Byun Hye-jin/The Korea Herald) A view of the driver's seat in Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid (Byun Hye-jin/The Korea Herald)

A test drive of the Toyota Highlander Hybrid was conducted last week from Gyeonggi Province to Incheon, a course of some 227 kilometers.

The three driving modes -- eco, normal and sport -- showed little difference on the road. On highways, the car offered a powerful ride even on the normal mode, while driving and steering the car on the eco mode did not feel much heavier than the other two modes.

Although weighing in at over 2 metric tons, the hybrid model overall provided steering stability and strong acceleration. It was easy to brake smoothly at traffic lights.

One of the several distractions, however, was that the front side mirrors showed a narrower field of vision than other cars because Highlander Hybrid models are imported from the US, which use plane mirrors following the country’s traffic regulations. Cars in Korea mostly adopt wide-angle mirrors. The car also has a 110-volt in-car charging outlet, instead of the more widely used 220 volt in the country.

A view of the second and third-row seats in Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid (Byun Hye-jin/The Korea Herald) A view of the second and third-row seats in Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid (Byun Hye-jin/The Korea Herald)

When pressing down on the accelerator, there was a noticeably loud noise from the engine. While third row seats are positioned higher than those in the second row in order to allow a wider view from the back, it drastically reduces legroom and headroom areas for the third row.

As for the overall design, the Highlander Hybrid features a more curved angles, unlike many rival cars in Korea that adopt more angular designs to highlight their robust features. However, the Highlander Hybrid‘s front grill is similar to Toyota SUV lineups’ signature design.

The Toyota Highlander comes in two trims -- Limited and Platinum -- priced at 66.6 million won ($52,300) and 74.7 million won, respectively, approximately 24 million won pricier than rival Hyundai’s Palisade Hybrid.