20 December 2021

Toyota Highlander GXL 2021 Car Review

The Toyota Highlander is a New Zealand favourite, with the 2021 Highlander becoming the ninth model in the current Toyota range to feature a hybrid powertrain.

Highlander 1
Toyota Highlander GXL 2021
Highlander 2
Toyota Highlander GXL 2021
Highlander 3
Toyota Highlander GXL 2021
Highlander 4
Toyota Highlander GXL 2021
Dash 5
Toyota Highlander GXL 2021
Highlander 6
Toyota Highlander GXL 2021

Is that the Neighbour peeping over the fence?

Model: Toyota Highlander
Price Range: $60,990 - $74,990 (TDP Including Hybrid variants)
Body Style: SUV
Status: Currently available 

The Highlander was also a finalist in the AA Driven New Zealand 2021 Car of the Year in both the Clean & Green Hybrid category and Large SUV category, which was an impressive achievement and shows that you can still have a sizable capable SUV that has a small carbon footprint.

Toyota understand that a hybrid powertrain isn’t every one’s cup of tea, this is why the roomy Highlander seven-seater still sports a 3.5-litre V6 engine. Toyota offers the petrol-only version in two grades the GXL and the Limited, with the entry variant starting at just $60,990 drive away.

Strong presence

The Highlander interior and exterior design have been carefully refined to create an enhanced look, key elements have been improved like the new high-gloss black grille, and slim LED headlights, which are now standard across the range. These features make the Highlander appear broader and the lighting adds a more future forward appearance.

The new Highlander is built on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform and features a lengthened wheelbase, which has been extended by a further 60mm, the overall length has been increased by the same amount, and it has also grown in girth by an extra 5mm over the previous generation, which means even more room in an already very spacious and accommodating model.

From the side profile there is a large character line that extends all the way from the front door and eases its way back into the hind quarters. The GXL and Limited variants ride high on 18” wheels, each with their own unique design, these accents create a wide dominating stance and distinguish both in the Toyota line-up.

There’s also a good selection of hues available, with a total of seven exterior colours to agonise over, with Deep Sea Blue, Crystal Pearl, Glacial Blue, Ruby, Celestial Silver, Graphite and Eclipse.

Familiar feelings on the inside

Dash intext

Sometimes we get behind the wheel of new models and find ourselves perplexed with new-fangled configurations and it’s like trying to learn to drive all over again; fumbling through menus and hunting for illusive switches that seem to be vanishing thanks to the new minimalistic trends. Well, that simply isn’t the case here in the Highlander, which we love - it’s clear, concise, and conventional.

The interior delivers a comfortable atmosphere with improvements in space, which extends to the third-row passengers. Care has also been taken across the new range to ensure frequent touchpoints have a quality feel, with small touches like the leather steering wheel and shift knob trim. The seats in the GXL are finished in a quality cloth trim - we found them to be extremely comfortable and the perfect companion on longer journeys.

Entertainment and information are provided via a multimedia system, with controls accessed on the steering wheel and an 8-inch touchscreen display atop the centre console. The system incorporates Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Standard equipment includes smart key entry and push button start, rain sensing wipers and automatic lights. Another family essential is USB charging ports, thankfully the Highlander is fitted with a total of five - three in the front, and two in the rear.

We can tell that this is one of the more practically designed interiors and we were never short of a drink holder or a storage cubby, which is difficult to achieve carrying a modern family of four about Auckland. We loved the small storage tray under the infotainment system, which had a handy pass-through for cabling, also an ideal spot for mobile phone storage and charging.

Smooth yet powerful feeling

For those who love the feel of a smooth V6 engine, Toyotas 3.5-litre V6 power plant, featured in the GXL and Limited variants, is a delightful unit. It also includes some fuel saving technology with its engine stop/start system. The combined fuel consumption is 8.8L/100km with a CO2 output of 205g/km, although we averaged about 11L/100km during our road test.

Power wise you get 218kW @6600rpm from both the GXL and Limited variants, they also featured the same conventional eight-speed automatic transmission. We found this classic V6 engine and transmission combo to be a perfect pair, never feeling short of power.

Another ace up the Highlanders sleeve is that all variants feature all-wheel drive and have a generous two-ton towing capacity; so, towing most boats and caravans will be an easy task especially with its Trailer Sway Control system (TSC) to keep things in check.


The Highlander offers a wide range of variants to please most tastes, whether you want a hard-working fleet vehicle, family hauler, or crave a sizable reliable Hybrid.

The GXL is a great option for families who want Hyundai Palisade space but perhaps can’t justify the price tag that is just shy of $100K for the 3.8-litre V6 Elite model. Many families are not only interested in plush comfortable interior spaces but safety too, which the Highlander has in spades with its Toyota Safety Sense, which is a comprehensive safety package indeed, this aided the Toyota Highlander in achieving its runner up spot at the recent AA Driven car of the year safety award category.


Excellent Space
Toyota’s inherent reliability
Neighbor envy / good resale value
Plenty of pull


Pretty thirsty in our experience
Wireless charging would have been nice at this price point

At a glance


Toyota Highlander GXL 2021


3.5-litre V6 


$60,990 + TDP

ANCAP safety rating

5 Star




8 Speed Automatic

Fuel economy/CO2

8.8L/100km, 205g/km

Towing capacity

700kg unbraked, 2000kg braked



Seating capacity


Luggage capacity/payload

241L (All seats up) 

Safety systems

  • Pre-Collision System with AEB (vehicle, pedestrian, and bicyclist detection
  • Lane Tracing Assist, All-speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control with Curve Speed Reduction
  • Automatic High Beam
  • Blind spot monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert Auto Brake
  • Reversing camera
  • Seven airbags
  • Rear Parking sensors

Find out more on how the AA can help you when buying a new car:

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