Updated Highlander a year away

Better efficiency and a bolder exterior are among highlights of the mid-life refresh for the Toyota Highlander, unveiled in America almost a year ahead of its New Zealand on-sale.

KEYPOINT enhancements to performance and economy are set to further strengthen the Highlander sports utility wagon’s New Zealand market favouritism, the distributor believes.

Significant changes to the model’s drivetrain are among headline improvements delivered with the updated model that has been unveiled in the United States ahead of its full debut at the New York motor show next week.

Spencer Morris, Toyota New Zealand general manager of sales, has confirmed the new Highlander as seen Stateside is also for export, including to New Zealand.

However, Kiwis cannot expect to see it for a while. TNZ is signaling that, while production at the giant plant in Indiana that now builds Highlander for all of North America plus the right-hand-drive markets begins later this year, we should not expect to see it on sale in New Zealand until 2017.

“Production for us doesn’t start until late year so we’re not going to launch until early next year.”

The Highlander’s facelift comes just two years after the model released here and is significant.

In addition to bringing an upgraded 3.5-litre petrol V6, an all-new eight-speed automatic transmission and automatic engine idle-stop, the seven-seater also delivers a bolder exterior that takes on Toyota’s latest design language, plus new safety technologies.

While TNZ says it is too early to discuss the local market lineup or effect on pricing, Morris expects the enhancements are enough to ensure Highlander maintains its popularity.

“It has been a strong seller for us, being the third best-selling sports utility last year behind the RAV4 and the Mazda CX-5.

“It is a well-received model and these are substantial enhancements.”

Power, torque and performance details of the revised engine are yet to be shared by Toyota.

In current state the quad-cam V6 delivers 201kW of power and 337Nm of torque, driving either the front wheels or all four wheels – depending on the variant – via a six-speed automatic transmission.

The new transmission is expected to improve both acceleration and fuel efficiency.

The photos here, from Toyota US, reveal a bold new face with new nose dominated by a larger lower air opening. The main bodyshell is unchanged, but as per usual convention the car takes fresh tail-lights and new alloy wheel designs.

The version pictured is a sportier North American variant, the SE, with 19-inch wheels and black trim.

The US market also has the option of individual second row seats instead of the three-person bench seen here. An eight-seat version is also now available Stateside.

The safety upgrade delivers forward collision warning, autonomous braking, lane departure alert, automatic high beam headlights, pedestrian pre-collision system and adaptive cruise control. The priciest variants get blind-spot warning and an all-round camera system for parking.

Meantime, TNZ has celebrated this being its 50th year of operation in modest fashion, with a staff lunch and a tree-planting at its Palmerston North headquarters.
Company CEO Alistair Davis says although a great deal has evolved, a constant theme remains in Toyota’s business that is as prevalent today as it was 50 years ago – it entered the market “with the aim of leading the way to the future of mobility; that remains our mantra 50 years later.” 

The ceremonious planting of the native Puriri tree was chosen for its longevity and sustainability with a nod towards the next 50 years of Toyota’s presence here.

In its early phases in New Zealand, Toyota assembled a variety of vehicles in New Zealand from the late 1960s through to late 1990s as Completely Knock Down (CKD) vehicle brought in from Japan and assembled at plants Christchurch and Thames. Product spanned Corolla, Corona, Crown, Hilux, LiteAce and Hiace models.

After local assembly ceased in New Zealand in the late 1990s’ after the Government lifted tariffs on imported vehicles, the Thames plant became the Vehicle Operations facility and a National Customer Service Centre was established in Palmerston North; now also the location of TNZ’s head office, originally based out of Johnsonville in Wellington.

In the past year, Toyota New Zealand has achieved market leadership for the 28th consecutive year, at the same time achieving record sales of almost 27,000 vehicles with notable models including the Corolla, Hilux and RAV4.  Both the longevity of leadership and the volume of sales is unprecedented in NZ.

“Being market leaders for over half the time we have been operating in NZ is a huge achievement, and the fact that one in four cars on the road is a Toyota, represents a good 50 years’ work,” said Davis.

Toyota New Zealand has big priorities for the next 50 years with environmental targets, improved safety ambitions and plans to grow and support the best of New Zealand life.