The family were fortunate enough to try out the Toyota Highlander GXL recently. We took the Highlander for a weekender up to Foxton Beach, to put it through it’s (very family-friendly) paces. And to say we were super-impressed would be an understatement.

A quick disclosure here. We do drive a Toyota ourselves. The reason we own a Toyota is we think the safety and reliability of their cars is up around the best you can get in New Zealand. So we’re definitely a little biased. But would the GXL live up to our expectations?

Toyota Highlander GXL Review


This car is just a joy to drive in. From it’s powerful front grill, and custom alloy wheels on the exterior, to the plush seating and extra comfort features on the interior. It doesn’t disappoint.

Although the Highlander GXL falls into that compact SUV crossover category. This car definitely feels like an SUV to drive. You’re up quite high, and the wheel base is long and wide enough to make parallel parking a little trickier. I found myself gripping the steering wheel just that little bit tighter. Unlike a large car, where you can relax a little on the open road, you really have to ‘drive’ the Highlander GXL.

That said, the 3.5 litre V6 engine is awesome. It’s really economical, quiet, powerful and quick. This means safely overtaking campervans in the thick of holiday traffic, and easily towing the boat or caravan to your bach or crib.

It also comes with all wheel drive and cruise control. This makes getting to your holiday destination a breeze, and then getting up the mountain, or driving along the beach, safe and enjoyable.

There were 2 great features we thought we’d highlight first up. The first is the keyless entry and engine start. You basically just have to have the key on you somewhere to get in and start up. Whether it’s stuck in your inside ski jacket pocket, or lost in the recesses of your handbag, you can get going. This will prevent a lot of holiday stress!

The other great feature is the power boot door. You just have to press a button on the key, or a button on the boot itself and up she goes. When you’re loaded down with shopping bags, or travel gear, this feature is just genius. You can also set the boot door to only go up a certain distance, which is perfect if you have a small garage, or overhead trees.

Capacity, storage and seating

Our kids are just little, which means packing in beds and bikes and tons of snacks, even just for the weekend!

The Highlander makes this job look easy. The boot capacity is just mammoth. There’s a whole 813 litres of space back there (our car has around 400 litres of luggage capacity, and we have a really big boot).

This means you can load heaps of holiday gear, tents, boogie boards, chilli bins, etc. and still get a full view out the rear window. I really like that. It just feels so much safer than having to rely on your mirrors to see (especially in the crazy holiday traffic!).

If you’re not using the boot for gear, but you need to fit in more people, the Highlander converts to a full-sized 7 seater. Just perfect for Saturday morning sports, large families, and multi-family outings.

Toyota Highlander GXL-interior

A couple of extra storage features include the glass hatch on the boot door, making it easy to get things in and out of the boot. And the gigantic centre console, and cup holders throughout. You really get the feeling Toyota understands the needs of the modern family.

Comfort and safety

As expected, the Toyota outdoes itself with safety and comfort features. There’s a 7-bag airbag system to keep everyone safe, front and back. Rear parking sensors, and reversing camera for safe backing in driveways (the Limited edition has a full panoramic view with 4 cameras). As well as the usual suspects, ABS brakes, Vehicle Stability Control, and LED daytime running lights.

For comfort, both front seats have heating (nothing quite beats a heated toosh on a cold winter’s road trip!), the driver’s seat has a 12-way seat adjustment to get that perfect position, there’s 3-zone climate control air conditioning (for warm parents, and cool kids), and the audio comes with 6 speakers so you crank the Moana soundtrack from the back of the car, and drive peacefully up front (the Limited edition even comes with a 9″ roof-mounted Blu-ray player).

Bluetooth audio and visual display

Toyota Highlander GXL-display

Clearly we’ve been deprived of the joys of bluetooth streaming audio, but we loved this feature! You can load up playlists onto Spotify, or Youtube, or fav stations onto iHeart radio and stream the audio right off your phone. And the audio in the Highlander is fantastic!

The display also gives you satellite navigation with the new SUNA traffic avoidance system. This sat nav not only takes you to your destination, but it reroutes you if there’s roadworks, or an accident, to make sure you still get there on time. The display also shows the reversing camera when backing up.

Stream all the songs and audio books you want to pass the time, let the sat nav get you to your destination, and reverse into those ridiculously tight motel carparks safely. This all makes for happy family road trips in our books!


Jarrod is a quintessential Kiwi Dad. He lives in the sunny Horowhenua, and works from a home office, overlooking his chickens and the sea. His inspiration and motivation in life come from his wife and two kids.

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