Test driving Toyotas

Ellie Gwilliam packs the family into the latest Toyota Highlander for a road trip north, and then the latest Toyota Corolla for some cruising round town.

Taking the latest Toyota Highlander AWD Limited on a family weekend away was such a thrill that we packed the kids and gear in and set off without thinking – straight into the thick of Friday evening traffic. Getting out of the city took close to an hour and we crawled north at half the usual pace until we finally left the city jams behind us around Silverdale. No matter, the inbuilt DVD player kept the kids happy and husband behind the wheel had the appearance of the cat that got the cream. The slow pace just gave him opportunity to adjust this and alter that and generally take in all the dashboard glory of this fabulous vehicle.


To be honest, I don’t really know that much about cars and writing motoring reviews is one of the more ironic parts of my job. But, that said, the Highlander displays obvious quality, up-to-the-minute safety features, and thoughtful design – even a non-petrol head like myself can see that.

Put simply, because that’s the approach I need to take with such reviews, the Highlander is brilliant for family road trips.

It is spacious and well appointed inside - from handy drink holders to the huge centre console between the front seats. Passenger comfort and convenience has been well considered. The huge centre console, for example, is specifically designed to fit and hide away a handbag! No more lipstick rolling out and disappearing under the seat  - there’s a place for everything and everything can be kept in its place in the Highlander. Love that!

The vehicle seats seven and the back seats all easily fold up and down to load in all the kids. Plus, I like this, the seats are leather – they feel luxurious but also durable. We didn’t have any carsickness to deal with this time (perhaps other press vehicles have suffered such shame on our shift, I couldn’t possibly say…) but this sort of upholstery would be easy to clean up. That’s all I have to say about that.

The boot access was fantastic, and the back door opens automatically with a light touch of a button. The glass window lifts up separately too, which is really convenient for throwing in smaller items.

HighlanderoutsideAnother hit with the kids - built in sunshades in the passenger doors that pull up and roll down. What is it with kids and the sun in their eyes? It’s sunshine, people, enjoy it!

Rear passengers also have access to their own individual temperature controls. Great for fiddling with in between DVDs. And, there is a sunroof – all kids love a sunroof! 

Thrilling for the front passengers - the seats boasted not just heating, but air-conditioning too! Slightly disconcerting, if I’m honest, a gentle breeze blowing where you least expect it…


So, in a nutshell – this is a powerful machine that comfortably gets the family from A to B in comfort and enviable style, but it really comes into it’s own on longer adventures. The petrol V6 engine made State Highway One’s Northland passing lanes a breeze. And conveniently, in terms of a disclaimer right now, cruise control was available and we used it to stay effortlessly within the speed limit.

Speaking of safety, the reversing cameras in this vehicle are excellent. Aside from the fact that they are essential to manoeuvre such a large vehicle, they are invaluable when young children are in the picture and make you wonder how you can ever safely reverse a vehicle without them.

Admittedly, the Highlander feels a bit bulky when it comes to finding a park at the mall or slipping into a parallel outside our local café when I drove my colleagues to lunch (couldn’t… had to drop them off and drive down the road to find two parks within which to safely park ‘the beast’). But that’s the price you pay for the ability to safely pack a whole bunch of kids into an SUV that effortlessly oozes coolness while refusing to look like a people mover.

Our borrowed Highlander was Rainforest green and matched the Titirangi bush quite nicely so we think we really should have one in our driveway permanently.

Alas, we had to return it. But the friendly folk at Toyota swapped my Highlander keys for those of a brand new Corolla GLX sedan. Yes, even I know this is a bit like going straight from a vintage French red to a sparkling grape juice in terms of comparisons, but I gratefully got behind the wheel of another brand new car and put it through it’s paces. Well, I drove it around for a week, at least.

Having been the proud owner of two Corollas pre-family (the “single woman’s car” we used to call them) I can vouch for their reliability, as most people would - the brand’s reputation being justly earned. So I was quite impressed to note that the newest Corolla features all the simple practicality it’s name is famous for with a touch of sporty flair. “European inspired good looks” Toyota refers to them as.

Gender stereotypes aside (well, sort of) – this is a great Mum’s car – perfect for running around town with one or two kids (struggled to fit my three car-seats across the back seat). Apologies, here comes another stereotype - my husband drove this car and commented that it “handled impressively well”, and other manly things like that. I thought it drove well too, for the record.

Also, huge boot! Seriously huge. I mean you think you are driving a small car and then you pop the boot to throw in the groceries and realise you could move house without having to hire a truck.

While the most technically savvy feature of my last Corolla was the CD player clever husband installed, these days they come with all the mod-cons. The satellite navigation system was brilliant and showed crystal clear maps and 3D satellite positions of streets in our neighbourhood that we didn’t even know existed. And Bluetooth hands-free capability meant I could pair my phone with the whole technical console situation which was awesome as passengers really enjoyed talking to the car and having the car talk back to them with a voice not that dissimilar to Daddy’s. And the car has smart key entry systems for the driver’s door and the boot – so fancy!

With a five-star ANCAP safety rating Toyota is really thinking of your family with the Corolla. The back seat has two ISOFIX, three tether anchors and childproof rear door locks. But the last word for the Corolla has to be reserved for it’s reversing camera. The colour camera provides a great picture with guidance lines, and there are also four rear and two front parking sensors.

So committed to the benefits of reversing cameras are Toyota that they offer them standard in all their new Corollas. The benefits of increased visibility offered by reversing cameras cannot be understated, especially in light of the tragic deaths of an unbearable number of New Zealand children in driveways lately. For this reason alone, (although there are other good reasons!) I would suggest that anyone looking for a new car go test drive a Corolla. 


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Published 30 April, 2014



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