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Per­haps unex­pec­tedly, one of my most mem­or­able drives ever was in a Toyota High­lander. Giv­en that SUVs aren’t known for their driv­ing dynam­ics, I was a bit sur­prised at the time, too. It was late after­noon, and we were on a ski­ing hol­i­day in Queen­stown. Without bor­ing you unreas­on­ably with detail, our slope time had been pre­ma­turely abor­ted fol­low­ing the ser­i­ous mech­an­ic­al break­down of our rent­al vehicle. Hertz had come to the res­cue with a then new High­lander, and we had decided to drive to Mil­ford Sound.

To this day, I’m so glad for that break­down. The drive from Te Anau to Mil­ford and back was simply thrill­ing. The road was vir­tu­ally empty and we were des­per­ate to make the last tour­ist boat to avoid a com­plete write-off of the day. In the High­lander, we couldn’t have asked for more. It was spa­cious, respons­ive, com­fort­able and sur­pris­ingly quick. Dynam­ic­ally, it set the bar for me then with all oth­er large SUVs.

Which is why I was expect­ing big things from the new-for-2014 mod­el. Appear­ance-wise, it’s pretty famil­i­ar ter­rit­ory, but sport­ing the new Toyota cor­por­ate liv­ery and gen­er­ally appear­ing con­tem­por­ary. But for this, the third gen­er­a­tion, it’s also longer and wider — which means a big­ger boot and bet­ter interi­or space.

Under the bon­net is a 3.5‑litre V6 engine, a carry-over from the last mod­el but no bad thing. It pumps out a healthy 201kW and 337Nm of torque, which will pro­pel the nearly 2‑tonne vehicle to 100km/h in around eight seconds. That’s pretty impress­ive actu­ally, and the enthu­si­asm of this motor, par­tic­u­larly its mid-range per­form­ance, is what helps set the High­lander apart.

On the road, it feels as stable and sure­footed as I remem­ber. The EPS (elec­tron­ic power steer­ing) sys­tem assists pro­gress — par­tic­u­larly when push­ing on — by apply­ing subtle brak­ing, keep­ing the whole exper­i­ence tidy, while the steer­ing feels suit­ably heavy and provides good feed­back. There were no epic drives on this occa­sion unfor­tu­nately, but I was sur­prised how com­fort­able I felt behind the Highlander’s wheel in just a short time.

Equip­ment? There are three trim levels to choose from. I drove the middle-of-the-range GXL mod­el, which retails for just under $66k. Most of the good­ies you might expect come as stand­ard, but there are Lim­ited and Lim­ited ZR mod­els if you’re after more fruit. It’s the entry-level GX that gets my vote though, at a smidgen under $60k. It may not have all the lux­ur­ies, but it does have the import­ant stuff, like impress­ive V6, 4WD and sev­en seats… and let’s be hon­est, the most com­pel­ling reas­on to own an SUV is because you have to trans­port people.

If you’re in the mar­ket for a big SUV, which every­one pretty much seems to be, then the High­lander makes a lot of sense. And if you’re lucky, then like me, you might just have some won­der­ful driv­ing exper­i­ences to boot.

Con­clu­sion: A large, no-non­sense SUV that deliv­ers the goods with all the reli­ab­il­ity Toyotas are renowned for. It’s a shame there’s no dies­el option, but the V6 is a goodie.