The Harrier has seen numerous iterations since it first came on the market in 1997. Earlier generations of the Harrier were closely related to the Lexus RX. In fact, the two were identical cars from 1998 up until 2013, when the model range parted and Toyota came up with a new model.
The brand spanking new Harrier is based on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform that is shared with the RAV4. But where the RAV4 was a compact crossover SUV that was designed for a little off-roading capability, the Harrier is an entirely different animal.
Externally, the 4th generation Harrier measures in at 4740mm long, 1855mm wide. That makes it both longer and wider than the model that preceded it. But the height of the new car is actually 30mm lower, coming in at 1660mm high. But the sheet metal has been more elegantly styled, with more flared wheel arches and a wide sculpted bumper that is still reminiscent of the older model, albeit with cheek implants. Really fits the bill of the “coupe-SUV” styling, though more practical than some other coupe-SUVs. Or SAVs.
Much like the Germans, Toyota has also developed a penchant for larger grilles. Though the large gaudy “Hawk-like” upper grille on the previous model was scrapped for a slimmer plastic cover. The headlights are slimmer LED units too, with more streamlined daytime running lights. A strip of chrome undercuts the headlights and grille to form one cohesive unit that ties up the front rather nicely.
Round the back end, the bumper is wider than before too. It also has a strip of LED tail lamps that span the entire bootlid. You get more chrome on the back, above the reverse lights, and the Hybrid model has twin exhaust tips. 18-inch alloy rims complete the profile of the car.
On the inside, the new model is a vast step up from an already suitably luxurious car. Settle into the driver’s seat and start the engine, and the wheel moves into your pre-set position. Yep, the Harrier has an electronically adjustable steering column. Most of the surfaces you come into contact with are upholstered in a soft supple leather. That includes the door panels, dashboard, centre console, and arm rest. The seats are also finished in premium leather with a velvety-alcantara type of suede that matches the overall lavish appearance of the cabin. Even the wood trim pieces have seen an upgrade, now taking on a textured matte surface as opposed to the glossy laminated faux wood. Take a closer look and you’ll notice that it’s still not genuine wood, but Toyota has executed it far better than before. Satin metal trim highlights adorn numerous parts of the cabin to give it a little more flair.
Ergonomics wise, the new model is a little bizarre if I’m being honest. The start button is located beneath the dual zone climate controls, the foot brake has been replaced with an electronic lever situated in front of the short stubby gear shifter. Your driving mode switch and EV mode buttons are nestled between the parking brake and shifter. And you can’t place moderately large cups or bottles in the cupholders or you run the risk of spilling your morning coffee all over the center console while using the gear shifter.
The infotainment would be familiar to some who’ve seen late model Toyotas. It comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. But I love the fact that Toyota has thought to include physical tuner and volume knobs. And the Harrier has another neat little trick. The rearview mirror can switch between a mirrored surface and a digital display, with the camera mounted in the rear bootlid. It also doubles as the in-car camera system, with an SD card slot.
In the back, the 2690mm wheelbase further expands the rear legroom, and you’ll easily fit three adults in relative comfort. Even on longer haul journeys up north. The seat backs themselves can’t be reclined, but the angle of the incline is more than enough for most people. ISOFIX anchor points are nestled within the folds of the fabric. The split 60:40 back seats also fold flat to give you a flat boot floor, and you can either operate the electric tailgate from the driver’s seat, the key, or from the release button.
The 2.5L engine in the Harrier Hybrid is identical to the one found in the Camry Hybrid, producing 178 horsepower and 222Nm of torque. An electric motor boosts the total combined power output up to 218 horsepower. The power is routed through an e-CVT transmission, which seems to be the norm for most Japanese hybrid vehicles in this day and age. And honestly, despite my gripe with CVTs, the Harrier actually performs well. You get the option of manually shifting through six “gears”, but I actually preferred the car in its normal drive mode. Drive like a hooligan, and you’ll be punished with the “rubber-band effect” that CVTs are notorious for. Drive like a sane human being, and you’ll be rewarded with smooth power delivery that gets you up to highway speed in no time.
The electric motor gives you plenty of grunt at the low end before the engine picks up and delivers the rest of the power. You’ll have no idea how fast your engine is actually running because the rev counter only displays two sections: ECO and PWR. (It’s a hybrid, what do you expect?) Thankfully, the speedo shows good old regular numbers. And you can calibrate the digital display to show your current speed, amongst a dizzying array of other settings such as your fuel economy levels and safety monitoring systems.
The 2020 Harrier Hybrid comes with Toyota’s Safety Sense Package, which includes the normal range of safety systems that ensure you stay in your lane. Pre-Collision warnings, blind spot monitors, Lane keep assist and lane departure warnings. The car even has radar cruise control, which I didn’t have the confidence to test, despite my unwavering trust in Toyota’s safety features. I did however, test the Lane Departure Alert, which really does work as advertised.
The Harrier Hybrid also comes with an EV mode, which shuts off the engine and runs purely on electricity. Admittedly you can’t travel over long distances in this mode. And the engine re-engages when you depress the throttle a little too much. But it’s a nice party trick, for when you need to sneak home after a night out with your mates.
But I have to say though, all these features may be well and good. But they detract from the key features of the driving experience. And that is the ride comfort and smooth power delivery. The driver’s electronic seat can be raised high, and the wing mirrors are massive that you barely need blind spot monitors to tell when a car is behind you. The ride isn’t velvety smooth (but the seats themselves are) but you don’t get jostled around when going over speed humps.
It may be a stretch to say this, but the Harrier is slowly encroaching on the premium and luxurious ambience that Toyota’s pricier sibling, Lexus, has to offer. It may even be a Lexus for less. Stands to reason, then, that the Toyota Harrier is a hugely popular choice for buyers looking for a mid-size SUV.