Admission. I took two extra turns over my normal route the other day to have a closer look at the new Toyota Harrier. It wasn’t an exotic supercar I was following, but a Harrier. Why? A: Because it’s pretty rare and I don’t remember seeing one on the road before. B: It’s quite a striking SUV, isn’t it? Beautiful even.

After realising that there’s good demand for the Harrier with the third-generation SUV – the first time a Harrier was officially sold in Malaysia outside of the grey import scene – UMW Toyota Motor (UMWT) decided on a sequel and launched the fourth-generation Harrier here in April before the nationwide lockdown.

If you’re not aware of the latest 2021 Toyota Harrier, it’s a pandemic-era baby, going on sale in Japan in June 2020. It’s also available in North America as the Toyota Venza, a name previously used on an odd Camry-based wagon-crossover model. Check out our through-the-years gallery post of all four generations of the Harrier, which was a household name way before UMWT sold the SUV.

The latest XU80 Harrier sits on the GA-K variant of the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform, also used by larger models like the XV70 Camry, the current Toyota RAV4 and the Lexus ES. It’s slightly larger and lower than before, and the sleeker, more coupe-like profile is obvious in the metal.

Gone is the Harrier’s trademark bird logo, replaced by the standard T badge, even in Japan. The closed-off upper grille is still present though, flanked by even slimmer matrix LED headlights. Those piercing eyes combine with a large lower grille for a distinctive face. The LED fog lamps are placed in the lower corners of the grille and not far out wide.

The new Harrier’s rear end also sports slim LED lights. It’s a full-width strip, with just a break for the Toyota logo. The third brake light strip on the rear spoiler is also very long. Official Malaysian units wear 18-inch two-tone alloys (Bridgestone Alenza 225/60 tyres, 19s are available in Japan). Overall, the new Harrier is classy and just about bold enough without going full Lexus. What do you think?

Under the hood is a 2.0 litre Dynamic Force four-cylinder also found in the RAV4 and Lexus UX. It makes 173 PS at 6,600 rpm and 203 Nm of torque from 4,400 to 4,900 rpm. The M20A-FKS is naturally aspirated, and this is the big news in the powertrain department, given that the previous-gen Malaysian-spec Harrier had a 2.0 litre turbo engine with 231 PS/350 Nm. The difference is big, but if the experience in the UX is anything to go by, it should have enough poke.

The NA engine is paired to a Direct Shift CVT that sends power to the front wheels. The previous-gen turbo model used a conventional six-speed automatic gearbox. The 0-100 km/h sprint is done in 9.7 seconds and top speed is 190 km/h. Fuel consumption is rated at 15.3 km/l, better than the old turbo’s 13 km/l.

By the way, there are only two powertrain options for the Harrier in Japan – this 2.0L NA and a 2.5L hybrid. The Venza is shipped to the US as a hybrid, as it’s the only suitable option for that market. There’s no turbo option anywhere else.

The Harrier is suspended by MacPherson strut suspension at the front and double wishbones at the rear, as before, but the suspension geometry has been optimised for rigidity and handling balance. The retuned dampers also improve smoothness at lower speeds, while increased sound insulation makes for a more refined drive, Toyota says.

Inside, the dashboard is dominated by a diamond-shaped centre console inspired by a horse’s saddle, and it’s now high enough to act as a divider for the front seats. There’s faux leather trim and stitching on the dashboard and door cards. Novel features include a dimmable electrochromic panoramic glass roof and a digital rear-view mirror. There’s a “Harrier bird” somewhere in the cabin – go find it.

No one expects the full 12.3-inch centre touchscreen found in Japan, so our car makes do with a 8.0-inch screen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and plenty of bezel. At least it’s an OEM Toyota infotainment system and not a local job. Elsewhere, there’s a head-up display, Qi wireless charger, reverse camera and six speakers. There’s also an electronic parking brake with auto brake hold, moved from the right of the driver to the centre console.

The Harrier is pretty well equipped, and other standard fit items are keyless entry with push start, dual-zone climate control with Nanoe X ioniser, power-adjustable front seats (12-way driver with memory, four-way passenger) with ventilation/heating, heated steering wheel with power adjustment, reclining rear seats, leather upholstery and and hands-free powered tailgate. Before you question the heating bits, equipment come in packs.

No blind spots when it comes to safety. The Japan-made Harrier comes with the full Toyota Safety Sense suite of driver assistance systems, including autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, lane centring assist, lane keeping assist, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert and adaptive high beam. Also in are seven airbags (including driver’s knee), stability control and Isofix rear child seat anchors.

UMWT has also fitted a vehicle telematics system, premium solar and security tint and front/rear dashcams. Colour options are Slate Grey Metallic, Dark Blue Metallic and the Steel Blonde Metallic you see here. Precious Black and White Pearl Crystal Shine are RM800 cost options.

The new Harrier comes with a sole 2.0 Luxury variant, priced at RM249,707 on-the-road without insurance, including the 50% sales tax rebate for CBU imports. Of course, SST exemption ends at the end of this year, unless there’s another last minute extension. Buying from the official Toyota distributor means that your Harrier will come with a five-year unlimited-mileage factory warranty.

By the way, the new Harrier is RM10,000 cheaper than the previous-gen Luxury variant, which of course had a turbo and more power. Where does the Harrier sit in UMWT’s growing range of SUVs? It’s the most premium and expensive player in the five-car team, ahead of the RM215k RAV4, which is also imported from Japan. The RAV4 has a larger 2.5L engine (2.0L base variant discontinued) but less kit and image than the Harrier. The styling is also more butch and the edges sharper.

The other members of the team are the Rush, Corolla Cross and Fortuner. As you can see, they’re all rather different in nature, price and positioning. It wasn’t that long ago when UMWT did not have enough SUV representation in Malaysia, now it has five, not including those from Lexus. We did a recent post explaining the local Toyota SUV range vis-a-vis rivals – check that one out.

In the meantime, what do you think of the new Harrier, as a car and as a package?