Aside from Toyota’s top selling RAV4 SUV, their larger Highlander SUV has been around for 20 years and continues to be an equally good seller. And now in its 4th generation, the three-row Highlander is offered in hybrid form. And who knows more about hybrid technology than Toyota, starting with their famed Prius Hybrid.
With seating capacity for up to eight passengers with a second-row bench seat, or seven with captain’s chairs, Highlander Hybrid is the consummate family hauler. It’s offered in FWD and AWD and in LE, XLE, Bronze Edition, Limited and tested Platinum trim levels.
To obtain the optimum fuel economy, Toyota engineers changed from a 3.5L V6 engine in an earlier model, to a 2.5L, 4-cylinder with two electric motors to drive the front wheels and for AWD, a third for the rear wheels. The result is a combined system output of 243-hp and 175 lb/ft of torque for EPA mileage estimates of 35 city 34-highway mpg when coupled to the standard ECVT automatic transmission. This allows for a tow rating of up to 3,500 pounds. With its heft (4,595-pound curb weight) and with four adults aboard, the little four propels Highlander at a linear pace.
With a low 19.5-inch step-in, Highlander’s interior is classy with sumptuously padded, heated/cooled perforated front seats, 12.3-inch touchscreen with split screen views, analog gauge cluster, panoramic sunroof and a robust shift handle for the ECVT transmission. The display serves the audio, multi-view rear camera with revolving scan, apps, HVAC selections and more.
Flanking the shifter on the console is a drive mode switch for Sport, Normal and Eco modes. Sport slightly increases rpm’s and changes steering feel for more spirited performance. Eco mode is intended for optimum fuel economy and there’s an extra EV mode for limited range electric-only driving. Added to this, Highlander offers a Trail mode that performs integrated control for AWD, brake and drive force when driving on bumpy, mild, off-roads. The owners’ manual states that this mode is not intended to expand the limits of the vehicle, meaning no rock climbing or brush busting driving.
As for ride and handling, Highlander is a smooth, quiet rider. It parks easily despite its size (36.8 feet turning diameter) and has a touch of body roll in tight turns but remains safely planted throughout.
Our Platinum test vehicle came with the captain’s chairs that were particularly comfy. They slide fore/aft for easy ingress/egress into the third row of seats that are mainly for youngsters. And to save cargo space, Toyota placed the electric battery beneath the third-row seats.
Highlander’s cargo area is exceptionally spacious. With the third row upright there’s 16 cubic feet of space measuring 18 inches deep, 45 wide and 29 wide. Flip them and space increases to 48.4 cubic feet for 44 inches of cargo loading depth. Flip the captain’s chairs and space expands to 84.3 cubic feet for 57 inches of depth.
Beneath the cargo floor is a 4-inch deep bin for small item storage. For loading heavy, bulky items, load height into the cargo area is an easy 31 inches.
With an extremely long list of safety features such as Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.5-Plus that includes pre-collision system w/pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist (automatically steers vehicle back between the lines), lane tracing assist, blind spot monitoring w/rear cross traffic alert with auto braking and many more.
Amenities include Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, digital rearview mirror, rain sensing wipers, auto high beams, satellite radio and more. The only option was for carpeted floor mats ($318) that took the base price of $50,315 to $51,808 with delivery.
Warranty wise, Highlander comes with a 36-month/36K mile limited; 60/60K powertrain; 8/100K hybrid components; and 10/50K hybrid battery warranties.
For a family hauler with spacious cargo capacity, AWD traction abilities and impressive fuel economy, Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid satisfies all those requirements and then some. And with the average price of a new car today being $45,743, Highlander Hybrid looks compelling in comparison to a non-AWD SUV.