Home Automobiles Steve Kicks The Tires On Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid

Steve Kicks The Tires On Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid

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I get asked all of the time: what do I recommend for a reasonably priced 3rd-row SUV? So, I figured it was a good time to see how one of the segment’s key players was holding up. This is the Toyota Highlander Hybrid.

The Highlander is one of Toyota’s sales stars and after undergoing significant upgrades last year, moves into 2018 unchanged. A front-wheel drive, 4-cylinder Highlander LE carries an MSRP of about $32,000 but at the upper end there’s this model: the Hybrid Limited Platinum priced here at $49,749.  But don’t worry; if you like the idea of getting 30mpg and can live with the more austere LE grade, you can get a Highlander Hybrid for a little over $38,000.  All of these gasoline-electric Highlanders come standard with a second propulsion motor driving the rear wheels when needed – what Toyota refers to as all-wheel drive with intelligence.  Unlike the gas model, the Hybrid’s AWD can’t be locked for low speed, off-road driving.

Since this current generation Highlander went on sale for the 2014 model year, the Hybrid has seen both a power and mpg bump. With total system output at 306 horsepower and an MPG rating of 29 city/27 highway, the Hybrid is the most fuel efficient andpowerful Highlander.

It’s available with 8-passenger seating on lower trims but Limited and above come with 2nd row captain’s chairs.  And a 3-row crossover earns its keep in here where parents want spaciousness and ease of use and kids want a place to charge their phone and a 3rd row that doesn’t suffocate.

The Highlander earns its highest marks back here with spacious slide and recline seats, climate control with heated seats, sunshades and a big glass roof overhead.

Toyota maximizes interior packaging giving up to 5 an easily accessible and comfortable space with some clever features and on this top dog model, a high level of mainstream luxury. There shouldn’t be any reason to complain back here but just in case, parents have a spy mirror to help dispense justice, further aided by the Driver Easy Speak feature that amplifies the driver’s voice and broadcasts it through the rear speakers.  Because the Platinum model gets the panoramic moonroof the optional Blu-ray rear entertainment system is not available here.

Configuring the seats for cargo duty is also unencumbered, creating a large, flat load floor though at this trim level I think some power assistance is in order. I do like the built-in cubby for the cargo cover but there’s no motion activated liftgate.

The brown leather interior trim looks great and useful design features abound creating a welcome environment. It’s just too bad the infotainment hasn’t yet been upgraded to the new Entune system with Apple CarPlay.  It’s not a bad setup – just a little dusty.

Once you start throwing around terms like ‘limited’ and ‘platinum’ and attach a $50,000 price tag you just can’t have things like non-led lighting, a non-height adjustable passenger seat, and hollow sounding doors.

The Platinum trim packs in the goodies like the bird’s eye view camera, ventilated seats, heated steering wheel, dynamic radar cruise control, puddle lamps with Highlander projection, 19” wheels, and rain sensing wipers. The exterior design also looks fresh though this toasted walnut pearl paint would likely be my last choice.

Once you’ve driven fully electric and plug-in hybrids, regular hybrids seem a little passé. There’s not much electric only driving here and though the powertrain is smooth for a hybrid it’s still a hybrid so the energy delivery just isn’t as satisfying – even if it is quicker – and the brakes can get grabby. But the low point of the Highlander’s controls is the steering that is completely detached. Now, all that being said it’s pleasant enough to drive, it’ll take 6 guests with ease, the ergonomics are solid, the JBL audio system sounds awesome, the cabin is eye-pleasing and there are lots of features. I’ve averaged 26mpg for the week which is notable. But do I feel like it’s a $50k vehicle? No.

The Hybrid still uses nickel metal and not lithium batteries while a 3.5-liter V6 and an electronic CVT handles gear shifts. It bests the gas-only Highlander model by 6mpg which will save the typical owner $400 per year.  The price premium for the hybrid powertrain is about $1,700 so the math can make sense.  A redesign is likely slated for 2020.

By TestDriveNow Auto Critic Steve Hammes for SouthFloridaReporter.com, July 26, 2018

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