The 2016 Highlander Hybrid shows us three simple ways to do packaging right.
Families that buy midsize, three-row crossovers want lots of space. However, they don’t want to buy a ginormous glutton-mobile that sticks four feet out of the back of a parking space at Trader Joe’s. That makes packaging the people and stuff they carry a challenge for automakers. We checked out the seven-passenger variant of the Highlander Hybrid AWD to see how Toyota’s engineers fought back against the humongous SUVs regarding packaging and found that simple can work well.
Highlander Center Console
The center console has become the purse storage area, home to wet-wipes and hand sanitizer, and the overall most important place in the car when you want to drop something out of sight on your way into the mall. It needs to be huge, well organized, and maybe offer power, so your passenger never has to worry about running out of cell phone juice during critical Pokemon Gym battles.
Here, the Highlander does quite well. The center console opens nicely. It is counter-weighted and slides open smoothly revealing a removable upper tray. We found that it was large enough to swallow a jug of windshield washer fluid. Anything larger and the Highlander risks being as wide as the leviathan-class SUVs.
If it were any deeper, then the console would need a ladder or spelunking piton at the top. Rather than invent new ways to have a cord exit a closed console, Toyota moved them all out to the phone shelf area in the middle dash.
Highlander Third-Row Access
Read a few midsize crossover reviews, and before long you will hear an old curmudgeon talk about how when he tested the vehicle he had a hard time crawling into the third row. Let’s not tell him that the space is intended to be used by small, nimble humans who like to scoot in and out of confined spaces (children).
Toyota did its level best to make accessing the third-row easy. All one needs to do is grab a handle and give a gentle pull and the middle-row seats spring down and forward. Simple, effective, and fast.
Highlander Cargo Area
Third-row seats for most families are temporary extra space. These seats are put to use when junior’s buddies are hopping in to go to practice. Most of the time those seats are stowed, so dropping the third row needs to be quick and simple. Exactly what power-operated third-rows are not.
Toyota wisely uses a grab-loop to pull the seats up. It even comes with a little Velcro so it sticks to the seat back when not used. Dropping the seats down is even quicker. One pull on a loop at the top of the seatback on each side drops the seats 60/40 style.
Packaging is big business for automakers. Although innovations are always welcome, sometimes the easy way is the best way.
Looking for a new or used Highlander Hybrid? Check out BestRide’s local listings here.