The Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a top choice in efficient crossovers, combining the roominess and features that many buyers require with uncommonly high fuel mileage.
What is it?
The Highlander Hybrid enters 2019 essentially unchanged from its 2017 introduction, and there are still no direct competitors – no comparably-sized hybrid crossovers from mainstream brands like Ford, Hyundai or Subaru.
Pricing and trims
The Highlander Hybrid’s closest competitor is the Acura MDX Sport Hybrid AWD Advance, but that three-row, large-hybrid-crossover wears a premium badge and starts at $44,300. The Highlander Hybrid ranges from $36,970 for the LE trim to $48,630 for the Limited Platinum.
So there is some intersection of the least expensive MDX and the priciest Highlander Hybrid, but they’re not technically going toe-to-toe. (All prices are for the 2019 model year.)
The tested Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum had every factory option and would cost $49,675 as a 2019 model.
It doesn’t get much better than the Highlander in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crash tests, making it a 2019 Top Safety Pick.
All Highlander Hybrids come standard with Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P), the brand’s suite of active safety features. One interesting tidbit is that the system uses millimeter-wave radar and a monocular camera sensor to detect vehicles and pedestrians.
Over the road, the Highlander Hybrid‘s near-5,000-pound curb weight (about 350 pounds more than a comparable non-hybrid Highlander) makes itself known as you first pull away; you are definitely driving a wagon that’s tall, large and heavy.
That feeling quickly fades as the hybrid system total output of 306 horsepower gets things up to speed. There could be the usual hybrid hiccups in delivering power, but overall, the tested Highlander Hybrid‘s 3.5-liter V6 with help from the hybrid battery shrugged at San Francisco’s steep hills and perpetually felt ready to merge.
All Highlander Hybrids have standard all-wheel drive, with front and rear electric motors, which connects to a CVT transmission. The CVT in the Highlander Hybrid behaved well, with little of the over-revving that can characterize the breed. It helps that there’s enough power to keep the CVT from having to work very hard.
The EPA rates the Highlander Hybrid at 30 mpg city. We didn’t hit that, but after seeing the trip computers of large crossovers dip into the low teens on SF’s hills, the 23 mpg our tester seemed to settle on was most welcome.
Ride and handling
The Highlander Hybrid is generally satisfying to drive. Suspension tuning emphasizes a smooth ride, and the steering and brakes work cleanly and feel beefy but are otherwise unremarkable. What it lacks in driver engagement is compensated by the notable confidence the Highlander Hybrid has in going about its business, particularly its steadiness in corners.
Seats in the Highlander Hybrid are simple affairs, with relatively flat cushions to accommodate a variety of body types.
Our completely-loaded tester had an adjustment to extend the lower cushion, which was much appreciated by your tall tester.
The lumbar support, on the other hand, only moved in and out, with no provision to position it up or down in the backrest. This meant that while the lower cushion could be extended for long legs, the lumbar support ended up too low to be effective for that same lanky frame.
Nice touch on the tester was the heated and cooled driver’s seat.
The Highlander Hybrid’s second row regales its passengers with commanding views and more than 38 inches of legroom. The center console swings up from the right-side seat and felt sturdy enough for family duty.
The third row is best reserved for those of more petite dimensions, and there are three seatbelts waiting if you can fit all those people in.
Roominess is why most buyers consider crossovers like the Highlander Hybrid, and the big Toyota doesn’t disappoint. Behind the third row, there’s the equivalent of a compact car’s trunk, 13.6 cubic feet.
Fold the third row, and you have the equivalent of a compact station wagon’s seats-down capacity, 42 cubic feet.
Then fold the second row, and you have 83.2 cubic feet to work with, which is about what the full-sized station wagons of the ’80s could hold.
The third row raises with a simple tug…
…and the compartment below can hold the cargo cover, along with small items.
Infotainment and controls
Toyota’s Entune is one of the friendlier multimedia connectivity systems out there, with a simple touchscreen eschewing a separate controller.
Graphics are unobtrusive, and the commands follow a logical flow. You start with a 6.1-inch screen on the Highlander Hybrid LE, and the XLE and Limited kick that up to eight inches.
The backup camera provides both a wide rear view and a clear orbit over the vehicle, which is very helpful in judging distances at the curb.
Special mention goes to the instrument panel shelf included with all Highlander Hybrids. It’s padded for richness and to keep items from sliding around.
A trapdoor lets you run a power cord to devices you might keep there.
Plenty of power outputs obviate the need to bring extra adaptors.
The padded dash shelf was a nice surprise, and it would have been nicer to have found padding in the coin bin and center console trays, as they became rattletraps when stocked with items.
You probably don’t need this review to prompt you to consider the Highlander Hybrid; if it’s in your price range, and you have the some of the many needs this large crossover is designed to address, then its consideration is pretty much mandatory.
The hybrid option adds $1,620 to the price of a comparable Highlander V6, and it seemed worth it to this tester just for the psychological benefit of rarely seeing the measured mileage dip below 20 mpg, down where usual three-row crossovers produce in city driving. If you’re looking down the road and seeing that gas prices might rise as the payments keep coming, then one way to keep resale value high on your purchase would be to buy the most efficient one available.
2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum
Base price (2019 model year): $48,630
Price as tested, including $1,045 destination charge: $49,675
- Straightforward tech features
- Efficiency in a large crossover
- Anonymous driving experience
- Minor interior scrimps
- Pricey with options