REVIEW: 2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD – Paul Newman Had One, Why Shouldn’t You?

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The 2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD is much more than just the greenest three-row crossover that’s within reach of many families.

What is it? 

Toyota’s 2016 Highlander Hybrid Limited is the greenest three-row crossover you will find under $100K.

Tesla’s Model X Minivan/Crossover/Drag Racer is the vehicle with the least emissions, but it is very expensive. The great news for those considering the Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD is that while its green virtues are well known, it has few faults and comes with the highest possible safety rating and safety history in the U.S. automotive marketplace.

That doesn’t mean it’s a geek-mobile. Paul Newman owned a Highlander Hybrid* and drove Robert Redford around in his hometown in it once.  What more do you need to hear to convince you it is a cool vehicle owned by people who know a few things about cars?


Pricing and trims

Before you reach for your calculator out and try to see if the Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD is going to save you money compared to the conventional Highlander Limited, we will save you the time.  The EPA says that at today’s historically-low gas prices the hybrid Highlander uses $500 per year less gas.


Our test vehicle had an MSRP of $51,385, making it roughly $6K more than the equivalent non-hybrid Highlander Limited AWD. So your pay-back time is 12 years. Unless gas prices double and then your payback is five or six years.


Safety is included in the 2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD. Forward collision prevention with emergency auto braking is standard as is a long list of safety aids. Best of all, it is totally invisible. No false alarms, no idiot lights on the dash if you turn off the lane departure warning (you know you will).


The 2016 Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD is an IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus-rated vehicle. Just FYI, the Tesla Model X is not. It may earn that title someday, but as of now neither it, nor any Tesla has.

highlander iihs

The Toyota Highlander Hybrid AWD was also one of just nine U.S. model vehicles that had a “zero” driver death rating in a study of real-world accidents over three years. The Highlander may be the safest vehicle sold in the US, period.


The Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD uses a more efficient version of the V6 engine in other Highlanders. Of course, it also uses Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system. Energy recapture via brake energy regeneration is the key. The Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD earns a 28 MPG combined rating from the EPA, and its CO2 production is very low compared to crossovers its size and capacity.


Best of all, the Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD is always peppy, quick when you want it to be, and much more quiet and smooth than most vehicles in its class.

Best of all, the brakes feel entirely normal. There is no hybrid weirdness to them.


CVT transmissions are now quite common, and The Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD’s is smooth and easy to live with.

Ride and handling


The Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD rides smoothly over almost all surfaces. With “normal” profile 19″ wheels it is not victim to the low-profile tire fiasco so many automakers partake in. There is a spare underneath as well, though not full-size. The vehicle corners well, has very precise steering, and on the highway, it tracks dead straight ahead. Take an off-ramp faster than you would normally and the Highlander seems to come alive and want more. All in all, it is hard to imagine a better family crossover in terms of handling.



Front seats feature heated and ventilated perforated leather. Power operation on both sides is a nice luxury. Two presets are available on the driver’s side. On one 90-minute drive, we found the seats very comfortable.


The Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD has two captains’ chairs in the middle row. There is ample room for adults. This vehicle would make a great limo. It makes a great vehicle in which to transport two kids since they don’t touch and each has their own (large) space.


The third row can seat three in the Highlander series. So even with the second row seating two, this Highlander can still handle seven passengers. Middle seats easily fold to make room for cargo.


Because the Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD has a “squared-off” rear roof design, its cargo capacity is enormous. The third-row seats drop and then come back up easily and with zero strength required, despite having no power operation. Under the rear cargo floor is a large storage area.


Infotainment and controls

Toyota beats Lexus in many ways when it comes to infotainment. Using a simple touch-screen, instead of Lexus’ distracting remote touch mouse, everything just works easily and intuitively. There is no Android Auto or Apple Car Play.



Given its target audience, this is a very cool vehicle. Adults will appreciate its usefulness and love that it has few sacrifices, like some hybrids still do.

Quick, frugal, comfortable, big, but not unnecessarily so, the Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD is so well-rounded it is easy to call the leader in its segment.


Those looking for a fashion statement may shop at a premium brand and be happy with an overly-firm ride, no spare tire, and a frustrating mouse-controlled infotainment system.

They may take great pride in overpaying, and want their vehicle to have a brand name they think impresses their friends. Apparently, Paul Newman didn’t care about all that.

2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD

Base price: $47,870 (Base Highlander Hybrid)

Price as tested $51,385, including $900 destination charge  


Platinum Package
Includes Driver Technology Package includes Safety Connect, Pre-Colission System With Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert, with Automatic High Beams)
Panoramic Moonroof,Heated Steering Wheel, Heated, Perforated Leather, Second Row Captains Chairs, Rain Sensing Windshield Wipers


  • Excellent Fuel Economy
  • Direct and Precise Steering
  • Simple and Effective Infotainment System
  • Great Audio (JBL)


  • Almost Too Large
  • Lack of Full Size Spare (Temporary Only)

*See Paul Newman drive Robert Redford around in his Highlander Hybrid on the Sundance Channel’s Series Iconoclasts, Season One, Episode Six.

John Goreham

John Goreham