Test Drive: New Toyota Highlander Hybrid smooth, powerful but perplexing
The Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a bit of a puzzle. Quite unlike Toyota's acclaimed Prius subcompact hybrid, the midsized Highlander Hybrid delivers ordinary fuel-economy numbers on the highway. The hybrid beats the conventional Highlander by just 1 mpg on the highway while costing many thousands more. Its excellent urban mileage is irrelevant to most people, who would rather have something along the lines of a Mini or Fiat 500 for negotiating city streets, not to mention parking.
On to the specifics. Our test car, a 2017 Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum with all-wheel drive, was a very well-equipped SUV, seating six in three rows of seating. It's smooth and powerful, with a combined 306 horsepower from its gasoline-powered V-6 and supplemental pair of electric motors. Fuel economy is very good for an SUV: 29 mpg city, 27 highway. And Toyota long ago mastered the challenges of hybrid technology. If you didn’t know the Highlander Hybrid was a gasoline-electric hybrid, you likely wouldn’t notice it while driving.
The price, however, will make many buyers think twice. Our test car had a sticker price of $49,748, compared with $36,520 for the base all-wheel-drive Highlander XLE. If you're willing to forgo all-wheel drive and live with a fairly spartan interior, the Highlander's sticker price can be as low as $31,590.
The Highlander also has lots of quality competition, including the Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Terrain, Dodge Durango, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan Pathfinder, Mazda CX-7, Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe and Honda Pilot. Cadillac, Lincoln and all of the European manufacturers — even Jaguar — build midsize SUVs, as do all of the premium Japanese brands.
It didn’t take long for us to figure out the Highlander had all the qualities American drivers find endearing about Toyota products. The interior controls are familiar, intuitively designed and fall easily to hand. The car handles and rides comfortably, and the interior is roomy. With the third-row seat lowered, there’s plenty of space for luggage and cargo, though the floor is not quite level — it slopes slightly upward toward the front of the car.
Our test car had a very long standard-equipment list and included some desirable options. Among the standard features were the Toyota Safety Sense warning and pedestrian-detection system; backup camera; automatic high beams; adaptive cruise control; roof rails; power liftgate with flip-up rear window; and Toyota's Entune infotainment system with 8-inch touch screen, five USB ports and navigation. The Platinum package added a panoramic moonroof, heated steering wheel, heated front and second-row seats with leather upholstery, rain-sensing windshield wipers and bird’s-eye-view monitor.
Surprisingly, the Hybrid has about the same cargo capacity as conventional Highlanders. Hybrid owners often have to sacrifice a little space to accommodate batteries and electric motors.
The Highlander received an overall vehicle score of five stars in government crash testing, and has been rated a Top Safety Pick Plus by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6 with electric assist, combined 306 horsepower
Transmission: electronically controlled continuously variable automatic
Ground clearance: 8 in.
Weight: 4,965 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, double-wishbone rear
Wheels: 19-in. Chrometec alloy
Tires: P245/55R19 all-season
Seating capacity: 6
Luggage capacity: 13.6 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 78.6 cu. ft.
Towing capacity: 3,500 lb.
Fuel capacity: 17.2 gal.
Fuel economy: 29 mpg city, 27 mpg highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline