2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Review
From good to slightly more good.
Web2Carz Contributing Writer
Published: May 8th, 2015
For 2014, the Toyota Highlander went under the knife and came out prettier, larger, and - on the whole - better. That's not a bad way to start off 2015. Of course, being the year directly after a major redesign such as this, the Highlander comes rolling into 2015 totally, completely unchanged. But your author thinks of that as a good thing; if the car is just that good after only one year, and it's meeting every expectation laid out before it, then it's okay to let the engineers take a little vacation.
It's still a great crossover, and it embodies the Toyota experience in a wholly positive way.
We have no qualms when we say that the old Highlander's interior was pretty rough. A preponderance of low-resolution screens, awkward button placement, and a steering wheel straight out of the 1990s more or less doomed the outgoing Highlander's interior to "meh" status. For the refresh, Toyota rolled out all the big guns it could find, and the result should be used as an example for all future engineers on how nothing is impossible.
Gone are the frustrating gauge tunnels, and in its place is a flat design with a prominent center screen. Just to the right, that second display atop the dashboard is now completely gone, and in its place is a single-screen arrangement that cuts down on physical switchgear without frustrating the owner. The HVAC controls now feature a digital readout, too. On the whole, both the aesthetics and the materials inside the Highlander Hybrid make the car feel far more premium than before. There's even a nice little shelf that runs from the center stack all the way to the end of the dashboard on the passenger side.
The Highlander's back two rows have been fixed up, as well. Our tester featured second-row captain's chairs (standard equipment on Limited and up), which we found comfortable and easy to articulate. There's also a much-improved method of accessing the rear seats, which made the third row feel as if it is no longer available to just gymnasts and contortionists. The third row's folding has also changed from 50/50 to 60/40, which is good if you absolutely need to maximize both cargo and human space.
The old Highlander looked, well, old. Between the small grille and the rear-window shape that made us think of Chicago's bus system, the outgoing Highlander was not necessarily fetching. Now, with a blunter front end, a larger grille, and reworked shapes on all sides, the Highland evokes a character that was not present in the past. It still looks like a crossover - there's no possible way around that, to be honest - but now it looks like something people might actually buy based on emotion.
On the Road
The Highlander Hybrid is meant to be an innocuous car, and thus its driving style is equally lacking in joie de vivre. Its hybrid system, iterations of which you've seen on everything from a Toyota Prius to, uh, other types of Toyota Prius to, uh, really any hybrid with a Lexus or Toyota badge on it. Given that the Hybrid Synergy Drive has moved across the fields of Toyotaland like fire blight across a pear orchard, if you've driven one, you'll have a good idea of how the rest work. As we've seen in other models, Toyota's hybrid system works in the background, shifting mostly seamlessly between different methods of forward propulsion. It's smooth, it doesn't muck up low-speed driving, and it returns some decent fuel-economy numbers in spite of the Highlander's size.
The smoothness with which this vehicle drives is not relegated to the hybrid system alone. Nay, it's a bit like driving a library. Toyota knows what it's doing when it comes to outside-noise mitigation, and its best engineers clearly went to work on the Highlander Hybrid (after finishing up every Lexus vehicle there is). The suspension is equally well tuned, preventing a great deal of shudder and shimmy from making its way to the driver and passenger.
Our only serious qualms come from the layout of the infotainment screen. First, while the matte finish looks good, it doesn't do enough to push through direct sunlight - at about the time we drive to work, the sun blocks our view of the screen completely. Also, the physical tuning knob is way the hell over on the right side of the screen, and even your six-foot author couldn't reach it without having to lean up out of his seat. That's not a great way to cut down on distraction.
In short, the Highlander Hybrid is most definitely an appliance, but it's a good one. It's like one of those refrigerators you see at Sears that dispenses sparkling water and has a damn television screen on the front. It's a fancy appliance, looking and feeling as premium as its price suggests, if not more so. It might be a bit much if you never have more than 5 people inside it, but as far as flexibility and usability are concerned, the Highlander is well suited to work with families of all shapes and sizes.
Specs & Price
Engine: 3.5-liter naturally-aspirated V-6, plus permanent-magnet AC electric motor with nickel metal hydride battery pack
Transmission: Continuously variable
Drivetrain Layout: Front-engine, all-wheel drive
Power Output: 280 horsepower (net)
Fuel Economy (mpg): 27 city / 28 highway
Base Price: $47,500
As Tested: $51,820 (incl. $885 destination)
Driver Technology Package: Forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, automatic high beams
Individual Options: Rear-seat Blu-ray entertainment system with nine-inch display, remote, and headphones.
• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, click here: 2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid.