|Positives: Excellent power, tremendous interior utility and space, respectable steering and handling.|
|Negatives: Ugly refreshed grille looks like a '70s Battlestar Galactica Cylon Centurion, infotainment system is dated, efficiency gain doesn't justify high price.|
|Bottom Line: Hybridizing the already great Highlander only kind of makes sense. Close to 30 mpg for a vehicle this big is great, but the price tag can get high. That being said, this one's good to drive and incredibly practical.|
If you're going to make a hybrid SUV that can seat from 7-8 people, you'd better give it some grunt. The Highlander Hybrid does just that and delivers some pretty good driving for the segment.
Ride Quality: The Highlander Hybrid is smooth and composed. It absorbs bumps well and feels planted over uneven pavement.
Acceleration: 306 horsepower and near-immediate torque make for solid power. 0-60 comes in 7.0 seconds, and passing speed (50-70) is 4.3.
Braking: The pedal progression feels uneven, but stopping distances are good.
Steering: The steering effort feels just right, and though it's not rapier-precise, it's better than other hybrid SUVs we've driven.
Handling: Good body control and communication about its limits.
Toyota is lagging behind in terms of in-car tech. The current Entune system not only looks dated but has a dim aesthetic that competitors like Ford, Hyundai, and Kia do much better at.
Infotainment System: The screen is dark, but menus are easy. We just can't help but think it looks very 1980s, if infotainment systems had existed back then.
Controls: Menu buttons that flank the screen are decently sized, but their curvature makes them hard to use. Audio knobs are good to have, but these are too small. Steering wheel controls are intuitive, as are the climate controls.
Bluetooth Pairing: Toyota makes pairing easy and quick.
Voice Call Quality: Good voice call quality throughout our reviews. No transmission issues.
We liked the look of the version prior to this refresh, but we can't say we're fans of the exterior tweaks on what was an attractive SUV.
Front: The fascia gets a more dramatic chrome grille with a split top and bottom half. It's overdone in our view, but it's definitely more noticeable.
Rear: Taillights lose the accented interior surround and look fuller. The reflector surrounds are silver instead of black. Minor changes that dress things up a little.
Profile: The Highlander Hybrid's profile looks good and well-proportioned but remains unchanged in the refresh.
Cabin: Clad in black with some brushed metal finishes, the cabin is a bit on the dark side but understatedly nice. We just can't get excited about Toyota's dash designs.
The Highlander Hybrid provides plenty of comfort for first and second-row occupants. The third row can really only fit two adults, and legroom is limited.
Front Seats: Good cushioning and adjustability. We especially liked the power adjustable thigh support.
Rear Seats: Good legroom and comfort in the captains chairs, but third row access is narrow with the retractable tray table.
NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): Build quality is excellent, and there's minimal noise and no vibration.
Visibility: Good visibility, but the D-pillars are on the thick side. The Bird's Eye View camera is a huge asset for a vehicle this big.
Climate: the automatic climate system works very well, as do the heated/ventilated seats.
The Highlander model pretty much nails the safety category with flying colors because of its excellent crash test scores and robust safety features.
IIHS Rating: It earned the Top Safety Pick+ score with "good" across the board and "superior" in front crash prevention.
NHTSA Rating: 5-Star Safety Rating clinches the top spot.
Standard Tech: Toyota's excellent Safety Sense P suite comes standard and includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, auto high beams, radar cruise control, blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert. The significance of these features cannot be understated.
Optional Tech: None, since it pretty much already has everything standard.
The Highlander Hybrid is pretty spacious and should work for larger families and their gear. We enjoyed toting our three kids around, and the easy LATCH system made things simple.
Storage Space: There's a weird elevated tray that runs the full length of the dash. It's odd, but it works and holds small items in place well. The center armrest with its dual sliding doors is huge and conceals gear well.
Cargo Room: There's 13.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row, 42.3 behind the second row, and 83.2 with the seats folded flat. Seats are easy to deploy, though there's no power feature.
We have mixed feelings here. On the one hand, it's great to get nearly 30 mpg in a big SUV. On the other hand, the price you pay to get in the Highlander Hybrid is pretty steep. You won't get back the premium you pay for it unless you own it for decades.
Observed: 26.1 mpg
Distance Driven: 332 miles
Driving Factors: We drove the Hybrid in Sport mode most of the time, and our driving was fairly aggressive. The fuel economy was pretty damned good, considering.
Our audio experience in the Highlander Hybrid with the upgraded Entune JBL Premium sound system was very good, but we wouldn't call it symphonic. Sound was clear with good fullness, but the bass could've been stronger. There was no distortion that we could sense.