|Positives: Excellent road manners make it easy to drive, new design incorporates dramatic cues while still looking like a Highlander, finally gets the cabin it deserves, game-changing efficiency.|
|Negatives: Gas engine can be noisy when pushed, Toyota didn't make it bigger inside where it needed to, infotainment system isn't improved enough.|
|Bottom Line: The Highlander Hybrid is a brilliant crossover thanks to its improved chassis, excellent interior, and peerless efficiency. If you don't need adults in the third row, it's a choice that's easy to make.|
The way the new Highlander drives is noticeably different than the previous generation. It's more composed on road, better at high speeds, and overall more competent and secure. The TNGA platform which underpins most current Toyotas is present here, and the payoff is a solid one. We put a lot of miles on it, and was comfortable at highway speeds, as well as around town.
Ride Quality: The ride is quiet, comfortable, and competent over bumps. The Highlander has grown up quite a bit.
Acceleration: We wouldn't call the Hybrid quick. It manages to
Braking: The Highlander Hybrid's regenerative brakes are actually quite good and eschew most of the poor feel of most systems. We had no trouble bringing it to a stop effectively and safely.
Steering: Steering is good for a three-row crossover. Although it's nowhere near the Mazda CX-9s or the Ford Explorer ST, it has a modicum of effort and good precision. It is, however, devoid of feedback, which isn't a surprise.
Handling: There's some body roll, but the Highlander Hybrid manages turns and curves pretty well.
Toyota's infotainment Entune infotainment system has certainly evolved, and it's better than before (although we don't think they use the Entune name anymore). At this trim level, you get a huge 12.3" touchscreen, standard Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, and Amazon Alexa. We just wish the graphics were a bit nicer. Other standard tech includes a digital rearview mirror that bypasses any rear cargo or passenger obstructions using a camera, a birdseye camera, a Qi-Wireless charger in the armrest, and a 10" head-up display.
Infotainment System: The screen is plenty huge, and you can split-screen different functions, which is nice. It's also much better than the previous generation.
Controls: We'd prefer some physical controls for infotainment on the center console versus the combination of on-screen controls and physical buttons underneath the touchscreen. The steering wheel controls are easy to operate, as is the well-executed shift knob. Climate controls are nice and linear, but the piano black plastic attractive smudges too easily.
The Highlander now looks more racy and more rugged at the same time. There's consistency between the Highlander, the new Sienna minivan, and even the Supra sports car. We like the bulges in the body that make it look more distinct from other crossovers, too. It's a handsome vehicle.
Front: The last-gen Highlander's front end was a bit too busy with too many silver grille bars. The new fascia is much better with its black mesh grille, winged badge, and swept back headlights. It's more refined and a tad more muscular, which is consistent with the rest of the vehicle.
Rear: It might look a bit too minivan-ish here, but the slick taillights are a nice touch, and they jut out nicely. The large silver valance at the base, however, is a bit too thick. We wish the tailpipe wasn't hidden beneath it.
Profile: The body crease and the rear three-quarter haunches are great. They give the Highlander an aggressive sideview, and the lack of chrome is welcomed.
Cabin: With the the three-tone interior, the Highlander looks refined. The cabin has grown up nicely, and the combination of perforated leather, improved plastics, and premium styling make it easy on the eyes.
Although the Highlander really hasn't gained much in terms of interior room, it is a comfortable cabin with well-executed seats and good visibility. We had no problem driving in traffic and on highways for over a thousand miles.
Front Seats: Adjustability, support, and seating position are all very good. We had no discomfort issues on our long road trip.
Rear Seats: We appreciate the sliding second row captain's chairs. The third row is tight for adults, but kids do just fine back there.
NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): Aside from the din of the 4-cylinder engine when pressed, the cabin is quiet at all speeds. The build quality is, likewise, excellent.
Visibility: The Higlahder has good sightlines and well-sized windows all around. We had no trouble placing it in tight spots, either.
Climate: The climate system was great. It got pretty hot in Tennessee, and the AC and ventilated seats were powerful and quick to get to the right temperature.
The current Highlander gets high marks when it comes to safety. As with all Toyotas, it also comes with the superb Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite of tech that's truly useful in everyday driving. We also want to note that we had to make an emergency swerve at highway speeds in the rain to avoid a crash, and the Highlander Hybrid managed it remarkably well.
IIHS Rating: The Highlander earns a Top Safety Pick rating with only a ding in the headlight department, which is contingent on trim level.
NHTSA Rating: The Highlander earns five stars from the NHTSA.
Standard Tech: The Highlander Hybrid Platinum comes with a Pre-Collision System, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, Lane Departure Alert, Lane Tracing Assist, Automatic High Beams, Road Sign Assist, Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Front & Rear Parking Assist with Auto Braking, and an excellent Bird's Eye View Camera,
Optional Tech: None.
The Highlander gets more storage options up front, which is very welcomed, but the rear cargo space barely grows at all. It's still practical, but it's just too bad it didn't gain at least a few more cubic feet than its predecessor.
Storage Space: The front row gets cubbies in the center console and center stack, as well as a nice shelf just above the glove compartment. Door pockets are decently sized, and the armrest is good, as well, although the wireless phone charger takes up the top third of the compartment.
Cargo Room: The cargo area with the seats folded flat grows from 83.7 cubes to 84.3, which is hardly noticeable. The Hyundai Palisade and the Ford Explorer have a smidge more cargo space. The load floor isn't too high, and it is very flat, thankfully. We had no problem loading up a car full of luggage and gear for a week of vacation with three kids.
It's really hard to overstate how great the Highlander is when it comes to fuel economy. We drove the Highlander Hybrid from Chicago to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee fully loaded with a family of five. It averaged 32 mpg in combined driving. There isn't a three-row SUV that comes close.
Observed: 32 mpg
Distance Driven: 1,162 miles
The premium audio system in the Hybrid Platinum trim was the excellent JBL 11 speaker stereo system, which provided plenty of clear, loud audio during our test. It could use a bit more bass, but there was no distortion, and the sound was very good. It's also standard at this trim level.