With Toyota's spacious Highlander three-row crossover as a starting point, the Highlander Hybrid adds a surprisingly potent gas-electric powertrain to the mix. The result is a vehicle that provides an appealing blend of power, fuel efficiency and family-friendly practicality.
At the heart of the Highlander Hybrid is a sophisticated powertrain that consists of a 3.5-liter V6 paired to not one but two electric motors - one motivates the front wheels, while the other sends power to the rear wheels and effectively provides on-demand all-wheel-drive traction. Total system output is rated at a healthy 280 horsepower, although a continuously variable transmissions (CVT) tempers acceleration in the interests of efficiency. As with most other hybrids, the crossover can move by using the electric motors (at low speeds for short distances), the gas engine or a combination of both.
The EPA rates fuel economy at 28 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway - impressive numbers for a seven-passenger crossover with all-wheel-drive.
Unique front and rear bumpers along with blue-accented badges distinguish the exterior of the Hybrid from its conventionally-powered sibling. The cabin is marked by intuitive controls, excellent sightlines and an attractive overall design. Hybrid-specific instruments help drivers achieve maximum fuel economy. There's plenty of passenger room, even in the third row, but cargo space is limited to a meager 10.3 cubic feet with all three rows of seats in the upright position. Fold the third row down and there's a commodious 42.3 cubic feet available, while folding down all but the first row unlocks 95.4 cubes.
Notably, the second-row seat reclines and can also slide fore or aft to make more legroom for either second- or third row occupants. The Highlander also has no less than 10 cup holders and four bottle holders in addition to three 12-volt auxiliary power outlets and cargo area tie-downs.
New to the Highlander Hybrid for the latest model year is a "Display Audio" multi-media system with a 6.1-inch touchscreen and Toyota's Entune service, which offers apps like Bing search services, iheartradio.com and Pandora music and concierge services like OpenTable and movietickets.com.
Standard and Optional Features
The Highlander Hybrid is available solely in the nearly-loaded Limited trim level.
Standard features include a navigation system, perforated leather upholstery, heated and power-adjustable front seats, a sunroof, a power liftgate, 19-inch alloy wheels, a premium JBL -branded AM/FM/CD sound system, tri-zone automatic climate control and a proximity key with push-button start. The only major option is a DVD entertainment system for second- and third-row passengers.
All Highlander Hybrid models are equipped with dual front, front side, front knee and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
The Toyota Highlander Hybrid is in the unique position of having no direct competitors - no other mainstream automaker offers a hybridized three-row crossover. Buyers could conceivably cross-shop the Chevrolet Tahoe hybrid, which features a heavy, old-fashioned body-on-frame configuration that limits handling and fuel economy but makes the truck a capable tow machine and off-roading rig.