Test Drive: 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid XLE-V6 AWDi
The 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid may not be fully appreciated because of continuing low fuel prices. With gas holding at under $3 in much of the country, a lot of buyers are going to question whether its worth paying slightly more for two additional electric motors, a battery pack, and the regenerative braking system that keeps it charged up.
For some people, the answer will be an easy yes, however. They include those with large families who want to reduce their carbon footprints and avoid stopping at gas stations as much as possible. And they should also include anyone who looks ahead — gas prices aren't going to be this low forever. They are already starting to go up because of market forces and gas tax increases approved by governments taking advantage of the low prices.
The 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid gets great mileage for a three-row crossover that can carry up to seven people. It is EPA rated at 28 miles per gallon and we got over 25 in a week of mixed driving. And we didn't feel like we were making any sacrifices, either. In addition to the impressive amount of interior room, our mid-level XLE versions was remarkably smooth and quiet, save for the occasional whirring of the electric motors and regenerative brakes.
We probably would have gotten even better mileage if we had noticed the ECO mode button tucked ahead of the transmission shift lever in the center console a few days earlier. Unlike most other vehicles, using it didn't significantly hurt acceleration, either.
The current generation of Highlanders is one of the best of the relatively new breed of large crossovers that are not based on trucks but are built more like cars. The change improves the ride quality, allowing the suspension to be more comfortable and the steering to be more precise. Mileage is also better because they are lighter, but the Hybrid version improves on that by allowing the power to switch between a 3.5-liter V6 and the electric motors. One of the motors drives the front wheels and the other drives the rear wheels, which makes the Highland Hybrid all-wheel-drive, even though there is no drive shaft or transfer case between them.
The rear motor only kicks in when additional traction is needed, which Toyota calls intelligent AWD, or AWD-i for short. There was no way to test how the system compares to a more conventional set in slick conditions, but Toyota offers a similar set up on its RAV4 Hybrid, and it kept up with the competition at the Mudfest off-road comparison organized by the Northwest Automotive Press Association in 2016.
Even so, the combined 306 horsepower made the Highlander Hybrid surprisingly quick for an economy vehicle. It did not bog down on steep hills, either.
The Highlander was recently restyled to feature a much bolder front end and the one on the Hybrid is even more aggressive. The interior features a wide dash instead of a center stack, which required a little stretching to reach all the controls. The layout was very clean and the materials were high quality, creating giving the affordable people hauler an upscale feel.
And Toyota Safety and Sense (TSS-P), the company's package of advanced safety technologies, comes standard on every new Highlander Hybrid. It includes Pre-Collision with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control and more.
For those still put off by the hybrid premium, Car and Driver computed it to to be among the lowest of all hybrids — just $2,130 more for the entry-level LE, $1,350 for the XLE trim, and $1,620 for the Limited and Platinum hybrids, compared to their gas-powered AWD counterparts. Factored into monthly payments, that's not much at all — and will be even less when gas prices go back up, as they inevitably will.
2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid AWD-i
Base price: $36,270
Price as tested: $44,080
Type: Fullsize crossover SUV
Drivertain: 3.5-liter V6 (295 hp, 263 (lbs-ft) plus front AC motor (167 hp, 247 lbs-ft) and rear AC motor (68 hp, 103 lbs-ft) – combined 306 hp
Transmission: Continuously Variable with manual shift mode.
EPA estimated mileage: 29/27
Overall length: 192.5
Base curb weight: 4,891 pounds
Final assembly: Princeton, Indiana