Toyota's midsize Highlander Hybrid SUV checks all the boxes
The Highlander midsize SUV is one of Toyota's foundational products. As a family-sized SUV, Highlander has historically offered reliability, affordability, and the quality that has inspired tremendous loyalty among Toyota buyers. The company has been making the Highlander for 20 years, and the Highlander Hybrid for 16 of those years. It's safe to say that this vehicle is mature in its design and Toyota has done the homework to keep the Highlander competitive.
Depending on the configuration you select, the Highlander seats either seven or eight passengers. The difference is the second row. Eight-passenger configurations use a three-across bench seat, while seven-passenger models have two individual captain's chairs. The third row is always a three-across bench seat.
The heart of the Highlander Hybrid is its drivetrain. A 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle gasoline engine provides most of the power, augmented with one or two electric motors. You can get the Highlander Hybrid as a front-wheel-drive vehicle, or with electric all-wheel-drive. In that configuration, an additional electric motor drives the rear wheels as needed. This allows instant response, and never detracts from fuel economy. The Highlander Hybrid returns about 35 MPG in both city and highway driving, which is impressive for a vehicle of that size.
Toyota knows that safety comes first in a family vehicle, so the Highlander Hybrid comes with Toyota's Safety Sense 2.0 package as standard equipment on all trim levels. This suite of advanced safety and driver assistance features includes full-speed adaptive cruise control and lane tracing assist. This allows the Highlander to follow prevailing traffic speeds and guide itself around curves. That's perfect for commuting. Toyota Safety Sense also includes a pre-collision automatic braking system with pedestrian detection, lane departure control, road sign recognition, and automatic high beam control.
In the cabin, the Highlander Hybrid offers a range of interiors from pretty good up to luxury. The most basic trim levels of the Highlander are not available with the hybrid. So while the hybrid starts about $4,000 more than the base Highlander, you get a lot for your money. The most basic LE Hybrid trim includes cloth seats, moving up to SofTex simulated leather in the XLE Hybrid, and leather in the Limited and Platinum trims. When it comes to cargo, the Highlander Hybrid offers 16 cubic feet behind the third row, 48.4 cubic feet with the third-row seats down, and 84.3 cubic feet with all rear seats folded.
On the road, you don't give up much performance by choosing the hybrid over the 3.5-liter V6 in the standard Highlander. The V6-powered Highlander can tow up to 5,000 pounds, while the hybrid tows 3,500 pounds, but if you're just moving the family around and making trips to the store, the hybrid offers plenty of performance.
The bottom line on the 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is that it offers excellent hybrid fuel economy in a comfortable and well-made package with state-of-the-art safety. For a long time, Toyota had the midsize economy hybrid SUV market to itself, but that's changing with the new six-passenger Kia Sorento Hybrid coming to market this year. If you're shopping for a new family-size SUV this year, why not consider going hybrid?
2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD
Base price: $38,510
Price as tested: $47,215
Type: Midsize hybrid SUV
Engine: 2.5-liter hybrid (234 hp, 175 lbs-ft)
Transmission: Continuously Variable Transmission
EPA estimated mileage: 35/34
Overall length: 194.9 inches
Curb weight: 4,595 pounds
Final assembly: Princeton, Indiana
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