The Toyota Highlander is one of the very few three row SUVs around that slot in one level below the luxurious and pricey premium brands. It still offers a refined and comfortable driving experience though and the recently updated Hybrid model promises increased fuel efficiency without compromising on performance levels.
Having received a comprehensive update in 2017, the Highlander Hybrid goes into 2018 largely unchanged.
This may not be a Lexus inside but for its class, the Highlander is well-finished and the controls and switchgear feel like quality items. The top trim levels in particular feel a cut above the opposition. The touchscreen can be a bit of a stretch from the driver’s seat but works well and is intuitive.
Interior space is good for the class and there is plenty of storage space for personal effects. The third row is a tight fit and adults will not have much head or leg room.
The cargo area is about average for the class which still makes it big enough for most needs.
Lexus parallels can also be found in the way the Highlander Hybrid drives too, the ride is exemplary and the cabin remains quiet at most speeds. Where the Highlander does not fare so well is in the handling department, that soft ride does allow some pitching around corners and the odd brake pedal feel is not as polished as it could be.
The steering too is a bit wooden in feel but while there is not much fun to be had driving this SUV in an exuberant manner, most shoppers are more likely to be interested in its refined cruising ability.
A recent update saw the Highlander Hybrid receive a power upgrade and a 295 horsepower, 263 lb-ft of torque 3.5-liter V6 gasoline engine powers the front wheels while electric motors at both front and rear axles provide all-wheel drive ability and push the total output to 306 hp. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is standard and works unobtrusively at most speeds although it can make the engine sound strained when pushed.
Acceleration to 60 mph is in the low 7-second range, good for the class and nearly identical to the gas-powered Highlander too. It feels stronger in city driving thanks to the electric assistance and this is where you will benefit most from the hybrid powerplant too. The standard Highlanders city/highway consumption figures are 21/27 mpg, with the Hybrid achieving 30/28 mpg. It is worth noting that the higher XLE and Limited trim variants are rated at 29/27 mpg.
Three trim levels are available, the base LE offers front and rear air-conditioning, heated power outside mirrors, 18-inch alloys, 6.1-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth streaming and 5 USB ports, 6-speaker audio system, reverse camera, LED taillights and daytime running lights.
Safety levels are excellent for the class and the Toyota Safety Sense package is standard and includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams and adaptive cruise control.
The XLE Trim adds foglights, power sunroof, 19-inch alloys, height adjustable power liftgate, three-zone climate control with individual controls front and rear, navigation system, 12-way power driver’s seat, 4-way power front passenger seat, upgraded interior with leather upholstery on the first two rows and updated fabric on the third row and a blind spot monitor.
Limited Trim includes all of the above and adds rear parking sonar assist, LED daytime running lights, reverse camera with dynamic guidelines, upgraded audio system and an upgraded leather interior with heating and ventilation in the front row.
The XLE and Limited trim can also be equipped with a rear-seat Blu-Ray entertainment system with a 9-inch display and wireless headphones.
The Highlander Hybrid may not be a stand-out performer in any one area but it does offer potentially better fuel economy (especially in city driving) and all the benefits of the gas-powered model for a relatively meagre premium.
The third row of seats, superb ride comfort, comprehensive safety devices and quality interior make this SUV a worthy contender in a segment filled with talented rivals.