The 2017 refresh of the Highlander Hybrid adds sleeker sheet metal, standard Safety Sense P, a smooth shifting CVT, and a more powerful powertrain. Nicer materials dress the cabin and the IIHS rates this SUV a “Top Safety Pick+,” making it one of the safest of all vehicles. Don’t expect corner carving handling or eye bulging brake performance. This SUV prefers subtlety. It’s quiet, efficient, reliable, and comfortable. It’s the quintessential family hauler for those looking for a safe and sensible SUV with the added benefit of savings at the pump.
Yes, the Highlander Hybrid costs roughly $6,000 more than the base Highlander but that includes an anemic four-cylinder and isn’t available with all-wheel drive. To outfit the base LE trim with a V6 and all-wheel drive, standard in the hybrid, the MSRP rises to $34,535 or within three thousand dollars of the Hybrid XLE. If you do mostly city driving, that difference will be made up in fuel savings in roughly two years. Furthermore, the Highlander Hybrid has one of the strongest resale values on the SUV market, which makes it the fiscally responsible choice for yet another reason. Top that off with the highest safety ratings around, strong reliability, and a comfy, polished cabin and you have a winning formula. It’s no surprise that the Highlander Hybrid sits atop many auto publications’ list, it should do the same on yours.
Unlike the gas-powered variant, the Hybrid is only available with one powertrain, a combination of three engines: a DOHC 24-valve Atkinson-cycle 3.5 liter V6 that makes 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque, a front axle permanent magnet synchronous AC motor that generates 167 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque, and a rear axle permanent magnet synchronous AC motor that produces 68 horsepower and 103 lb-ft of torque. The total output is 306 horsepower combined. A continuously variable automatic transmission with manual shifting mode transfers that power to all the wheels. The result is a spry seven second zero to sixty sprint, quick for a relatively inexpensive hybrid. The suspension rides on the soft side, good for comfort but bad for handling. It’s not particularly athletic but that’s okay since many potential buyers are more concerned with the SUV’s safety, reliability, and of course, fuel economy.
The LE trim is rated at up to 30 mpg city and 28 highway while the higher trims achieve one less mpg, respectively. Those numbers are just a few miles per gallon more than the gasoline-only Highlander and many critics treat the hybrid harshly, saying that cheap fuel costs don’t justify purchasing this SUV. However, they miss a key point. If you do mostly city driving, the hybrid will save you thousands in fuel costs. Gas only engines take a while to warm up and during this period, they are far less efficient. Many owners of the traditional Highlander complain they receive far fewer miles per gallon than the EPA ratings when driving in stop and go traffic. At low speeds, the hybrid relies heavily on the electric engines, drastically improving fuel efficiency. The couple thousand dollar premium, or less depending on trim, is well worth the extra money. In fact, we’d recommend buying the hybrid over the standard Highlander if you can afford it because it will save you money in the long run.
The Highlander Hybrid’s interior looks more Lexus than Toyota, distinct from the materials in both the Sequoia and RAV4 that lag behind their competitors. There is a padded and stitched dash that’s soft to the touch, with varying quality of panels elsewhere, dependent on trim level. Lower trims have some visible cheap plastic that decries the upscale ambiance. All trims collect a brushed aluminum-looking trim across the dash and around air conditioning vents. These pieces appear pricey rather than the budget pieces discovered in other Toyotas. There’s a shelf that runs across the whole dash for plenty of extra storage space for small items.
Another handy feature is “Driver Easy Speak” which uses a discreet microphone to amplify the driver’s voice for the benefit of passengers. Testers extol the Toyota’s commanding seating position that lends superb visibility in all but the rear corners. The wide D pillars impinge rearward line of sight. An optional blind spot monitoring system with rear cross traffic alleviates anxiety caused by blind spots at the rear.
The system is controlled by the divisive Entune infotainment system, in 6.1-inch touch screen or 8-inch touch screen form. We say divisive because some users adored it while others couldn’t stand it. There’s unanimous love for the analog volume and tuning knobs, nowhere to be found in competing SUVs. Things testers didn’t like were the lack of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and the system’s intermittent functionality. Lower trims use an app-based navigation system, powered by your phone using the Scout GPS app which displays your route on the touchscreen. While it’s commendable that this system costs nothing, it uses excessive cell data that can quickly add up.
Some say it kills your phone’s power rapidly. Most will probably go back to utilizing Google or Apple maps as a result. Luckily, there are plenty of standard USB ports that provide power quickly. Bluetooth streaming audio functions intermittently. You can browse your music library through the Entune system when it’s connected, no need to browse your phone to find your tunes during your drive. Yet there are several complaints that system crashes more frequently when paired. Seats are ample with generous bolster. Higher trims receive power lumbar and thigh support for additional comfort. The Highlander Hybrid can either seat seven or eight. The stock configuration in eight with two split-folding benches. The top trim grants second-row captain’s chairs, unless you choose the bench specifically. The second-row bench has sliding, reclining, and folding features for optimal hauling. The third row will support three little ones or two larger humans, so long as the second row is in a forward position.
Rear rows fold down for a vast capacity of up to 83.7 cubic feet, 42.3 with behind the second row, and only 13.8 with all rows occupied. The Highlander Hybrid provides a refined interior with optimal utility, we’re sure your family will be satisfied.
The Highlander’s subtle, conservative design reflects the SUV’s character: practical, reliable, safe. The front fascia features a chrome grille dressed with the Toyota badge perched above a large intake with a secondary grille that combines to form a trapezoid. Augmenting the wide intake are dual vents that could wear fog lights, depending which trim you choose. Standard halogen projector beam headlights are integrated flawlessly into the lines generated by the uppermost grille, the hood, and front fenders. The singular line cultivated by this consolidation extends to the rear and extends skyward somewhat. Beneath, a bulbous body line stretches across the bottom of the SUV and over the rear fenders.
The B and C pillars are integrated into the window design, giving both the impression of one large side window, as well as the function of improved visibility. The rear fascia dons fresh taillights and, of course, the requisite roof spoiler. On top, there are low profile roof racks to allow useful cargo carrying. Per trim selected, the Highlander rides on either 18 inch or 19-inch alloy wheels. The Highlander has an appearance to match its performance: functional, dependable, reserved. What do you think about the Highlander Hybrid’s skin?
The NHTSA gives the Highlander Hybrid with a 5-star overall safety rating, the best possible. There have been some disconcerting complaints of the airbags failing to deploy in serious accidents. Several complaints filed with the NHTSA detail accounts of accidents in which the airbags failed, even at high speeds. Although we know airbags have been proven to mitigate most grave bodily harm, these owners recounting their stories in the flesh is a testament to Toyota engineering.
Some of these models contained with the TAKATA airbags that have been infamously recalled, so 2017 year models aren’t affected. A recall repair may have been performed by a Toyota dealer on affected models floating throughout the used market. You are able to check the VIN of the vehicle you’re considering purchasing on the NHTSA website to see if the issue has been remedied on that particular Highlander Hybrid. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety grants superior ratings to the Highlander Hybrid, including the coveted “Top Safety Pick+” designation.
This, of course, means the Highlander Hybrid achieved “GOOD” ratings across the all crash testing. The standard front crash prevention technology included in Toyota Safety Sense P draws the maximal rating of “SUPERIOR.” As a result, we’d highly recommend the Highlander Hybrid to families looking for a safe SUV.
Consumer Reports extends the Highlander a 5 out of 5 predicted reliability rating but does not differentiate between the Hybrid and gasoline-powered model. JD power grants a 3.5 out of 5 predicted reliability rating or just above average.
NHTSA records indicate fairly strong reliability. There are minor complaints about the infotainment system working intermittently and a handful of more serious complaints regarding loss of power or total failure. However, with less than one hundred total complaints filed over the last few years despite over half a million Highlanders sold, we think the Highlander Hybrid is pretty darn reliable.
Some known issues to be aware of are a fragile windshield that cracks easily, a power liftgate that may not function properly, and an overzealous dynamic cruise control. The only other complaint that seems quite common from further research is a bad A/C compressor but it’s typically associated with higher mileage Highlander Hybrids.
If you’re looking to buy used, understand that an A/C compressor can cost over $3,000 to replace because the part alone is $2,500 dollars. So be wary of Highlander Hybrids with over 80,000 miles. Toyotas can last many more miles but it's worth finding one that’s already had this repair, if possible. Not all models are affected, but the problem is common enough that it’s a cause for concern.
It’s worth noting that there are far fewer unhappy Highlander Hybrid owners than satisfied ones, judging from the statistics. Though this section may seem negative, we’re merely doing our due diligence so you can make the most informed purchase possible. All things considered, the Highlander Hybrid is one of the more reliable Hybrid SUVs on the market.
The stiffest competition for the Highlander Hybrid comes from within the Toyota family. The RAV4 Hybrid starts below $30,000 dollars, savings of over $7,000 when compared to the Highlander Hybrid. Like the Highlander Hybrid, Toyota Safety Sense is standard and provides some of the best advanced safety technology around. However, unlike its larger brother, the RAV4 Hybrid’s interior is riddled with cheap materials. Still, the compact SUV offers a surprising amount of room with 73.4 cubic feet of overall cargo capacity, roughly ten less than the Highlander. The second row is spacious and comfortable like the Highlander’s but no third row is available. If you don’t need a third row, the RAV4 Hybrid makes a lot of sense. It’s cheaper and more efficient without sacrificing the utility most seek from an SUV. Small families or single shoppers may want to consider the RAV4 Hybrid if they’re in the market for a Highlander Hybrid and don’t need the additional row.
The Highlander Hybrid LE starts from $36,270 with a 3.5 Liter Dual Overhead Cam V6 with direct injections combined with two permanent magnet synchronous motors powered by a sealed Nickel Metal Hydride battery. These motors merge for a total of 316 horsepower. An electronically controlled continuously variable transmission with sequential shift mode transfers that power to all four wheels via an Electronic On-Demand AWD system with intelligence. The chassis is a reinforced unibody design supported by independent MacPherson strut front suspension and double-wishbone style multi-link rear suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars.
An electric power assisted rack and pinion system provides a steering diameter of 38.7 feet. To stop the vehicle, there are 12.9 inch ventilated front disc brakes and 12.2 inch ventilated rear disc brakes with an integrated regenerative braking system that extends the life of the brakes and harnesses typically wasted energy. For lighting, projector-beam halogen smoked-chrome-accent headlights with auto on/off include daytime running lights at the front and LED taillights and stop lights are standard at the rear. Color-keyed heated power outside mirrors with integrated turn signals and folding feature provide a view of what’s behind you.
The Highlander LE rides on 18 inch split 5-spoke machined alloy wheels with black center caps and P245/60R18 105S tires. Black front and rear mudguards are standard, as are washer-linked variable intermittent windshield wipers, an intermittent rear wiper, UV reduction glass on all windows, High Solar Energy-Absorbing glass on the front and rear side windows, privacy glass on rear windows, a flip-up hatch rear window, and a color-keyed rear spoiler. The standard Entune Audio system includes a 6.1-inch high-resolution touch-screen display, six speakers, auxiliary audio jack, USB 2.0 port with iPod connectivity and control, advanced voice recognition, hands-free phone capability, phone book access, Bluetooth streaming audio, Siri Eyes Free, and an integrated backup camera with projected path display. Between the gauges, there’s a 4.2 inch LCD multi-information display with an ECO Driving Indicator that allows you to monitor your real-time efficiency. The standard seats are trimmed with fabric.
The driver’s seat is 6-way adjustable, while the front passenger seat is 4-way adjustable. The second-row bench seat slides, reclines, and folds flat with a 60/40 split. The third row also folds flat with a 60/40 split and reclines but does not slide. The 3-spoke steering wheel tilts and telescopes and provides multi-function controls. A Smart Key System with illuminated entry and push-button start provides access to the vehicle and liftgate. Power windows are standard, along with a rear liftgate window defogger, overhead console with sunglasses storage, a soft-touch center console, soft-touch in-dash shelf with easy cable management feature, dual sun visors with illuminated vanity mirrors, two 12-volt auxiliary power outlets, 5 USB ports, cargo area lights, and four cargo area tie-down hooks. Toyota Safety Sense P is standard and includes a Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Automatic High Beams, and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. The standard Star Safety System provides Electronically Controlled Braking, Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management, traction control, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, and Smart Stop Technology. Other safety features include an engine immobilizer, Hill Start Assist COntrol, tire pressure monitoring system, energy dissipating interior trim, energy-absorbing crumple zones, collapsible steering column, front Advanced Airbag System, driver and front passenger seat-mounted side airbags, driver knee airbag, front passenger seat cushion airbag, and all-row Roll-sensing Side Curtain Airbags. ToyotaCare is included, a no cost maintenance plan with roadside assistance for 2 years or 25,000 miles.
The Highlander Hybrid XLE starts at $41,330 and adds integrated fog lights, blind spot warning indicators, a power tilt and slide moonroof with sunshade, 18-inch turbine-look alloy wheels with painted finish and black center caps, height adjustable power liftgate with jam protection, Chromtec roof rails, and rear cross-traffic alert. Inside, this trim receives three-zone automatic climate control with air filter and separate second row control panel, Entune premium audio with 8 inch touchscreen, integrated navigation, app suite, SiriusXM satellite radio, HD Radio predictive traffic and Doppler Weather overlay, Gracenote album cover art, navigation function for driver information display, leather-trimmed seating in first two rows, 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat, SofTex trimmed third row, leather-trimmed steering wheel with more multi-function controls, soft-touch upper door trim with metallic accent, leatherette-trimmed door armrest area with satin chrome interior door handles, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a HomeLink universal transceiver, a 120 volt auxiliary power outlet in the second row, second row retractable window shades, an anti-theft system, and a Driver Easy Speak voice amplification system.
The $44,760 Hybrid Limited trim installs LED daytime running lights, mirror memory function, 19 inch Chromtec alloy wheels with black center caps, a chrome rear bumper garnish, dynamic gridlines for the backup camera, Entune Premium JBL audio system with 12 JBL GreenEdge speakers, perforated leather-trimmed front and second row seats, 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat with memory function and power thigh/lumbar support, perforated leather-trimmed second-row captain’s chairs with side table, soft-touch upper door trim with wood-grain accent, Blue LED ambient lighting, auto up/down on all windows, rear cargo area tonneau cover, and rear parking assist sonar. A Rear seat Blu-ray Disc entertainment system with 9-inch display, RCA jacks, remote, and two wireless headphones is available for $1,810.