What's New for 2013
For 2013, all Highlander Hybrids get navigation and an Entune-enabled version of Toyota's Display Audio infotainment system as standard equipment, while the Leather Premium package includes more content.
The 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a vehicle for which you can check off several boxes. One or all might be important to you, but the more boxes you check, the more you'll appreciate the Highlander Hybrid's appeal.
First and foremost, it's a hybrid and inherently is much more fuel-efficient than any like-sized conventional crossover. At about 28 mpg combined, you'll be doing way better at the gas pump than just about anybody else with a utility vehicle, even much smaller ones. And unlike the reputation of its Prius cousin for being underpowered, the Highlander Hybrid's standard 3.5-liter V6 means there's surprising and satisfying thrust just about all the time.
The 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid also is a convincing minivan substitute, particularly for those who might usually use most of those seats but still would rather not buy a minivan. The Highlander's truncated third row isn't really meant for adults or child safety seats, but it's fine for quick trips and bendable adolescents. Finally, you get all of this in a vehicle with standard all-wheel drive, checking off another box if you need a vessel to handle nasty weather.
Too good to be true? About the only real issue, aside from the Highlander Hybrid's numb steering, soft-ish ride and styling that's probably too conservative, is cost. The 2013 Highlander Hybrid's base price is thousands more than the conventionally powered Highlander (although the hybrid is more lavishly equipped). If you see the Highlander Hybrid merely as an investment or hedge bet on gasoline prices, plan on owning it for a long while after it's paid off -- even with savings at the pump.
If you're interested in a hybrid crossover that's similarly sized, the upscale Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid is also a great choice, but has only five seats and is even more expensive. The same is true for the 2013 Lexus RX 450h hybrid from Toyota's premium division. An intriguing option might be the admittedly smaller 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid, a five-seat hatchback wagon that offers class-leading fuel economy, plenty of potential utility and a price that's smaller than the Highlander Hybrid's, too.
Few if any vehicles in the market, however, allow you to check off as many boxes as the 2013 Highlander Hybrid.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a seven-passenger midsize crossover SUV offered in two trim levels: base and Limited.
The base model's list of standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, foglamps, rear privacy glass, keyless entry, cruise control, air-conditioning (with rear controls), an eight-way power driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering column, a sliding and reclining 40/20/40-split second-row seat with a removable center section, a 50/50-split-folding third-row seat, a trip computer, a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a 6-inch touchscreen display, Toyota's Entune app integration, a navigation system and a six-speaker sound system with CD player, satellite radio and an iPod/USB audio interface.
There are just two option packages for the base Highlander Hybrid. A Leather Premium package includes leather upholstery (vinyl third row), heated front seats, a sunroof, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and an upgraded trip computer.
All of the above options are included on the Limited trim along with 19-inch wheels, a power liftgate, keyless ignition/entry, tri-zone climate control, a four-way power passenger seat and a nine-speaker JBL premium sound system. A rear seat entertainment system is optional.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid's sophisticated and complex powertrain comprises a 3.5-liter V6 gasoline engine and a trio of electric motors. The gasoline engine and electric motors can operate alone or in tandem depending on the driving conditions. Together, they produce a maximum of 280 horsepower. To maximize efficiency in most situations, power is transmitted only to the front wheels via a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), while a separate electric motor drives the rear wheels when there's a need for extra traction or acceleration.
In Edmunds performance testing, a Highlander Hybrid went from zero to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds, a quick time even for a conventionally powered midsize crossover. Properly equipped, the Highlander Hybrid also can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
Despite its satisfying performance, the Highlander Hybrid's fuel economy is its real strength. The EPA rates the Highlander Hybrid at 28 mpg city/28 mpg highway and 28 mpg in combined driving.
The 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid comes standard with antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags, a driver-side knee airbag and active front head restraints. In Edmunds brake testing, the Highlander Hybrid came to a stop from 60 mph in 120 feet, a very good performance, particularly considering the Highlander Hybrid's batteries and extra components make it markedly heavier than conventionally powered vehicles.
In government crash tests, the Highlander Hybrid earned an overall rating of four stars (out of a possible five), with four stars for overall frontal protection and five stars for overall side protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the conventional Highlander the top rating of "Good" in frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
There's a quiet, upscale feel to the 2013 Highlander Hybrid when you take in the wide center console, big (but not oversized) 6.1-inch screen for the standard navigation system and the tight tolerances of the trim. The Highlander Hybrid's interior is conventional but comfortable -- and most important, easy to use.
That ease-of-use factor extends to passengers, too. The second-row seats slide and seatbacks recline, allowing everyone to tailor a seating position. A nice feature allows removal of the center portion of the seat if you prefer a six-passenger layout. All the materials are nice to look at and touch, yet feel durable enough to stand the beating a family's likely to inflict.
The Highlander Hybrid does not provide quite as much cargo capacity as a minivan or a full-size crossover, but it can haul plenty if needed: There's 42 cubic feet of cargo room with the third-row seat neatly folded flat. Drop both seats and there's a very useful 94 cubic feet back there. For comparison, the like-sized VW Touareg Hybrid offers 32 cubic feet behind its second row and a maximum of 64 cubic feet.
The 2013 Highlander Hybrid dispels the perception that hybrids are great fuel sippers but lousy performers. Drop the accelerator pedal and the gasoline V6 and electric drive motors imperceptibly team up to generate acceleration that will leave plenty of "regular" crossovers in your dust.
Too bad, then, that the Highlander Hybrid's steering feels so disconnected, because it magnifies the fact that this crossover's suspension is definitely tuned for a soft ride: the trade-off being sometimes ungainly handling if corners are taken too quickly. Still, the Highlander Hybrid is a crossover designed to satisfy you with an unchallenging blend of utility and economy. Just load up the gang, punch up the fuel economy display on the Highlander Hybrid's spacious center screen and revel in the comfort in which everyone can travel while using as little fossil fuel as possible.