Full 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Review
What's New for 2014
Like its conventionally powered sibling, the Highlander Hybrid enters a new generation for 2014. Highlights include a larger, nicer cabin, the same 28 mpg EPA combined fuel economy rating as last year and a height-adjustable power liftgate.
If you're shopping for a three-row crossover SUV with hybrid power, you may have noticed that there aren't many options. Although the appeal of carlike fuel economy in a sizable crossover is undeniable, the market hasn't responded with a flurry of hybrid family haulers. But here's the good news: The best-known option, the 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, is fully redesigned this year, and Toyota (www.edmunds.com) has made numerous improvements aimed at families who may have outgrown the previous model.
The changes start outside, where the Highlander Hybrid is visibly longer (by 3 inches) as well as slightly wider than before. Together with a new rear suspension design that takes up less space, these modifications allow for a larger third-row seat with room for three passengers instead of two. It's also easier to get back there now, thanks to additional forward seat travel in the second row. And while maximum cargo capacity has dropped, the standard height-adjustable power liftgate with its separate glass hatch makes it easier to haul your stuff without fuss.
As for the "hybrid" part, Toyota chose to carry over the gasoline-electric powertrain from the previous generation. Still, with 280 horses on tap and an EPA combined rating of 28 mpg, there wasn't much here that needed fixing. What did require attention was the aging interior design, so the 2014 Highlander Hybrid thankfully shares the regular version's all-new cabin, highlighted by upgraded materials, better storage options and a tech-forward dashboard with a sharp-looking 8-inch touchscreen. When you get out on the highway, you'll notice less noise and vibration, too. The Highlander Hybrid is downright Lexus-like in the way it glides over the road.
The letdown here is the hybrid's pricing, which is also Lexus-like. For many thousands less, the 2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid provides room for seven and nearly the same fuel economy, though it can't match the Toyota's power or composure. Oddly, even the premium version of the Pathfinder, the 2014 Infiniti QX60 Hybrid, undercuts the Highlander Hybrid's base price by a smidge. There's also the regular 2014 Toyota Highlander to think about, because when you're saving a lot up front, paying marginally more at the pump starts to make financial sense. But if you can comfortably afford the 2014 Highlander Hybrid, it's an admirable all-around vehicle that's bound to please.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a three-row midsize crossover offered in Limited and Limited Platinum trims. Seven-passenger seating is standard, with a layout that includes two second-row captain's chairs and a 60/40-split third-row bench with three seats. Note that the conventional Highlander is reviewed separately.
Standard features include 19-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof, LED running lights, foglights, a flip-up rear hatch window, an adjustable-height power liftgate, a rear spoiler, keyless ignition and entry, ambient interior lighting, tri-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery (with synthetic SofTex vinyl for the third row), heated and ventilated front seats, an eight-way power driver seat (with power lumbar), driver memory functions, a four-way power passenger seat, driver voice amplification for communicating with rear passengers ("Driver Easy Speak"), a second-row table between the captain's chairs and retractable second-row sunshades. Electronic features include a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert, rear parking sensors, a back-up camera, an 8-inch central touchscreen, smartphone app integration (Entune App Suite), Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a 12-speaker JBL audio system with satellite radio, HD radio and iPod/USB connectivity.
Optional for the Limited is the Driver Technology package, which adds Toyota's Safety Connect telematics, adaptive cruise control, a collision mitigation system with automatic braking, a lane departure warning system and automatic high-beam control.
The Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum includes all those items plus a panoramic sunroof, a heated steering wheel and heated second-row seats. A rear-seat Blu-Ray entertainment system with a 9-inch display is offered as a stand-alone option.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2014 Highlander Hybrid is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 combined with three electric motors and a battery pack. Total output is rated at 280 horsepower. All-wheel drive is standard, as is a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Under normal conditions, the hybrid operates as a front-wheel-drive vehicle, but if wheel slippage is detected or serious acceleration demanded, the rear axle's electric motor kicks in for full traction and power.
According to the EPA, the Highlander Hybrid returns 28 mpg combined (27 city/28 highway), which is about as good as it gets for a three-row crossover.
A properly equipped Highlander Hybrid can tow up to 3,500 pounds, or 1,500 fewer than the conventional Highlander V6.
The 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid comes standard with stability control, antilock disc brakes, front-seat side airbags, a driver knee airbag, a front passenger seat-cushion airbag and full-length side curtain airbags.
A blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alerts is also standard, while the optional Driver Technology package adds a frontal collision mitigation system with automatic braking, lane-departure warnings and Toyota's Safety Connect telematics (emergency assistance, stolen vehicle location and automatic collision notification).
In government crash tests, the Highlander Hybrid received five stars out of five overall, including four stars for total frontal-impact safety and five stars for total side-impact safety.
In crash testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the non-hybrid Highlander received the highest possible rating of "Good" in the moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests. In the small-overlap frontal-offset test, it received the second-highest rating of "Acceptable." Its seat/head restraint design was rated "Good" for whiplash protection in rear impacts.
Interior Design and Special Features
If you're expecting unique interior flourishes inside the pricey 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, we're about to burst your bubble. Aside from the usual smattering of hybrid-specific gauges and information screens, the Hybrid is basically a Highlander Limited with a different powertrain. Happily, though, the Highlander's interior receives an extreme makeover for 2014, and it's nice enough to pass muster at the hybrid's elevated price. Gone are the bland hard plastics that used to cover the dashboard, supplanted by supple surfaces with subtle stitching at the seams. The aforementioned Infiniti QX60 Hybrid's cabin might look and feel more special, but Toyota's modest deficit here shouldn't be a deal-breaker.
A number of handy new storage features help the Highlander Hybrid's cause. There's a unique shelf on the dashboard, for instance, that's a perfect resting place for phones, with a hole in back that lets you feed in cords from the power point below. Also, the storage box under the console armrest is much more spacious now, providing what Toyota describes as enough room for a large purse (hopefully "murses" fit as well, since the Highlander's styling is said to be manlier this time around).
Since the Hybrid only comes in Limited trim, it doesn't offer the three-person second-row bench that's standard on lesser Highlander models. The two captain's chairs are quite pleasant, however, and they slide farther forward than they used to, permitting easier access to the third row. Speaking of the way-back, adults will still find it cramped relative to some rivals, but kids will be fine and the three-across seating in the third row bolsters the Highlander's credentials as a minivan substitute. So does the novel "Driver Easy Speak" feature, which uses the Bluetooth microphone to pipe your commanding parental voice through the Highlander's sound system.
When hauling needs arise, the Highlander Hybrid doesn't let its ample battery pack get in the way. There are a usable 13.6 cubic feet of space behind the third row (a notable improvement from last generation), expanding to 42 cubes with the third row folded and a maximum 82.6 cubic feet of capacity with both rear rows folded.
On the road, the 2014 Highlander Hybrid definitely feels bigger than the vehicle it replaces. It's worth noting that the Hybrid is also around 350 pounds heavier than a comparable regular Toyota Highlander. Nonetheless, the meaty three-spoke steering wheel inspires confidence, and within its predictably modest limits, the Highlander Hybrid handles the road with uncommon crispness and confidence. We have found that the regenerative braking system produces a characteristically odd pedal feel that may take some getting used to.
Of course, the 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid's bread and butter is ferrying passengers around in comfort, and here it excels. The cabin remains hushed at speed, and bumps and ruts are generally shrugged off by the crossover's capable suspension, even with the standard 19-inch tires and their less compliant sidewalls. Over in the engine room, the 280-hp hybrid system is pretty punchy, but the CVT tends to hesitate before opening the floodgates, which makes the hybrid Highlander feel less responsive than the conventional Highlander (which has an exceptionally good six-speed automatic transmission).