The standard gas-powered Toyota Highlander has long enjoyed a reputation as an excellent midsize crossover with carlike drivability, SUV convenience and reasonable fuel consumption. The Highlander Hybrid model boasts the same credentials, but on top of that it also provides more power and even greater fuel economy. In many ways, it has been a segment leader since day one. It was the first hybrid SUV to offer all-wheel drive, seating for seven and more horsepower than its conventional gasoline variant.
Toyota has offered a hybrid version for every generation of the Highlander. Now in its third generation, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid is larger, roomier and more upscale than ever before. But no matter which generation you're looking at, you can expect high levels of versatility, comfort, fuel economy and safety. It's an excellent option for car shoppers with an aversion to thirsty SUVs.
Current Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Debuting for 2014, the redesigned, third-generation Toyota Highlander Hybrid features more aggressive styling and a nicer interior design. A three-passenger third-row seat bumps maximum passenger capacity to seven, as the second row has a pair of captain's chairs. Its hybrid components are largely unchanged from the previous generation, however.
Power is provided by a 3.5-liter V6 engine, which along with three electric motors and a battery pack, produces a combined 280 horsepower. All-wheel drive is standard, as is a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Fuel mileage is very impressive for a three-row crossover at an EPA-estimated 28 mpg combined.
Trim levels consist of Limited and Limited Platinum. Highlights of the Limited include a sunroof, a power liftgate, keyless ignition and entry, tri-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, a back-up camera, Bluetooth, smartphone app integration and a premium audio system with satellite radio and an iPod/USB interface. The Limited Platinum adds a panoramic sunroof, automatic headlights, a heated steering wheel, heated second-row seats, Toyota's Safety Connect telematics, adaptive cruise control, a frontal collision mitigation system (with automatic braking) and a lane departure warning system.
In reviews, the newest Toyota Highlander Hybrid has earned high marks for its high fuel economy and upscale interior that's roomy enough for larger families. This three-row crossover also feels composed around turns, and the ride quality on the highway is smooth and very quiet. Although the 280-hp hybrid system is pretty punchy, there is a brief hesitation when you step on it, which makes the hybrid Highlander feel less responsive than the conventional Toyota Highlander. Price could also be a concern, as the hybrid is considerably more expensive than the regular Highlander. But if you can comfortably afford the Highlander Hybrid, it's an admirable all-around crossover that's bound to please.
Used Toyota Highlander Hybrid Models
The second-generation Toyota Highlander Hybrid was produced from 2008-'13. Compared to the original Highlander Hybrid, this one offered more interior room for passengers and cargo, as well as a more refined hybrid power system and standard all-wheel drive (previously there was a choice between front- and all-wheel drive).
Initially, this Highlander employed a 3.3-liter V6 that made 270 hp and was rated at an EPA-estimated 26 mpg rating in combined driving. A 3.5-liter V6 with 280 hp and a 28 mpg combined fuel economy rating debuted for 2011. That year the hybrid also received a minor styling update and a more versatile 50/50-split-folding third row of seats (replacing the previous one-piece bench). Toyota's Entune infotainment system with smartphone integration debuted in the 2013 model year, along with standard navigation.
This Highlander Hybrid was offered in base and Limited trim levels, and all versions came with all-wheel drive. Initially, the base model's highlights included a rearview camera, air-conditioning and a sliding and reclining 40/20/40-split second-row seat with a removable center section. The Limited trim added 19-inch wheels (versus 17-inch wheels), a power liftgate, a third-row seat and a power driver seat. Later years saw more standard features added to both trims. Highlights for the base version included Bluetooth phone/audio connectivity, the 50/50-split third-row seat and rear air-conditioning, while the Limited picked up a sunroof, keyless ignition/entry, leather seating and heated front seats.
In reviews at the time, we observed that this second-generation Toyota Highlander Hybrid offered a desirable blend of performance and fuel economy along with a thoughtfully designed cabin. The reconfigurable second-row seats were a particular bonus. Potential downsides include a smallish third-row seat and a high price relative to the regular Highlander. Overall, though, this Highlander Hybrid remains a great all-around choice for a hybrid crossover SUV.
The first-generation Toyota Highlander Hybrid was built for just two years, 2006 and 2007, though it was based on the original Highlander that was introduced for 2001. Just like its gas-powered siblings, the hybrid Highlander was based on the Camry platform, giving it carlike drivability. Along with the significant fuel savings, the hybrid system kicked power output up to 268, adding almost 40 hp over the standard gas-only V6. While the hybrid's price of admission was quite a bit more than the standard Highlander, its miserly fuel consumption made the initial financial hit more bearable.
The extra weight of the hybrid system made handling a bit more sluggish than the conventional gasoline Highlander, but ride quality was still pretty smooth and comfortable on the hybrid version. And since it was quite a bit smaller than later generations of the Toyota Highlander, this first hybrid model was quite maneuverable in crowded parking lots, and in general, it felt more like a wagon than an SUV.
Two trim levels were available for the original Toyota Highlander Hybrid: standard and Limited. For a premium, the Limited version included foglights, steering-wheel-mounted controls for the upgraded JBL sound system, and some enhanced interior and exterior trim, including cabin wood-tone accents and a rear spoiler. A touchscreen navigation screen was available as an option on the Limited.