Used 2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Review
Edmunds expert review
The 2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a family-friendly three-row crossover that gets an unbeatable 28 mpg in mixed driving, but the up-front price might be a bit tough to swallow.
What's new for 2016
It's a simple law of physics, at least in the era of steel and aluminum: The bigger and heavier the car, the worse the gas mileage. This basic principle isn't going to change any time soon, but there are ways to reduce the effects of weight on the mileage equation. That's where the 2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid comes in.
For families that don't need a V8 toy-hauling behemoth or can't bring themselves to own a minivan, the Highlander Hybrid represents the current apex of three-row crossover size, utility and fuel efficiency. It offers a spacious, comfortable and quiet cabin, seating for seven and high-quality materials and finish. The hybrid gas-electric V6 engine delivers quick acceleration when called upon, smooth and quiet cruising, and at 28 mpg combined, unsurpassed fuel economy. By comparison, gasoline-only V6 Highlanders are rated at 20 mpg combined.
It may look like a standard Highlander, but the Highlander Hybrid delivers considerably better mileage in day-to-day driving.
So why isn't every family driving one? Because starting at almost $50,000, the Highlander Hybrid is a fairly rich taste for such a blue-collar brand. The Hybrid comes in just two top trim levels, Limited and Limited Platinum. Those trim levels are certainly well-equipped with leather upholstery, navigation, smartphone integration and a premium sound system, but even compared to the gas-only Highlander versions, they'll cost you a premium of several thousand dollars when new. The Hybrid rivals many luxury brands for the price.
Still, those who can stomach the cost will find the Highlander Hybrid worth it, which is essentially what we concluded in our Edmunds "A" rating of this Toyota. You'd have to stretch to the Infiniti QX60 Hybrid to find a crossover of equal size with a bit more refinement, luxury trimming and similar price, but slightly less fuel-efficient (26 mpg combined) and much less powerful (250 horsepower compared to the Highlander Hybrid's 280 hp).
If seven-passenger seating isn't a requirement, buyers can consider the more luxury-focused Audi Q5 Hybrid or Lexus RX 450h. There's no doubt, though, that the 2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid offers the best combination of fuel efficiency, power, comfort and interior space in its class.
Trim levels & features
The 2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a three-row midsize crossover offered in Limited and Limited Platinum trims. Seven-passenger seating is standard, with two captain's chairs in the second row and a 60/40-split bench in the third row. The gas-only Highlander is reviewed separately.
Standard features include 19-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof, roof rails, 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), a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 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.
There are only two trims levels of the Highlander Hybrid, so expect to pay well north of $40,000 to get your hands on one.
Electronics features include a navigation system, 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 (stolen vehicle locater, roadside assistance, automatic collision notification), adaptive cruise control, a collision mitigation system with automatic braking, a lane departure warning system and automatic high-beam control headlights. A rear-seat Blu-ray entertainment system with a 9-inch display is offered as a stand-alone option.
The Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum (also known as the Platinum package) includes all those items plus a panoramic sunroof, a heated steering wheel and heated second-row seats.
Performance & mpg
The 2016 Highlander Hybrid is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 combined with multiple electric motors and a battery pack. Total output is rated at 280 hp. All-wheel drive is standard, as is a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Under normal conditions, the hybrid is driven by its front wheels. But if a wheel begins to slip or the driver demands serious acceleration, the rear axle's electric motor kicks in for full traction and power.
The "Eco" gauge on the left is one of the few hints that this vehicle uses a gas-electric drivetrain.
In Edmunds testing, a Highlander Hybrid accelerated from zero to 60 mph in just 7.9 seconds. That's quick for a crossover of this size, let alone a hybrid version. Fuel economy is an EPA-rated 28 mpg in combined driving (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 2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid comes standard with stability control, antilock disc brakes, hill-start assist, front-seat side airbags, a driver knee airbag, a front passenger seat-cushion airbag and full-length side curtain airbags.
A rearview camera and blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert and rear parking sensors are also standard, while the optional Driver Technology package adds a frontal collision mitigation system with automatic braking, lane-departure warning and Toyota's Safety Connect telematics (emergency assistance, stolen vehicle location and automatic collision notification).
In Edmunds testing, the Highlander Hybrid came to a stop from 60 mph in 127 feet, which is a few feet longer than average for the segment.
In government crash tests, the Highlander Hybrid earned five out of five stars for overall crash protection, 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 and head restraint design was rated "Good" for whiplash protection in rear impacts.
On the road, the Highlander Hybrid definitely feels large, but still easy to drive every day. The 280-hp hybrid system offers quick acceleration in city traffic and the V6/CVT combination gives it some real pep from a standstill. As with most hybrids, the regenerative braking system produces a characteristically odd pedal feel that may strike some drivers as a little touchy until they've acclimated.
It's worth noting that the Highlander Hybrid is around 350 pounds heavier than a comparable gas-only model. Nonetheless, the hybrid confidently handles the road within its predictably modest limits. The steering has a firm, reassuring feel as well, but can be a bit heavy during slow-speed maneuvers.
Of course, most people will use the 2016 Highlander Hybrid primarily for ferrying passengers around in comfort, and that's where it truly shines. The cabin remains impressively quiet at speed, and bumps and ruts are generally shrugged off by the crossover's compliant suspension.
Some hybrid vehicles have unique interior flourishes setting them apart from their non-hybrid counterparts. But aside from the usual smattering of hybrid-specific gauges and information screens, the 2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is basically a Highlander Limited with a different powertrain.
While this may disappoint some, especially considering the Highlander Hybrid's significantly higher starting price, the interior is nice enough to pass muster. Supple surfaces cover the dashboard with subtle stitching at the seams. The Infiniti QX60 Hybrid's cabin might look and feel more special, but Toyota's modest deficit here shouldn't be a deal-breaker.
The interior is nicely trimmed and designed for maximum practicality.
Toyota has baked a number of handy storage features into the 2016 Highlander's interior. There's a unique built-in shelf on the dashboard, for instance, that can serve as a resting place for phones and other small personal items. The shelf's short height, however, can make it hard to actually fit your hand in there to place or retrieve those items. Vastly more spacious is the storage box under the console armrest that's big enough for a large purse. A 120-volt power outlet and a 12-volt power source in the second row also offer flexible options for charging devices and gadgets.
The Hybrid only comes in Limited trim, so it doesn't offer three-passenger seating in the second row like non-hybrid Highlanders, only dual captain's chairs. The chairs are quite pleasant however, and slide far forward to offer good access to the third row. Adults will still find the third row cramped relative to other competitors, but kids will do just fine, and the three-across seating bolsters the Highlander's credentials as a minivan substitute.
Behind that third row are nearly 14 cubic feet of cargo-carrying capacity, which when the rear seats are lowered maxes out at 83.2 cubic feet, an average figure for this class of vehicle. The available height-adjustable power liftgate with memory height settings is also a boon in garages with low ceilings.
There's plenty of available cargo space if you don't need to carry any passengers.
Edmunds expert review process
This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.
We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.