Review of: 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid AWD 4dr Limited
2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid: Priced out of the market
By Chris Chase
Sep. 29, 2017
In just over a decade and a half on the market, the Toyota Highlander has become a major player in the mid-sized crossover segment. That’s a significant accomplishment for a vehicle that holds the dubious honour of competing with the heavyweight Ford Explorer, which had a decade-long head start and effectively created the segment in which these popular trucks compete.
For 2017, the Highlander gets a refresh to styling introduced in the 2014 redesign, as well as updated powertrains and a standard suite of active safety features that includes automatic emergency braking, lane-departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams and radar cruise control.
Pros & Cons
- + Acceleration
- + Ride comfort
- + Usable technology
- - Price
- - Fuel economy
- - Secondary controls
As is typical for a mid-cycle refresh, the Highlander’s cosmetic changes are on the subtle side, but they include a more distinctive front end built around a larger grille, with a hint of the controversial spindle design Toyota’s upscale Lexus brand uses to make its models stand out.
Toyota has left the Highlander’s interior alone, so it remains a straightforward space with seating for up to eight.
Overall, the dash is a nice simple design that incorporates lots of small-item storage, but it’s certainly not perfect. All of the controls on the right-hand side of the centre stack are a reach for the driver, and the knobs for the climate control and audio systems are too flat to offer much grip.
The Highlander will seat eight in lower-spec models with a middle-row bench seat, but our tester had a pair of bucket seats there that limited seating to seven, with three of those in a third row best suited to shorter adults and kids.
A tray between the middle-row seats puts a couple of cupholders close at hand, and folds down to allow walk-through access to the third row.
We like that the rear glass opens separately from the tailgate, but the Highlander is a tall vehicle, so hoisting stuff up through the opening will be a reach for shorter folks.
Arguably, the Highlander Hybrid’s most important tech is underneath the vehicle: Toyota puts an electric motor at each axle (the one at the rear provides AWD traction) and they work with a 3.5-litre V6 to crank out 306 hp, about 10 more than the conventional gas-powered Highlander.
We also have to give Toyota credit for making active safety kit standard in most of its models, a move that boosts the brand’s value quotient beyond its noted reliability and resale value.
And while we have our quibbles with that dash, the eight-inch touchscreen is a good size and houses a responsive infotainment system that nonetheless is starting to look dated.
Toyota doesn’t say how much torque the Highlander Hybrid’s gas engine and electric motors generate when working together, but it feels like a good deal more than the gas-only version’s 263 lb-ft. Under a heavy right foot, the Highlander proves hybrids can perform as well as they promise to save fuel. In gentler driving, this big utility is quiet thanks to the electric motors taking some of the load off the gas engine. Couple that with a smooth ride and relaxed handling, and the Highlander Hybrid would be a pretty nice way to move a few people over a long distance.
Our test vehicle’s average fuel consumption was 9.7 L/100, a not-so-hot number next to the Highlander Hybrid’s estimates of 8.1 L/100 km in city driving and 8.5 on the highway.
The Highlander Hybrid skips the gasoline model’s entry-level LE trim to go straight to an XLE package that’s equipped similarly to the gasoline XLE, so the $6,000 price premium is mostly due to the hybrid’s advanced powertrain.
It’s tough to compare the Highlander Hybrid’s value to any of its competitors, because Toyota is alone in offering a hybrid option in this class of crossover. If you’re torn between gasoline and hybrid, consider that the more you drive, the quicker you’ll recoup the hybrid’s price premium in fuel savings. If the Highlander will be your family’s only vehicle, get the hybrid. If you have a smaller car to use as an around-town runabout, spend less up front for the gasoline model.
While a three-row crossover is generally a good showcase for Toyota’s hybrid powertrain technology, the otherwise eminently pleasant Highlander is the wrong venue for it. What Toyota needs to do is add a similarly sized model to its upscale Lexus lineup, put this powertrain in it and stick a $60,000 price tag on it. Hybrid or not, $50,000-plus is too much money for the Highlander.