A road trip to Louisville with a couple buddies, and plenty of cargo, proved Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid to be a perfect transport choice.
Ours was a medium metallic brown, what Toyota calls Toasted Walnut Pearl. Probably should have been pecan since we were headed to the South. But, color aside, this fine family mover will carry eight folks and their stuff, or in our case, three and luggage, boxes, a monster camera bag, etc.
There was plenty to like and really nothing to irritate a crabby old guy and his friends.
Start with power. There’s a bunch. Toyota puts a new 3.5-liter V6 under the hood, mated with its reliable hybrid power system. Combined these get 306 horsepower and operation is silky smooth. Creeping through Chicago traffic on the return trip, at about 5-20 mph, the Highlander hummed along on electric power. Once I needed to accelerate somewhere near Gurnee, Ill., its electronically controlled CVT (continuously variable transmission) eased right into it and off we went at 70+ mph. In fact, cruising through Indiana the Highlander is so quiet and comfy that we had no difficulty commenting on how far we could see in any direction.
Ride is super. Highlander rides on a 109.8-inch wheelbase and the independent front McPherson struts and rear double wishbone suspension eat up highway imperfections. Few vehicles feel this smooth on rough Midwestern roads.
Handling is fine, the wheel is just firm enough to give the Highlander more of a high-end feel, but still easy to drive. While a large sport-utility/crossover it corners well and feels well balanced. Aiding traction, when it rains or snows, is standard all-wheel-drive. Braking was excellent too.
Gas consumption is a pleasant surprise in a vehicle weighing this much and loaded down for the trip. I needed only three fill-ups on my circuit to Louisville and got between 25.9 mpg and 29.8 mpg. Excellent! The EPA rates the hybrid at 29 mpg highway and 27 mpg city.
Inside, the tested Highlander Limited Platinum, the top-of-the-line hybrid model, looked and felt great. It featured perforated black leather seats with brown stitching to reflect the exterior color. Plus there was brown leather dash and door trim, a gray roof liner and matte silver trim on the dash and steering wheel hub. The wheel is a manual tilt/telescope model, which is fine, but at this luxury price tag I think a powered wheel would be appropriate. More on pricing in a minute.
Seating is excellent with two captain’s chairs in the middle row plus a bench seat that splits and folds into the cargo floor in back. So without much fuss you could fit seven here, and if you go with a lower line model with center row bench you could fit in eight.
We folded down the rear seat and one mid-row seat and loaded the Highlander up big time. That was easy as the seats all fold flat and there’s a power hatch in back, plus the rear window will open separately if you just need to drop something in the back but don’t want to power up the tailgate. The middle row occupant also found he had side window shades and a flip-up table with cup holders between the second row seats.
Everything was well laid out and the front seats were both heated and cooled (3 levels) while the second row seats were heated. The Platinum model also has a heated steering wheel, while overhead was a monstrously large sunroof and shade. More fun to open that when it isn’t 90 degrees and sunny, which it was in Louisville and environs.
Highlander’s seats are extremely comfortable too, soft but not squishy and firm enough ad well formed to provide good back, hip and shoulder support. Front seats were powered and the driver’s had two memory settings.
Dash design is first-rate with a big open shelf that runs from under the center stack all the way to the passenger’s door. It’s excellent for storing cell phones, note pads, wallets and what all. Plus there’s an opening to put a cord, or two, through for charging a phone.
There are three 12-volt outlets, two up front and one in back.
There’s an 8-inch touchscreen that was easy to see and use and all dash buttons and knobs were simple to use and understand.
This model year Toyota has enhanced its standard safety equipment suite too, so in addition to blind-spot warning and a rearview camera it has active cruise control, automatic collision avoidance with pedestrian recognition, automatic high-beam headlights and a lane departure warning system.
All of which brings us to price. The base LE hybrid starts at $37,230, the XLE moves to $42,290 and the Limited starts at $45,720. This Premium model listed at $47,880, but added just two minor options and the delivery fee to hit $49,254. That’s not cheap, but you get a lot for your money and there are lower cost options.
By going with a standard, non-hybrid, LE model you can get into a Highlander for $31,500 including delivery. Note that the base LE uses a less satisfying 2.7-liter I4 with 185 horsepower. But for about $2,000 more you can get the 3.5-liter V6 with 295 horses. So choices and price ranges abound.
Highlander is a winner. This 2017 model adds a larger front grille to give Highlander a more distinct look, but it’s the driving and riding comfort along with its superior interior that’ll keep satisfying customers.
FAST STATS: 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Ltd. Platinum
Hits: Excellent mpg in an attractive package that’s a comfortable family hauler. Quiet interior with three rows of seats, super nice ride, good power and OK handling plus AWD. Heated steering wheel, heated/cooled front seats, heated rears, giant sunroof and shade, good safety equipment and extremely comfy seats.
Misses: Power tilt/telescope wheel would be nice.
Made in: Princeton, Ind.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6/hybrid system, 306 hp
Transmission: ECVT automatic
Weight: 4,965 lbs.
Length: 192.5 in.
Wheelbase: 109.8 in.
Cargo: 83.2 cu.ft.
MPG: 29/27 (EPA)
MPG: 25.9-29.8 (tested)
Tow: 3,500 lbs.
Base Price: $47,880
Invoice: $44,675 (includes delivery)
Body side molding, $209
Carpet floor mats/cargo mat, $225
Test Vehicle: $49,254
Sources: Toyota, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage