Recently I’ve had an opportunity to spend a week with a Sport Utility Vehicle that I’ve been quite curious about for some time. Since the rollout of the Highlander in the early 2000’s I’ve witnessed thousands, if not tens of thousands of these things parked at the local grocery, in line at the car wash, or doing double duty as a New York City Yellow Cab (Or Uber in more recent years). They very clearly tout Toyota’s reputation for value and reliability, but is there any more to it than that?
When asking for this Toyota we were coming right into the height of autumn and the team knew exactly what they were doing when sending me this 2017 Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum finished in Ooh La La Rouge Mica (Yes, that’s the actual name) over saddle interior. Can a leather appointed Hybrid sport-ute handle some light off-roading and other North Eastern outdoor adventures? I packed up my camping gear for a quick two nights away from home and off I went! With 42.3 cubic feet of cargo room behind the second row of seats I had no issues tossing in a tent, two soft sided bags, portable grille, folding chairs and more. The Highlander can easily pack luggage for a week comfortably for four passengers without having to exploit the roof rack.
(Full disclosure, the sight was so wet I had absolutely no interest in sleeping on the ground, so I checked into a local Bed and Breakfast)
Right around the time of the photograph above, I reminded myself of something that sets apart the Hybrid from the rest of the Highlander lineup, the 4WD system. When equipped with the Hybrid driveline there is no longer a mechanical connection between the 3.5L V6 and the rear axle, only the hybrid motor to assist. In this situation paired with an admittedly muddy trail and what appeared to be a lower rolling resistance tire, things almost got hairy. In the next generation of the AWD-i, ability to provide more power to the rear would be greatly appreciated by some potential consumers.
Despite a few uneasy moments when off tarmac, the 3.5L V6 paired with the Hybrid motor producing a combined 306 horse power whisks this nearly 5,000 pound automobile down the road with absolute ease! We will note use of a continuously variable transmission in the Hybrid becomes very apparent when aggressively using the long skinny pedal on the right, not objectionable, just a little loud.
Having a Hybrid capable of moving itself at speed without the assist of the gasoline engine meant it would become a game of how far and how fast I could go without the engine enabling itself. Maybe the hilly terrain I live within limits these abilities, but I could easily run to and around the village with minimal gasoline usage, so long as I didn’t encounter any steep inclines or traffic flow more than 20-some miles per hour for more than a mile or so. The battery display in the instrumentation cluster seemed to discharge very rapidly in this scenario, leading to a “EV Mode Unavailable, Hybrid Battery Low” or something of that nature. My weeks fuel consumption was right in line with the EPA’s estimates of 29mpg city, 27 highway, and 28 combined. Paired with a 17.2 gallon fuel tank, I did about 400 miles between fill ups without running anywhere near completely empty.
As you would expect with a car whose name, including trim level is about the same length of the Tapanzee Bridge it is chock full of luxury and safety features, brace yourself as we cover the highlights.
All trim level highlanders come with Toyota’s Safety Sense, a suite of active and passive drivers assistance features including, but not limited to pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, automatic high beams, lane departure alert with steering assist, and dynamic radar cruise control. Making these items standard certainly lend a competitive edge, especially on lower trim levels, but fully stacked it’s to be expected this day in age. With minimal input to the steering wheel we found that the lane departure with steering assist waits longer than we’d like for an intervention, causing a bit of a ping-pong effect between painted road markings. The adaptive cruise control also caught us off guard when approaching a toll booth, as it’s not available for full speed range, and unable to assist beneath 20 miles per hour.
The 12 way adjustable drivers seat was finished in nice leather, with an extendable thigh support along with heated and ventilated front seats. Injection molded plastics give the illusion of the balance of the cabin being wrapped and stitched. A heated steering wheel warms quickly, but does not heat the entire wheel, something it’s competition offers. My press car was configured with captains chairs in the second row, both of which are heated, but limits overall passenger capacity to 7. When in this co figuration the second row seats have independent arm rests attached to the seat sides, as well as a fold away dual cup holder and small tray that very indiscreetly drops along the side of the right seat.
Visibility from the Highlander is pleasant with a commanding seating position. Headlamps were nicely aimed and handled poor weather well, but we were disappointed to see a lack of high intensity discharge or LED lighting technology.
A panoramic sunroof with power shade, along with manual rear door side window shades help make the cabin comfortable for varied conditions.
Rather than Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, Toyota Entune, a downloadable iOS or Android app allows for further connectivity beyond that of Bluetooth streaming. The app was small enough to be downloadable without a WiFi connection, but did require the creation of an online account before being rendered useful. The JBL audio system just didn’t provide me with the experience I was hoping for, lacking a bit of clarity at higher volume levels. Screen shot of the Entune application shown below.
The energy monitor definitely created a watchful eye for consumption and trying to maximize the EV only functionality when possible.
My test car coming in at $49,748 including destination is certainly a well rounded piece of machinery that makes its purchase a safe bet. With just a few gripes in regard to some of the features the Highlander Hybrid should check most, if not all boxes for buyers in this segment.
This car was provided by Toyota and delivered by DriveShop. As always a huge thanks to Hoffman’s Car Wash for keeping my press loans clean.
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