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2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Windy City Review By Larry Nutson

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Larry Tweets:Should You Go Hybrid? 2015 Toyota Highlander offers 3 engine options, which is "good", "better" or "best"? Test drive them all.

2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Should You Go Hybrid?

By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor, Chicago Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel

The Toyota Highlander was fully redesigned for 2014 and the 2015 model is carry-over, basically unchanged that is. The remake in 2014 made it longer and wider, gave it a new rear suspension, and these combined made way for a three-person third row seat.

And that’s where the Highlander exceeds, since there are not many hybrid three-row SUVs on the market. And to make the family comfortable while riding, the interior is chock full of upgraded quality materials and a technology loaded instrument touchscreen array.

The hybrid model of the Highlander is by no means low cost. Its luxury pricing starts at $47,750 which gets you very good fuel economy and seven-person seating.

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Let’s do some comparing of the Highlander equipped with the conventional V6 gasoline engine to the Highlander Hybrid. Keep in mind hybrids provide their best fuel economy improvement over conventional gasoline models in city-type driving. That means lower speeds below 45 mph.

The Highlander lineup consists of LE, LE Plus, XLE, Limited and Limited Platinum trim levels. The lowest price Highlander is $29,665 for the front-wheel drive 185 HP 4-cylinder engine model. The Highlander Hybrid is only offered in all-wheel drive. Correspondingly, the lowest priced AWD gasoline model is the Highlander LE AWD with a 270HP V6 priced at $32,430.

Getting to apples-to-apples, the Highlander Hybrid is offered in a $47,750 Limited model or a $50,240 Limited Platinum model. This compares to the equivalent gasoline engine models at $41,550 and $44,040 respectively. Doing the math it’s $6,200 more for the hybrid.

Take note that these high-end Highlanders are seven-seaters. They’re equipped with two captain’s chairs in the middle row. The lower-trim level Highlanders have a center bench for eight-passenger seating.

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Now to lower fuel consumption; the reason for a hybrid. The Highlander 270 HP V6 AWD is EPA test rated at 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway, for a combined rating of 20 mpg. The Highlander Hybrid is EPA test rated at 27 mpg city and 28 mph highway for a combined rating of 28 mpg. Note the larger difference in city test mpg ratings.

You’ll have to do your own math to figure out if a hybrid pays off for you. How long would you need to drive it to breakeven on the $6,200 additional cost? At today’s low gas prices, it could be many, many years. Take note that I think we’ll see a gasoline price rise in spring, certainly when summer-blend gasoline come along again.

I should recognize that there is an environmental “green” effect from the Hybrid. Lower tailpipe emissions and also reduced gasoline usage leading to less crude oil by the barrel. Some of you may be of the mindset to spend money to contribute and do your part to help in these areas.

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Beyond the powertrain conversation, the Highlander does lots of things very well. The interior is very comfortable, with easy ingress and egress. The seats are supportive and comfortable.

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The heated seats and heated steering wheel are wonderful in a cold winter. And of course the high driving position gives you good command of the road and expansive outward visibility.

Ride and handling for the big SUV is confident and not bone jarring. Steering effort is moderate with good feedback, on-center feel and effort. Toyota’s Highlander handled Chicago potholes quite well with a nice feel over the rough roads, and few rattles and squeaks. There’s an absence of road and wind noise although the tires can be a bit noisy depending on the pavement surface, a characteristic of many SUVs.

There’s plenty of cargo room accessible via a power liftgate with up to nearly 83 cuft if you fold all the rear seats. Fold just the third row and you have 42 cuft and with that in place for hauling the neighborhood young ones to sports practice there is still nearly 14 cuft for their duffle bags.

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Another Highlander Hybrid consideration is towing. It can tow up to 3500 pounds whereas the non-Hybrid Highlanders can tow 5000 lbs.

More detailed information and specs on the complete Toyota Highlander model range is only a mouse click away at If you want to compare the Highlander to other mid size SUVs or hybrids you can do that right here on

In the award arena, the 2015 Toyota Highlander was named the top Mid-Size SUV/Crossover in the first ever Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards.

You’ll have to decide whether to choose Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive which delivers 280 total system horsepower and segment-leading fuel economy on a Highlander. Or, choose the 185HP 2.7-liter 4-cylinder or the 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V6. Take a test drive in all three if you can. Do the math and see what is right for you.

2015 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy