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2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited V6 AWD Review By Steve Purdy

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Review by Steve Purdy
The Auto Channel
Michigan Bureau

No automaker has more experience at producing dependable hybrid vehicles than Toyota. They also use that extra-efficient powertrain in a wider range of vehicles than anyone else. In our driveway this week is a great example of how versatile the Hybrid Synergy Drive system is – the new Highlander Hybrid, a three-row crossover with trim levels that range from the $36,270 LE to this Limited showing a base sticker price of $44,760.

Right up front let’s talk about the efficacy of buying a hybrid vehicle of any kind. First determine if your goal is to save fuel, save money (those may be very different things) or make a statement about your green cred by minimizing your carbon footprint. To evaluate the money part of that equation compare the cost of the comparable vehicle to the same vehicle with conventional powertrain, take the difference and the difference in fuel mileage, determine an average cost of fuel and run the numbers to decide how long it will take to essentially pay for itself. My seat-of-the-pants numbers on the Highlander Hybrid show about a 10-year payback period. We’ve heard a variety of arguments around the environmental impact of buying a hybrid, and we understand those, but that is the subject for a much larger story than this.

Suffice it to say that if you’re sold on the hybrid formula and want a full size, 7-passenger people hauler, this is one of very few choices – and it’s a good one.

For those who complain that all vehicles look alike these days I say, that’s not always the case. Just look at cars like the Nissan Murano, Lexus NX, many Mercedes Benz vehicles and others. On the other hand they are quite right when talking about the mainstream, three-row crossovers like the Dodge Durango, Nissan Pathfinder, Korean and GM entries. They all look very much like this Highlander with each being distinguished primarily by the front fascia. Highlander gets a remarkably bold and brash front end with expansive and expressive grille, dominant cheek vents with fog lights and jewel-like wrap-around headlight bezels, making it a real eye-catcher from the front view. Sides and rear get a bit more sculpting than some of the competitors but not a lot.

Highlander’s interior, as we would expect from such a utilitarian vehicle, has lots of handy, thoughtful features led by a horizontal shelf stretching across the lower dash from the driver’s instrument cluster all the way to the passenger’s door. Intermittent ridges keep things from sliding across. Eight cup holders, four bottle holders, extra large, roll-top console, well-placed controls, a good sized multi-function screen and attractive design make this a convenient place to spend time. Ergonomics, including placement of USB and auxiliary ports are good. For 2017 Toyota has added a surround view camera and some driver assistance functions to keep up with the competition.

Seating at all positions is good, even in the way back. We don’t expect full size people to be comfortable, or even fit, back there but small, agile adults, kids and dogs will do just fine, and access is good with second row seats that fold well out of the way. With the captain’s seats for the second row like our tester, we have plenty of room between the seats to slide into the rear as well.

Cargo capacity is not much different than the competitors with 83.7 cubic-feet and a flat surface with second and third row seatbacks folded, 42.3 cubic-feet with just the third row folded and 13.8 cubic feet with all seatbacks in position. Some continue to call this kind of vehicle a “sport-utility.” I would hesitate to call it sporty, but we can certainly consider it utilitarian.

The Highlander Hybrid’s powertrain consists of a 3.5-liter Atkinson Cycle V6 engine and three electric motors with a total net horsepower rating of 306. The magical electronics that manage the interaction of the two power systems and the electronically controlled continuously variable transmission makes for a seamless and satisfying driving experience that feels entirely conventional. Acceleration is exceptional with the electric motors adding boost on heavy throttle. The EPA estimates that we can get 29 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway with about one click more for the front-wheel drive version. We managed 26 mpg in our week of mixed driving.

Specs for the Highlander Hybrid show towing capacity of 3,500 pounds. If you need to tow more than that you’ll need to go with a truck-based vehicle like Sequoia or Tahoe.

The front-wheel drive, all-wheel drive optional, unibody Highlander Hybrid weighs in at around 5,800 pounds and will accommodate either 7 or 8 passengers depending on the second row seating configuration you choose. It comes in three trim levels – LE starting at $36,270, XLE at $41,330 and this Limited beginning at $44,760. The level of content of our Limited will leave you not wanting for much.

The Toyota new vehicle warranty covers the whole car for 3 years or 36,000 miles and the powertrain for 5 years or 60,000 miles. The traditional Toyota quality partly accounts for the CUV’s good residual value and the company claims cost of ownership is best-in-class. If you’re worried about replacing the battery pack in a hybrid . . . don’t. They are as dependable as the vehicle.

We found the Highlander’s driving dynamics and road manners excellent and its cabin a most pleasant place to spend time. Road noise could not find its way inside and we found little in its ergonomics about which we could complain. The Toyota designers have always been skilled at providing handy and convenient features and this CUV is no exception. As described earlier in this review, the value of the hybrid power system over the conventional one can be viewed in a variety of ways. That will be a matter of personal preference, and we’ll offer no recommendation on that.

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