2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is Family-friendly Efficiency

2015 Toyota Highlander (Aaron)

The Highlander Hybrid builds on the excellent family ergonomics of the standard Highlander and adds fuel-sipping economy to the mix. With seating for seven, plenty of cargo room, and a balanced, well-mannered ride, the big Highlander Hybrid may be the perfect family hauler.

The manufacturer says

Optimizing fuel efficiency means making enhancements all over. Like the transmission and efficient engine that help to enhance EPA mpg estimates and earn an Ultra Low Emission Vehicle II (ULEV-II) rating.

Specs:

  • Manufacturer: Toyota
  • Year, Model: 2016 Highlander Hybrid
  • Class, Type: Mid-sized crossover
  • Propulsion system: 3.5L V6, Hybrid
  • Base Price: $47,870
  • MSRP as tested: $51,385
  • Availability: Now

Overview

The Toyota Highlander is a consummate family hauler with everything you could ask for in a big crossover-SUV, including some of the best ergonomics on the market. It’s only real downside is that it’s relatively spendy, especially in its Hybrid format, but with a host of included goodies and segment-leading fuel economy, there are plenty of compelling reasons to spend that extra cash.

The seven-passenger 2016 Highlander Hybrid is great on all fronts. Much of the high price point comes from the upper-crust trims that are its only options: Limited and Limited Platinum. These are high-end trim levels that include standards like 19-inch alloy wheels, LED running lights, power liftgate, keyless ignition/entry, ambient interior lighting, tri-zone climate, and leather upholstery. Navigation, several safety features (including backup camera and parking sensors), Entune Apps, and an 8-inch touchscreen are also standard.

The 2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 in Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive with a mid-mounted battery pack and transmission-mounted motors. The system outputs 280 horsepower in standard all-wheel drive. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is also standard. The system is front-wheel dominant with the rear wheels being added only when AWD is required. The rear axle is powered only by an electric motor and has no physical coupling to the transmission. This saves weight as well as eliminating the transmission tunnel often found in AWD crossovers, improving interior space and ergonomics.

In the hybrid model, the Highlander, like many Toyotas, sees vast improvement in its speed, power, ride and handling. All thanks to the extra weight of the battery and hybrid components and the accompanying suspension tuning to accommodate them. Fuel economy is likewise boosted significantly with the Highlander Hybrid returning 28 mpg combined, with 27 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. Towing seems to be the only thing taking a hit versus the gasoline model, being reduced by 1,500 pounds to about 3,500 when properly equipped.

Inside, the Highlander Hybrid offers a wonderful cabin experience with a lot of goodness to keep everyone comfortable. Cubbies and storage are found everywhere and seating is generous at all points, though the rear seats are a bit cramped and offer less comfort than the other four positions. The rear cargo area is about 14 cubic feet when the third row is in use. That increases to 83.2 cubic feet when the second and third rows are stowed. That’s about average for the midsize crossover segment, which is a surprise as hybrids often sacrifice some cargo for the batteries.

What we like

Excellent interior ergonomics.

Strong, even engaging daily drive.

What we don't

Very pricey with only two high-end trims available.

Sometimes difficult to maneuver in tight spaces due to its bulk and visibility limits.

Conclusions

Everything about the 2016 Highlander Hybrid is great for the family buyer who needs extra space, but wants to maximize fuel economy despite that. With the MPGs of a midsize sedan and the size of a minivan, the Highlander Hybrid is a definite top choice.

Test Period Length and Limitations
The Highlander Hybrid was a manufacturer’s press loan for about a week. During that time, the crossover was driven in a variety of winter/spring weather conditions and with several passenger loads and cargo types.

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