Road Test: 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid LE AWD

The 2017 Toyota Highlander has always been a leader in the midsize crossover segment and now brings more to the table, with an updated engine and greater levels of standard equipment.

Design
Highlander gets a fresh front and rear end this year, looking more chiseled and confident. The side profile remains relatively the same, while new taillights are entirely LED and have quite the road presence.

The large blue-colored Toyota badge on the nose houses the radar module for the standard vehicle safety systems.

The Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) badges on each of the front doors, the blue Toyota badges, and the liftgate badge are the only indicators that this is the more efficient Highlander sibling.

18-inch tires mounted on stylish wheels look great and are an important part of the Highlander’s comfortable and quiet ride over various surfaces.

Interior
The Highlander Hybrid LE trim is the base model of the hybrids, but it comes equipped to handle anything that’s thrown at it. With a massive cabin, large glass area, and spacious seating throughout, it’s hard to find any faults from the inside perspective of the 2017 Highlander.

Simple knobs, switches, and buttons are in place for just about every function. We like that the windshield defroster has its own switch to the left of the steering column. A 4.2-inch color multi-information display sits between the two easy-to-read analog gauges and provides trip, fuel economy, audio, radar cruise, and vehicle settings information.

The front seats provide good support even after several hours of driving.

Padding in the center armrest and doors is thick. Storage bins, large door pockets, and a unique center armrest with a large opening storage bin make integrating the Highlander into daily life a lot easier.

The rear seat is spacious and the seats are quite comfortable. The third row is best for children.

A large tailgate opening allows for 14 cubic feet of cargo, but fold the third row flat and that grows to 42 cubic feet!

Tech
Toyota surpassed the competition when it announced that safety systems such as automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, radar cruise, and automatic high beams would be standard on every one of their vehicles by 2018. Auto emergency braking in and of itself won’t be required until 2022, showing Toyota’s commitment to safety.

But it’s not just safety tech, the radar cruise system works as expected on the highway at keeping the Highlander a safe distance from the vehicle directly in front of it. The calibrated distance selections are on the conservative side as compared to some other vehicles we’ve driven, and that’s OK–the others tend to follow a bit too closely and have a slight braking delay.

Lane keeping assist works well at highway speeds, and the automatic high beams are responsive. Turning off the second another car’s lights are spotted, and back on right as it passes. This is our first time seeing automatic high-beams with all-halogen headlights; we’re curious of the effect on bulb life. The light output is excellent and easy on the eyes, dispersing the light evenly in front of the vehicle and reaching a very far distance.

On the infotainment side, the 6.1-inch display leaves a lot to be desired. It’s too small given how far it is from the driver, and the color lacks depth and contrast, even with the available adjustments. The menus and buttons are easy to use while moving, and voice dictation works well. The volume and tuning knobs are greatly appreciated and work well.

Performance
Toyota revised their 3.5L V6 for the 2017 Highlander. The Hybrid Synergy Drive system pairs the new Direct-Injection 3.5L V6 with a high-torque electric drive motor-generator, producing 306 total system horsepower for strong acceleration and passing performance.

We love the sounds generated by the 3.5L V6; it’s strong, powerful, and when paired with the instant torque of the electric motors, works seamlessly.

All Highlander Hybrids come with an Electronic On-Demand All-Wheel-Drive System with intelligence (AWD-i) as standard. Instead of transfer gears and a driveshaft to the rear wheels, the AWD-i system employs a second, independent electric motor to drive the rear wheels when needed to help maintain optimal traction. We’ve tested this system in the snow before and it works perfectly. Regenerative braking sends power back to the battery, and the transition from regen to mechanical braking is smooth as can be.

Highlander Hybrid is also incredibly efficient as a result of the battery pack and dual electric motors. The EPA rating of 30 MPG city/28 MPG highway/29 MPG combined is a bit conservative as we averaged 31 MPG during our mixed-use week with the vehicle.

Road and wind noise at highway speeds are minimal.

Crash Test Results
2017 Highlanders earn 5-stars from NHTSA and earned a 2018 Top Safety Pick designation from the IIHS.

Summary Scorecard (1-10)
Ride and Handling 8
Braking 9
Powertrain and Fuel Economy 10
Noise 9
Headlights 10
Interior Fit and Finish 10
Seating 10
Visibility 10
Gauges and Controls 10
Infotainment 7
Crash-Avoidance 10
Total Score 94


Facts
Make: Toyota
Model: Highlander
Trim Level: LE
Engine: 3.5L Hybrid
Transmission: CVT
Options: None

Base Price: $37,240
As-Tested Price: $37,480

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