Road Test: 2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

The Toyota Highlander has been a leader in the midsize crossover segment, especially with the hybrid powertrain. Having an electrified powertrain in such a large vehicle equates to significant fuel economy benefits as well as being able to drive around the neighborhood stealthily.

Highlander Hybrid combines all the benefits of a crossover while getting better fuel economy, and not impacting cabin space or driving character.

Under the hood, Highlander’s 3.5L V6 with Hybrid Synergy Drive produces 306 total system horsepower for strong acceleration and passing performance. A CVT delivers the power seamlessly.

The powertrain sounds and feels strong, delivering instant torque to all wheels thanks to the electric motors on each axle. The standard AWD rear motor means a driveshaft doesn’t exist across the length of the highlander, which results in less maintenance, fewer parasitic loses, and instant power.

We tested this system in the snow 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.

Going for the hybrid iteration of Highlander results in EPA ratings of 30 mpg city, 28 highway, 29 combined is a bit conservative as we averaged 31 mpg during our week with it.

Road and wind noise are minimal at all speeds; Toyota knows how to build a quiet cabin.

From a functionality perspective, simple knobs, switches, and buttons are in place for all the various features. We like that the windshield defroster has its own switch to the left of the steering column. A 4.2-inch color display sits between the two easy-to-read analog gauges and provides every bit of info about the Highlander.

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 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!

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 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, we really like the Entune system. 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.

We look forward to an updated system that will offer Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa like the Avalon and Corolla Hatchback.

Summary Scorecard (1-10)
Ride and Handling 8
Braking 10
Powertrain and Fuel Economy 10
Noise 9
Headlights 8
Interior Fit and Finish 10
Seating 10
Visibility 10
Gauges and Controls 9
Infotainment 6
Crash-Avoidance 10
Total Score 91


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

Base Price: $42,230
As-Tested Price: $43,325

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