With seating for 7, a place to put my purse and great gas mileage, the Highlander hybrid might be my true love.
Ask anyone what they want in a car and you’ll probably get a list like mine: great gas mileage, lots of cargo space, a place to put your purse (PTPYP, to use the technical term), seating for more than 5 people, safety features like blind spot detectors and a rear view camera, all wheel drive for rough weather, and lots of luxuries like heated seats and a great sound system. Many cars will tick most of those boxes. The Toyota Highlander packs in almost every feature you’d want.
Most importantly: great gas mileage and a PTPYP
We almost always compromise when it comes to our cars’ fuel economy and a place to put your purse. But getting 25MPG with seating for 7 and plenty of cargo space is precious. Especially when you have someplace important to go, like on vacation.
We drove the Highlander an unimaginable number of miles—I don’t want to say how many or my kids might refuse to road trip with me again. Just know, it was a lot.
We took two days to reach Miami Beach—a drive you can’t take lightly: it requires smart planning and packing, and your car has to be comfortable, which is key: comfort counterbalances road weariness, so it’s a safety factor, too. Also, back seat passengers, when comfortable, will sleep, watch TV or read and tend to be less cranky (that goes for the dog, too), which means less stopping so you get to your destination quicker.
In-car features that made a road trip easy
In the front seat, it was easy to set ourselves up for the trip. A ‘stuff shelf’ under the dashboard was a great place to stow the keyfob, sun glasses, phones, the EZ pass, charger cords, napkins and other things you might need during the drive. A passthrough in the shelf lets you thread a phone charger cord through to plug it into the USB port below it.
The center console between the front seats–with a roll top, not a flip up top– is huge: it fit not only my purse, but also, my laptop, the iPad and a few other things. In the back seat, storage is less but space is more: a retractable shelf between the center row captains seats holds cups and a device or two, but only when it’s up. It flips down to create a walkway for passengers to access the third row—a really nice feature if you use the third row often.
Plugs for devices and laptops
Below the shelf in the center console is a little cubby that houses the only USB port, though there is a cigarette lighter-style charge port there too. Tucked into this small space under the shelf, it can be hard to reach to plug in the USB. I had no trouble seeing or reaching it, but my husband struggled to both see the USB port and to get his fingers into the space to plug in his phone. However, we plugged in a dual adapter that we use in our other car and it worked just fine.
While I usually prefer to have at least three USB ports in the car—I have a family full of plug hogs, apparently—as long as there are plenty of places to plug in, we’re happy. In addition to the Highlander’s single USB port, there are four cigarette lighter-style ports: one in the front next to the USB, one in the center console, one on the back of the console for second row passengers and one in the rear cargo area. Oh, and there’s that holy grail of power access, a two-pronged household plug. Big YAY.
All the comforts of home
The household plug is tucked into the lower rear of the center console; it’s hard to reach and surrounded by hard plastic. I couldn’t get my bulky computer plug even close to it. So before we left, we pulled an extension cord out of a drawer, the standard household type, and plugged it in. Suddenly not only was my laptop plugged in and ready to go, but we could also plug in two other things! Which was great, because the Highlander model we tested didn’t come equipped with an entertainment system, so my kids were forced to go old school and watch DVDs on a laptop. Oh the torture, right?
But at least second row passengers got to slide their seats back for a little extra leg room and recline them to nap—sound like first class? Well, it is. The extra room in the center row also allowed us to position a snack bag right between the seats, because in our family, we like to get where we’re going without stopping unnecessarily. Comfortable passengers, packaged snacks and a hybrid engine make that possible.
Hybrid engine means great gas mileage and fewer stops
With a long trip ahead of us, I was thrilled—thrilled!—to drive a hybrid. We’ve had many trips where we’ve had to stop every 275 -300 miles for gas, and I like to get a fat, round 400 miles per tank, which is exactly what we got, even with the cargo space loaded to the roof (Christmas). While we didn’t get the gas mileage that is touted on the EPA estimates (27 city, 28 highway) I wasn’t disappointed. Being winter, hybrids get lower fuel mileage (due to lower temperatures and the less efficient fuel mix available at gas stations). And we still got 24.4 MPG—pretty good for being fully loaded and packed to the roof.
Did I mention that I love this car?
As much as I love the Highlander’s efficiency and space, I also love that Toyota’s designers have played with the car’s details and are constantly making it better. Some things on older Highlanders that have been improved:
- Passenger access: center row captains seats mean passengers can “walk” to the third row, even if bent over, but it avoids that awkward crawling in and out like a spider, which is especially graceful in a skirt;
- Telescoping steering wheel, which with the electric seat gives you the ability to get really comfortable
- Center row seats that move forward and back, and recline
- Center row cup holder that folds up or down, facilitating third row access
- Auto lift gate with a window that opens, too, though the auto function won’t work when the window is open
- Center console big enough for a handbag
- Household plug on the rear of the center console
- Seats for 7 and still has room for gear or groceries (seating for 8 is available)
- Bluetooth connects seamlessly, even if you activate it on your phone after you’ve been in the car a while
Highlander’s tech center: entertainment, information and feedback at your fingertips
The infotainment center has a large touch screen and lots of options. The radio has 36 presets, which is good because the radio tuning button is more than an arm’s length from the steering wheel so reaching it while driving is a challenge (volume and climate controls are easily reachable, though). Voice activated navigation and phone worked pretty well, and Toyota chose a pleasant-voiced woman to guide you.
Most of this information is available on the driver feedback screen between the speedometer and the energy efficiency indicator, which shows you when you’re charging the battery, using the battery, using gas, and when using the gas engine, how efficient you are. Buttons on the steering wheel allow you to scroll through a number of screens, including one that shows you the speed limit of the road you’re on. While I prefer this information to be on the navigation map, it’s really useful when traveling–keeps your ticket risk down.
Wish my husband would have used THAT
But he’s a technophobe. If tech takes setting up or scrolling through menus, he’s less likely to use it. So during our trip as we neared Miami, the fuel warning light came on. Wanting to become familiar with the feature that finds a gas station for you, I started to play with the system, and as we were trying to determine which exit to take for the nearest station, we passed a state patrol car.
Even if we weren’t going much over the speed limit (we weren’t), by implication we were going too fast. Immediately the state trooper put his lights on and pulled us over. We explained that we were trying to figure out where to get gas and really didn’t mean to pass him. Maybe it was the Christmas spirit, or maybe he just felt sorry for us Yankees lost in the South, but he pointed out the next exit and wished us a safe and happy evening and sent us on our way. Sans ticket. Christmas miracles do happen after all.
What We Loved
- Hybrid engine with enhanced fuel economy and low emissions—27 MPG in the city!
- The Jade green color and cream interior; still looking and feeling clean even after a monumental road trip
- Smart key (automatically unlocks the door when key is in your purse or pocket) and push button start
- Blind spot monitors
- Rear view camera
- Roof rails for added storage when you need it
- Lovely soft leather surfaces including door handles, leather trimmed dashboard and gearshift
- Moveable center row seats
- All wheel drive
What you Need to Know
- Starting price $47,700; Price of the model we tested: $48,508
- Base model price starts at $30,000; Limited (not hybrid) price starts at $40,000
- Model we tested seats 7; seating for 8 is available
- Uses regular fuel
- EPA fuel economy rated 27 city/28 highway
- Hybrids can get lower-than-promised fuel economy in winter
- 3 year/36,000 mile bumper to bumper warranty
- 5 year/60,000 mile power train warranty
- 2 year 24/7 roadside assistance
- 2 year/25,000 mile Toyota care package (regularly scheduled maintenance)
Features we’d opt for but were not on this model include a panoramic sun roof, DVD entertainment system and adaptive cruise control
Disclosure: Toyota provided the Highlander Hybrid Limited for our test drive; opinions expressed here are all my own.