Toyota Highlander Hybrid meets almost all demands.
When my daughters looked at colleges, they had a lot of contradictory demands. They wanted strong academics – but a lot of fun. They wanted small classes, but a huge variety of courses. They liked rural settings, but wanted a Starbucks nearby and easy access. to campus
In much the same way, car buyers often seem contradictory. They want a big, roomy car -but it needs to be fuel efficient. They want luxury touches – but they don’t want to spend a lot money. They want to sit high, but can’t parallel park a beast.
The 2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid pretty much meets all of these demands. We drove one for five days while visiting our youngest daughter at college – yes, they eventually do choose a school – and enjoyed the comfortable leather seats, room for seven when we took a bunch of new friends out to dinner, and easy parking in garages around Minneapolis.
Rolling living room: bring on the popcorn
Kids will never complain in the back seat of the Highlander; it has a BluRay DVD entertainment system with wireless headphones. And the rear seats are so comfortable, at least in the second row that anyone should be fine on long road trips. We didn’t bring our dog, since we had to fly, but we noted that she would comfortably fit at the feet of second row passengers. Seance row passengers also have their own climate control.
Storage, literally, everywhere
There is a huge console storage between the front two seats, along with a flat surface where you can safely put handbag and not worry about it falling. Or just open it up and put your bag inside.
There is also a big pull down center console between the rear seats, if you are not using the middle seats. We found the seating to be easy to configure, with the third row (for smallish adults – my daughter’s college roommate is only 4’10” – or children) a snap to fold down when we had a lot of luggage.
Let the sun shine – or not
A panoramic power moonroof extends fully over the second row, so even those in the third row can enjoy the sunshine. But if the kids in the back are watching a show, you can have the sunshade block the light – and integrated window shades also give movie watchers better visibility. The moonroof slides back or pops up, so you have a choice on air. And the moonroof is included at no extra cost.
All the latest safety tech keeps you safe on the road
The Highlander is loaded with safety features like cross traffic alert and blind spot monitor. We were driving on flat, straight highways, but that lane departure alert would be helpful on curvier roads. Likewise the automatic high beams; on country roads, they get bright, and when they sense another car approaching, they dim to regular headlights. Should you ignore all the Highlander’s helpful driver alerts, the pre collision system prevents accidents by warning audibly, assisting the brakes when you apply them, and automatically engaging the brakes if you still haven’t slowed down.
Not as impressed with the gas mileage as I’d hoped
The Highlander we drove had six cylinders, which offered plenty of power; I was a little disappointed, though, in the gas mileage. While the hybrid gets significantly better fuel economy in the city than the regular 2015 Toyota Highlander, we averaged just 26.5 miles per gallon on the highway when driving back and forth from Minneapolis to Northfield, MN. In a test drive of the non-hybrid Highlander, we got 24 miles per gallon on the highway. The gas engine Highlander is rated to get 20MPG in the city, versus 28 MPG in the city for the hybrid; the better MPG is gained when the car is in traffic braking and idling and uses that energy to regenerate the battery.
Perhaps the hybrid, which carries a sticker price of $7,000 more than the regular gas engine model, is best suited for large families (or as a taxi) that does most of its miles around town and might more easily make up the price difference with fuel savings.
Great sound, but voice recognition was lacking
The Toyota Entune system comes with an easy to use eight inch touchscreen and the audio system sounded great. But I was unable to pair my phone, and the voice activated navigation system couldn’t understand me or my husband; when we looked for Minnesota directions, it heard Utah, then Indiana. It was easy to add directions manually, but you can’t do this while the vehicle is moving.
What we Loved
- Heated steering wheel and heated and cooled seats in front
- Easy driver speak so kids in back can hear you
- Plenty of leg room in 2nd row
- 60/40 split fold flat third row
- Double moonroof
- Loaded with safety features
- Cool storage areas
What You Need to Know
- Base price $47,500; price for the model I drove, with driver tech package and rear seat entertainment, $51,820
- Fuel economy is rated at 27 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway; we got only 26.5
- Takes regular gasoline
- Three year, 36,000 mile warranty
Note: Toyota loaned us the Hybrid Highlander for this review. Opinions expressed are my own.