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2021 Toyota Highlander hybrid offers strong fuel economy, cutting-edge safety features Featured

Posted On Sunday, 05 December 2021 07:44 Written by
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The 2021 Highlander Hybrid offers excellent fuel mileage numbers The 2021 Highlander Hybrid offers excellent fuel mileage numbers Photo courtesy of Toyota

While there’s no doubt that SUVs are taking over the auto industry, with about half of overall sales going to the segment, there’s also battles for supremacy between automakers in niche segments within the SUV category.

Hybrids would be one of those battlegrounds, and if we’re talking about the three-row variety of SUV, there are a few key contenders aiming to attract SUV buyers who are seeking some extra fuel mileage but don’t want to make the jump all the way to a full EV.

Toyota has been a leader in the hybrid world, pioneering the segment 25 years ago with the debut of the Prius, so it’s no surprise they are a player here with the three-row HIghlander Hybrid SUV offering — which has been around for about 15 years and competes against vehicles including the Ford Explorer hybrid and Kia Sorento hybrid.

I recently tested a Highlander Hybrid Limited trim model, and I’m back with a full report.


LOOKS

The HIghlander hybrid’s exterior design is somewhat eye-catching, but less bold overall than some rival three-row SUVs.

It features LED headlights and taillights with a nice design, heated power outside mirrors with puddle lamp, hands-free power liftgate, and a moonroof. Options include running boards to aid entry and exit, and illuminated door sills.

The inside of the Highlander hybrid is very roomy in the first two rows, but extra tight in the back row. I wouldn’t recommend anyone sitting back there, unless we’re talking about small children.

Seating setups allow for 7 passengers (if you opt for 2nd row Captain’s Chairs) or 8 passengers with the bench in the middle.

Its versatile design allows for ample cargo space, especially when you put the seats down. WIth all three rows up, you only get 16 cubic feet of space, but that number grows to 48.4 cubic feet with the rear row down, and 84.3 cubic feet with both the 2nd and 3rd rows down. Those are solid numbers for the segment.

There are also lots of storage areas for small items up front, as well as comfy heated leather seats, and the large infotainment screen. Materials used are good quality throughout the vehicle, but it’s not what you would call a luxurious feel.\

HOW’S THE RIDE?

The drive quality of hybrid vehicles is often hit or miss, and many times a casualty of the focus on fuel economy. And the Highlander hybrid falls on the side of the discussion where the drive quality could use a little more oomph.

It’s powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and two electric motors that deliver 243 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. Towing capacity is listed at 3,500 pounds. The Highlander hybrid is available in both FWD and AWD.

Drive modes are offered, including a Sport mode, but even in the Sport mode, the overall power is lacking compared to some of the competition — especially vs. the Ford Explorer hybrid and its 322 hp/318 pound-feet numbers. For example, going 0 to 60 mph will take you more than 7 seconds.

Moving beyond power, the overall ride is comfortable and smooth, and will suit most families just fine. Just know what you are getting into. The Highlander hybrid is meant to save fuel and get you and your family where you need to go. It's not going to thrill you.

Know that going in and think about whether you can accept it, and what element is most important to you. For many families, fuel economy will win out vs. any urge for speed and power.

TECHNOLOGY, SAFETY

The Highlander hybrid’s Infotainment system is well-designed, and features a tiled touchscreen (either 8 inches or 12.3 inches) that splits between multiple functions … i.e. climate, map and radio all at once.

The system responds well to voice commands, and touch commands are easy to master. It’s not the most modern-looking system, but it’s very user-friendly.

Other technology features include Dynamic Navigation, JBL audio system with 11 speakers, hands-free Bluetooth for streaming music and calls, a handful of USB ports, and satellite radio. It’s compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay for phone mirroring, and a 4G LTE WiFi hotspot is offered, along with Amazon Alexa integration.

Moving on to safety features, the Highlander is a very safe vehicle packed with safety systems, as you would expect with Toyota, who has been a leader in this area.

The Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ system includes features such as: Pre-Collision system with Pedestrian Detection, Dynamic Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Lane Tracing Assist, Automatic High Beams and more.

Also featured is blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and front and rear parking assist with auto braking, as well as automated emergency braking. One option that is helpful for safety is a Bird’s Eye View camera with perimeter scan and curb view.

To top it off, key safety ratings organizations such as the NHTSA and IIHS have high praise for the Highlander, giving it top honors and high benchmark ratings. It’s safe to say that with the Highlander, you’re about as safe as you can be in this class of SUV.

MPG

The official fuel mileage numbers on the 2021 Highlander hybrid are 35 city/34 highway/35 combined. In my real world testing, I averaged around 32 mpg. Overall, these are excellent numbers for a larger hybrid SUV.

These numbers beat the fuel economy of the Explorer hybrid, understandable since the Explorer has more power. It is slightly behind the Sorento hybrid, which features a less powerful engine.

PRICE

The 2021 Highlander hybrid I tested was priced at just over $50,000; and its base price starts about $39K. Trim levels offered on the hybrid are LE, XLE, and Limited.

This price is a deal compared to the Ford Explorer hybrid, which starts in the mid-$40K range. It’s more than the Kia Sorento hybrid starting price, but the Sorento’s engine is less powerful so that makes sense.

Warranty coverage includes:
— Limited warranty for three years or 36,000 miles
— Powertrain warranty for five years or 60,000 miles
— Hybrid-component warranty for eight years or 100,000 miles
— Complimentary maintenance for two years or 25,000 miles


BOTTOM LINE

The 2021 Toyota Highlander hybrid is a well-designed three-row SUV with strong fuel economy, plenty of safety features, and can boast of Toyota’s reputation for long-term reliability. Its Achilles Heel will be the uninspired driving performance that it offers, which may turn some folks away, but for those not focused on power it’s one of the better hybrid SUV offerings available.

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Matt Myftiu can be found on Twitter @MattMyftiu.



Additional Info

  • Vehicle: 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid 
  • Price as tested: $50,363 (starts around $39K) 
  • Best feature: Family-friendly versatility, safety features, strong fuel mileage  
  • Rating: 4 out of five stars
  • Who will want this vehicle?: Families seeking an affordable, eco-friendly, versatile three-row SUV 
Matt M. Myftiu

Matt Myftiu has been a journalist for two decades with a focus on technology, NASCAR and autos.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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