2016 Toyota Highlander (Hybrid) poised, pricey

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The Toyota Highlander hybrid debuted in the United States in 2005, five years after the gas model. The idea was to help ease a major concern among potential sport utility vehicle owners — lousy gas mileage. It worked.

As a holdover from last year’s top-rated offering, the 2016 Toyota Highlander hybrid is a three-row, midsize SUV. It’s powered by a 3.5-liter V6 and three electric motors that combine for 280 horsepower. It features a continuously variable transmission and is standard with all-wheel drive.

Seven-passenger seating is standard, too, with two captain’s chairs in the second row and a 60/40-split bench in the third row.

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The Weekly Driver Test Drive

My test vehicle was the Limited Platinum trim, the higher level of two options. The base Limited trim is packed with standard equipment: power moonroof, tri-zone automatic climate control, a rearview camera, JBL audio system and Driver Easy Speak. It projects the driver’s voice to rear passengers via the stereo speakers.

The 2016 Toyota Highlander hybrid has strong features list.
The 2016 Toyota Highlander hybrid has strong features list. Images © James Raia/2016

The Limited Platinum edition adds a panoramic sunroof, heated steering wheel, rear-seat Blu-Ray player, lane departure warning, heated second-row seats and adaptive cruise control.

Toyota’s Entune infotainment system is also standard. It includes smartphone app integration, navigation, an 8-inch touch screen, a USB port, Bluetooth, satellite radio and HD Radio. Optional features include a panoramic sunroof, a rear-seat Blu-Ray player, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control.

Beyond its near overload of standard features, the Toyota Highlander gets top marks in several other areas. The designers’ use of space is impressive. The dashboard, for example, has a built-in shelf. It’s ideal for small, often-needed items — smartphones to sunglasses. The storage box on the console will hold a large purse or even a small ice chest (think of the possibilities.) The Highlander also has an abundance of cup holders, map holders and charging outlets.

As an SUV, the Highlander’s purpose, of course, is as a people and cargo hauler. Behind the third row of seats is cargo capacity of about 14 cubic feet. And when all rear seats are all lowered, the capacity is 83.2 cubic feet, about average for midsize SUVs.

Sport utility vehicles have a wide range driving personalities. While a hybrid, the Highlander doesn’t compromise. It accelerates quickly and has sufficient power on tough grades. Steering is firm and confident, maneuverability is nimble and the small turning radius is impressive.

Likes:

Superior ride quality and handling.
Well-designed, high-quality interior.
Quick acceleration, particularly for a hybrid.
Good overall visibility.
Powerful V6 hybrid never stumbles, even on steep grades.

Dislikes:

Some swaying in strong winds.
Hard to access USB port.
Expensive.

Facts & Figures: 2016 Toyota Highlander (Hybrid)

Acceleration: 0-60 mph, 7.9 seconds.
Airbags: 8.
Fuel economy: 27 mpg (city), 28 mpg (highway), 28 mpg (combined), six-speed automatic transmission.
Horsepower: 280.
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $50,485.00
Manufacturer’s Website: www.toyota.com.
Price As Tested: $51,385.00.
Warranty: Bumper to bumper, 3 years/36,000 Powertrain, 5 years/60,000 miles; Corrosion, 5 years/unlimited miles.

What Others Say:

“The Toyota Highlander looks like it could tackle some rough terrain, but it’s better suited for a family’s rough use. The Hybrid model we tested is also good for getting the best fuel economy in the midsize crossover category. “ — autoblog.net.

“You’d have to stretch to the Infiniti QX60 Hybrid to find a crossover of equal size with a bit more refinement, luxury trimming and similar price.” — Edmunds.com.

“The 2016 Toyota Highlander places an emphasis on safety, comfort, economy, reliability, and resale. Its sharp exterior and numerous interior features are simply sweeter icing on the cake.” — kbb.com.

The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:

“For SUVs, gas or hybrid, the 2016 Toyota Highlander, like its older siblings, is the consummate automotive professional. Versatile, spacious, comfortable and durable. It’s rock-solid with few, in any, shortcomings.”

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