The Toyota Highlander Hybrid debuted in 2005. It attracted immediate attention as a midsize, three-row sport utility vehicle achieving 30 miles per gallon in city driving. Not much good has happened in sales since. But Toyota can blame itself. It’s obsessed with hybrids.
A year after its debut, the Highlander Hybrid had its biggest year with 31,485 units sold, about 25 percent of all Highlanders purchased that year. A decade later, the Highlander had its biggest year with 191,379 gas models sold, but only 5,976 hybrid models were purchased.
The increased popularity of the Toyota RAV4 greatly reduced Highlander sales. The smaller SUV had total sales of more than 352,000 in 2016, including 45,070 hybrids. Toyota also has seven additional hybrids throughout its lineup.
But with the 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, the manufacturer hopes to begin to balance some of its intra-brand rivalries. More SUV hybrids are available now than a decade ago, but the Highlander Hybrid, with its increased trim options this year, is the best offering in its price range.
Versatility and comfort are the Highlander’s strengths throughout the lineup, including the LE ($36,270), XLE ($41,330) Limited ($44,760) and Limited Platinum ($47,880) hybrids. Standard on all hybrid trims is a 3.5-liter V6 engine with three electric motors that produce 306 horsepower, 26 more horsepower than one year ago. All-wheel drive is also standard as is an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The XLE trim is the most logical choice. In addition to the lengthy standard features list emphasizing safety equipment on the base LE trim, the XLE has just enough upgrades to justify the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. My test vehicle’s off-the-lot price was $44,080.
Features include: a sunroof, a height-adjustable power liftgate, a flip-up rear window, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems, heated power front seats, leather upholstery, eight seatbelts, second-row sunshades, upgraded interior materials, an 8.1-inch touchscreen, satellite and HD radio and a navigation system.
The high-end Limited and Limited Platinum trims have major option overloads and their major price increases push total costs to nearly the $50,000 plateau.
The Highlander Hybrid costs about $5,600 more than the gas model, depending on trim options and that’s the caveat for many hybrid buyers. They want to recoup their increased investments via improved gas mileage.
Industry analysts report the break-even mark for the Highlander Hybrid is 16 years. That likely explains the vastly diminished sales. But buyers considering reducing their carbon footprint with a versatile family vehicle will do well with the updated SUV. The Highlander Hybrid is rated with a best-of-segment rating of 29 or 30 miles per gallon in city driving and one or two miles per gallon less on the freeway, depending on the trim.
Beyond its strong “green car” traits, the Highlander Hybrid excels in other areas. It advances as quietly as any other hybrid SUV and as serenely as many sedan hybrids. Steering is responsive and the SUV maneuvers with the agility of a luxury sedan.
The interior is well-constructed and spacious. Storage compartments are plentiful and there’s also a long, narrow shelf built into the dash. The center console space is large enough for a small ice chest or a jumbo-sized purse.
The Highlander in LE and XLE trims seat eight, with second-row bench beats. The Limited and Limited Premium have second-row bucket seats, reducing seating to seven. Third-row seating is limited, best reserved for a two-child limit.
Two additional features solidify the Highlander’s strength. The Driver Speak Easy System is an intercom that can reduce shouting (and family stress) even with third-row passengers. The rear flip-up glass window is also convenient. It allows easy cargo-area access without opening the entire hatch.
Quiet hybrid engine.
Exemplary standard features list.
Smooth, confident maneuvering.
Facts & Figures: 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Acceleration: 0-60 mph, unavailable.
Fuel economy: 29 mpg (city), 27 mpg (highway), 28 mpg (combined), eight-speed automatic transmission.
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $41,330.00.
Manufacturer’s Web site: www.toyota.com.
Price As Tested: $44,080.00.
Warranty: Bumper to bumper, 3 years/36,000 Powertrain, 5 years/60,000 miles; Corrosion, 5 years/unlimited miles.
What Others Say:
“If you’re in the market for a non-luxury, hybrid SUV with three rows of seats, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a party of one. Now, thanks to wider trim level availability for 2017, the price is more reasonable than ever.” — Cars.com.
The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:
“The 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid helps redefine the SUV hybrid market as something other than an afterthought. It’s practical, versatile and built to last.”
Article Last Updated: July 27, 2023.
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A sports, travel and business journalist for more than 45 years, James has written the new car review column The Weekly Driver since 2004.
In addition to this site, James writes a Sunday automotive column for The San Jose Mercury and East Bay Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., and a monthly auto review column for Gulfshore Business, a magazine in Southwest Florida.
An author and contributor to many newspapers, magazines and online publications, James has co-hosted The Weekly Driver Podcast since 2017.