I am not fairly certain precisely when the three-row SUV turned the American household automobile, however we’re firmly in that period now. The nation has at all times appreciated its vehicles to be big, and the additional top of an SUV makes it extra-bigger. Which is why it is disappointing that there are so few hybrid three-rows to select from, significantly if you do not need a luxurious badge on the entrance. There are actually solely two choices in 2021. You may go for the Kia Sorento Hybrid, which we tested in January. However for slightly extra—beginning at $38,510 for a entrance wheel drive model—you might get a good greater one: the brand new Toyota Highlander hybrid.
The country seems obsessed with imposing, bluff-fronted SUVs and trucks these days, and the Highlander conforms to this development, albeit with much less implicit menace than others have achieved. Toyota knows how to style attractive SUVs, nevertheless it’s a problem for any automaker to make one thing this massive look elegant versus slab-sided. And also you do get a heck of lot of car whenever you get a Highlander. It is 195 inches (4,950 mm) lengthy, 76 inches (1,930 mm) large, and 68 inches (1.730 mm) tall, and it has a 112-inch (2,850 mm) wheelbase, all of which places it within the “midsize” phase (one thing that also baffles an immigrant like me who considers it ginormous).
The result’s an inside that goes past spacious. From the motive force’s seat, you will have loads of room between you and the passenger seat, and the door is much sufficient away that I began complaining there was nowhere handy to relaxation my elbow. As is normally the case with press fleet automobiles, our take a look at Highlander hybrid was totally loaded, on this case a $50,315 Platinum AWD mannequin, so the inside is trimmed with loads of leather-based. There are many cubbies and cabinets for storage, and I quite like the best way the 12.3-inch infotainment system is framed by a bar that stretches out to the passenger-side A pillar. (As an infotainment system it is nice; it is the identical one you will discover within the Venza hybrid crossover, with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.)
Life’s additionally fairly good in the event you’re using in one of many two captains chairs that make up the center row. At 41 inches (1,041 mm) you will have much more legroom than the entrance seat passenger, and in Platinum trim, the center row can be heated.
As with many three-row SUVs, the third row must be considered cargo area at the beginning. The issue is that the gap between the ground and the seat is lower than within the different rows, so even quick individuals like me have to take a seat with their knees of their face. Plus, in the event you do have the third row in use, your cargo capability is simply 16 cubic toes (453 L); with this row folded down, the capability is a way more helpful 48 cubic toes (1,371 L). One consequence of the captain’s chairs is that, though they additionally fold down, you will not get a very flat load flooring such as you would in the event that they have been a single bench seat.
As a substitute of the three.5 L V6 that powers different Highlanders, there’s one in every of Toyota’s 2.5 L, four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engines. This works at the side of a pair of electrical motors, one an built-in starter/generator and the opposite a drive motor. Complete energy output is 243 hp (181 kW), with the gasoline engine contributing as much as 186 hp (139 kW), and a mixed torque output of 175 lb-ft (237 Nm). There’s solely a single transmission choice, no matter whether or not the Highlander hybrid is FWD or AWD. It is a constantly variable transmission, and like so lots of these, it does the SUV few favors by way of refinement.
At metropolis speeds, all the things is okay, and the moment torque of the electrical motor does wonders in getting the all-wheel drive SUV’s 4,595 lbs (2,084 kg) mass underway. However the CVT implies that the engine revs enhance quicker than you acquire velocity, which produces a raspy, buzzy noise that sounds significantly labored underneath load (in the event you’re climbing a hill, for instance).
You discover that weight when it is time to decelerate, too. With an preliminary mild brake software, there gave the impression to be slightly lifeless spot on the primary few millimeters of journey on the brake pedal, which was slightly unnerving till I obtained used to it. Not that I used to be in any hazard, however Toyota’s Security Sense 2.0 package deal of superior driver assists is normal on all Highlanders.
My greatest grievance with the Highlander hybrid is its gasoline effectivity. Its official EPA ranking is 35 mpg mixed (6.7 l/100 km), with the identical within the metropolis and 34 mpg (6.9 l/100 km) on the freeway. However I struggled to succeed in 31 mpg (7.6 l/100 km). That is nonetheless fairly good when you think about a V6 Platinum AWD Highlander is barely rated at a mixed 20 mpg (11.8 l/100 km), nevertheless it’s not almost nearly as good because the 37 mpg (6.4 l/100 km) Kia Sorento Hybrid. That automobile is barely shorter than the Toyota, nevertheless it’s additionally meaningfully cheaper, and it is the one we might suggest.