2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Review
by Randy Stern
Dear families – you may want to pay attention to this review.
There are several reason for my call to action here. One – have you considered how comfortable your family really is in the vehicle you chose for them? Two – have you considered how comfortable you are to drive it back-and-forth to work, or to school to drop off the kids? Three – how much of your kids after-school activities are affected by what you can really throw in the back of your vehicle?
And, four – how much do you know about crossovers and SUVs anyway?
There is a fifth question, however – what qualifies a single person to tell families what kind of vehicle they should be driving?
In my interactions with the automobile, I usually review a lot of these crossovers and SUVs. Not that I am fully qualified to do so, but I understand that you might be a parent of some wonderful children and that I have to play that role to understand your needs. You have to trust me on this…
When I was a kid, our family never owned a station wagon – the optimal way a family of more than four can be driven with a roof full of vacation goodies – tied down, of course. No, I lied – my father leased a 1974 Ford LTD Country Squire for a year. We only were driven in it probably twice. I never understood his decision to go with one of the most expensive wagons in America, expect for the prestige factor and that he left us two years prior…
That brings up another things about today’s crossovers and SUVs. If you do not need one, why do you buy one anyway?
This is the problem in this review the 2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited. This mid-sized, three-row, two-box conveyance has a specific purpose to haul families comfortably, while emitting less fluorocarbons and sipping less fuel. It sounds like a novel idea…but, what is the reality of it?
Let me ask that in this manner: Is this the best solution for family transport, full stop?
The first thing to do is to approach it. The Highlander is big – it has presence, just as you expect with a vehicle in this class. Even though it is as long as a mid-sized sedan, there is an illusion of size that the Highlander exudes. However, a lot of the specs have not changed that much from its predecessor. Perhaps it is the bold front end that is doing it? Maybe it is the large doors and big rear quarter glass?
Nonetheless, the Highlander has a lot to offer on the outside. You can open up the rear glass to access the rear cargo area, as well as use the power-operated liftgate. Both are great conveniences for parents or others with limited time on their hands. The side doors are massive and open very wide, making entry and exit easier for everyone. It ticks all of the boxes for families of all sizes and shapes to utilize the Highlander’s assets.
Another outward illusion has to do with finding the differences between a regular Highlander Limited model and the Hybrid Limited. The Hybrid badges are a good giveaway, as is the blue inserts of the Toyota “tri-oval” logo. From a distance, one cannot tell the difference – a good illusion to have sometimes.
The illusion of size is also comforting once you step inside the Highlander. Four big doors open up to rows of massive space. Front seat occupants get big seats with loads of room to adjust behind the wheel. The Limited model adds power adjustments for lumbar support. This Hybrid Limited came with separate chairs for the outboard passengers for the second row – making seating capacity capped at seven. A folding cupholder tray is attached to the passenger side second row seat. The third row is easily accessible and would benefit from the second row moved toward the front with extra legroom. Otherwise, it is best for children, with anchors for child seats, when needed. However, if you are a family of four and happen to enjoy the black perforated leather seating with the bronze-ish contrasting stitching, you will love the massive amounts of comfort and space for long drives.
Cargo is flexible depending on how many rows of seats you have up. With three rows up, there is only 13.8 cubic feet of cargo space, which is well-proportioned. However, if you fold the third row down, there is 42.3 cubic feet of cargo space, which looks like it would swallow a week’s vacation for four people rather easily. Or, to bring home two rooms worth of flat-packed furniture to be assembled. The cargo floor does go flat with all rows down with easy access through the liftgate or the rear glass.
The driver gets a huge instrument panel. Instrumentation is big with readable dials and a good TFT screen in the middle for trip and vehicle readouts. The left one on the Hybrid gives you the energy band – from charging, Eco and Power modes. It is also cleaner with most switches and controls clustered logically within the cabin. Some buttons are actually hidden underneath the center stack on the console, but others should be familiar to Toyota owners. Perhaps the best feature is a shelf that runs from underneath the Entune screen toward the passenger side. You could put your smartphone and other goodies within reach on the shelf.
Toyota’s Entune infotainment system is driven by a large eight-inch touch screen in the middle of the dashboard. The screens are clear to understand and offer plenty of options for connecting through Bluetooth or a USB cable. You also get SiriusXM and HD Radio for your listening options through six strategically positioned speakers and a very good navigation system on board. This tester had a rear seat Blu-ray player with a single drop-down screen and a pair of wireless headphones when you have children (and adults) to entertain along the way.
The Hybrid Synergy System starts with a 3.5-liter V6. Add the electric motor, battery pack and regenerative braking system, and the total output is 280 horsepower. The Highlander Hybrid only comes with a continuously variable transmission driven to all four wheels. It is a good system that performs decently. You do head the transition between the electric and gas motors, but not feel the “bump” in older Hybrid systems. That alone is a nice advance in hybrid drivelines. In the Highlander Hybrid, the towing capacity is at 3,500 pounds.
In truth, the Highlander Hybrid is a big ol’ lug. It rides smooth and absorbs the bumps and cracks on the road. You do get some roll and lean in the corners, but not enough to make things uncomfortable for everyone. The Highlander’s ride is also on the quiet side and the all-wheel drive senses loss of traction rather quickly and smoothly.
Steering is rather easy, made possible by an electric system that steers rather decently. The turning radius is fine and the feel is soft and light. Brakes are decent with good stopping power. Pedal action is good for normal and panic stops.
When you think “Hybrid,” you expect high fuel economy. The truth is that the Highlander Hybrid will get slightly above average fuel economy. Under testing, it got 23.0MPG. Toyota stated it would average 27-28MPG. In comparison, the regular Highlander with the V6 turned an average of 20.5MPG. You might say that the Hybrid returned higher fuel economy averages.
At what price should you pay for the Highlander Hybrid Limited? The base price is $47,750. My example came with a few packages to ring up the register at $51,820. To put this price in perspective, the base price for the entire Highlander lineup is $29,665 for a four-cylinder, non-hybrid, front-wheel drive LE model. If you like what the Limited trim offers and want to remove the electric motor and battery pack, you will save $6,200 by doing so. The best value, in my humble opinion, is the XLE – starting price with the V6 and all-wheel drive is $37,950.
Why This Ride?
– Let’s be honest, the Highlander is a pretty good mid-sized family crossover. It can seat up to eight humans, offer all-wheel drive and plenty of pulling power with or without the electric motor and battery pack. It rides smooth and has a pretty nice cabin.
– The problem is fuel economy. Yes, it should get 27-28MPG. That is great, if you live in California. If you live in a cold climate – please be realistic about fuel economy! You will get less mileage. Though 23.0MPG is much better than the real world average its competitors have turned with or without a hybrid system.
– That price will cause major sticker shock. Is it the determining factor on whether to get the Hybrid Limited over the regular V6 AWD Limited? The difference is 2.5MPG in favor of the Hybrid. Tough choices, but if you can swing the high price of the Hybrid, it might be a good choice. Stick with the V6 with AWD in another trim – and save the money. You still get a good mid-sized crossover out of the deal in the Highlander. Your family will thank you.