Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited in AWD is expected to get a
redesign for 2020 amid more efficient powertrain offerings
from competitors' three-row crossovers. For now, it's still
the most affordable fuel-efficient three-row crossver in AWD.
Pictured in Arlington Heights, Ill., on January 15, 2019.
Looking for the most
fuel-efficient three-row crossover with all-wheel drive? Chances are
youíve zeroed in on the Toyota Highlander Hybrid. Not much has
changed for the 2019 Highlander Hybrid except the market. Automakers
are rolling out more fuel-efficient crossovers by the day, it seems,
with plug-in hybrids and full battery-electric vehicles planned for
the immediate future.
As one of only a few
hybrid three-row crossovers, the 2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is
worth revisiting since our last write-up for model year 2015. Is it
worth the upcharge, and how does this aging model stand up to the
new competition? And, does it pay to be patient until the redesigned
2020 model drops this year?
V-6 with an electric continuously variable transmission comes
standard in four trims. We tested the Limited, second only to
Limited Platinum ($3,520 more). Motors on the front and rear axle
provide AWD capability.
Toyota Safety Sense,
the suite of advanced driver assistance systems including adaptive
cruise, automatic high beams, lane departure alert and more are
standard on all Toyota models. Other than that, the technology in
the second-generation Highlander Hybrid feels old. But old can also
feel familiar. There are no great surprises or steep learning
curves, the infotainment system is functional, the control layout
sensible enough. It has a smooth and quiet power delivery and offers
plenty of room for a family of six. The lack of power folding seats
or automatically collapsible headrests at this price point seemed
It is $1,620 more
expensive than the gas-only Highlander in Limited trim. It gets 28
mpg combined versus the 22 mpg combined in the gas-only version.
Based on EPA
estimates of 15,000 miles driven annually at current gas prices, the
annual fuel cost is $1,250 for the Hybrid and $1,600 for the gas
model. Hybrid owners will recoup their extra costs within five years
of ownership. But that is based on 55 percent of city driving. The
Hybrid is at its most efficient in around-town driving, getting 9
miles to the gallon more than the gas version. With city-only
driving, the upcharge is recouped in three years of gas savings at
$550/year (annual fuel cost increases to $1,800 in the gas version).
But are you really driving 15,000 miles around town? For some
parents, it sure feels like it.
By year four of
ownership, the Hybrid owner is winning. Then thereís the added
bonus of having a cleaner, greener conscious and showing the drivers
of tomorrow that you give a leaf. Let the economists put a cost on
that. Seriously, though.
Yet we averaged a
meager 24 mpg at 33 mph in the deepest depths of winter.
So, yes, in most
cases, the Hybrid is worth the upcharge over the gas version of the
Highlander and other fuel-efficient three-rows such as the Mazda
CX-9 and Kia Sorento. Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV doesnít come with
a third row, so that raises the question everyone is asking, from
regulators to automakers: How much green do you want to spend on
The lovely Volvo XC90
plug-in hybrid starts at $67,000, nearly 50 percent more than the
Highlander Hybrid. All the luxury makes are launching plug-in or
full battery electric crossovers in the next year or two, so maybe
they think we have money to Ö compost.
What about the
excellent Chrysler Pacifica plug-in Hybrid? I can hear the eye rolls
from here. You hate the styling, I get it, but sliding doors and
wide spaces make the minivan the most practical family car around.
Pacifica gets 29 mpg combined, too, without factoring the 32-mile
electric range. That would suffice the vast majority of family
errands, we expect, so there would be no gas charge annually except
for the road trip fueled by all the money you saved on gas!
But itís not a
crossover. Now Iím the one rolling my eyes.
At $52,800 and 26 mpg
combined, the excellent Acura MDX Sport Hybrid is the nearest
competitor. Itís fresher, more refined and more powerful, but
itís also more expensive and less efficient.
automakers are rolling out three-row hybrid crossovers. The 2020
Ford Explorer will come as a hybrid, though fuel economy numbers
wonít be released until closer to the spring release date. The
police version of the new 2020 Explorer Hybrid gets 24 mpg combined.
Even if the Explorer
Hybrid is in the range of 24 to 26 mpg, the Highlander Hybrid is
better. In this sense, the Highlander Hybrid is ahead of the game.
It might be the only sense in which this is true, but for the
fuel-conscious, family-hauling, minivan-hating car shopper, it is
the sense that is most important.
Highlander Hybrid in Limited trim at a glance
Vehicle type: 3-row
Base price: $45,510
As tested: $46,169
Mpg: 29 city, 27
highway, 28 combined
V-6 engine with ECVT in AWD
Chrysler Pacifica PHEV, Acura MDX Sport Hybrd, Toyota Highlander
Hybrid, Volvo XC90 T8.