If there are four people or fewer in your family, the 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid rocks as a family hauler. With good looks, great fuel efficiency and flexible seating configurations, everything about it screams family SUV. Unless of course there are more than four people in your family — it won't quite rock for you.
While the 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid does have three rows and available seating for seven, the third row eats up most of the cargo space.
Toyota is addressing this by redesigning the Highlander and Highlander Hybrid for 2014. The SUV grows 3 inches in length and will have room for eight passengers and more cargo space. It's expected to go on sale in early 2014.
I was excited to drive the 2013 Highlander Hybrid with its EPA-estimated 28/28 mpg city/highway because I'm hyperconscious of fuel efficiency. I squeezed my family of four into a Toyota Prius for as long as possible, so I was sad to admit that this hybrid SUV wasn't a great fit for my now family of five.
If the increased fuel efficiency doesn't have you convinced of its hybrid status, the Highlander Hybrid's slow acceleration will. I prefer slow acceleration to wasted fuel, and once I was up to speed I was able to forget I was driving a hybrid.
The 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid has a starting price of $41,015, including an $845 destination charge, for the base trim. My Limited trim test car cost $47,215.
The Highlander Hybrid's look hasn't changed since its 2011 refresh, but this three-row SUV still is mighty good looking in my book.
The hybrid isn't a behemoth of an SUV, so my little ones didn't have any issues climbing in independently. This midsize SUV is also easy on parents' backs when it comes to buckling kids into their child-safety seats because Mom and Dad don't have to bend and duck as they would with a sedan.
With the third row folded, the cargo area's 42.3 cubic feet of space was more than enough room for my stroller and a decent-sized Costco run. Unfortunately all that changes once that third row is in use. All of that glorious storage space is eaten up and you're left with 10.3 cubic feet of space, which is not enough room for much of anything.
The Limited trim has a standard power liftgate, a feature that I enjoy because it gives me one less one thing to do. However, it's not available on the base model.
The Highlander Hybrid has a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that's paired with an electric motor for a combined 280 horsepower. It gets an EPA-estimated 28/28 mpg city/highway, but during my week of mostly city driving I averaged 24 mpg. The Highlander Hybrid uses regular unleaded fuel.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some
The Highlander Hybrid's interior impressed me with its dark leather interior paired with the warm wood-style trim, which is my favorite combination. Not only does it look good, but also it camouflages dirt and smudges, which with my three kids are a given.
Both trim levels come with a standard 6.1-inch touch-screen featuring navigation and Toyota's multimedia system, Entune. I'm a big fan of Toyota's navigation and media controls. They're easy to use and intuitive. Every time I sit down in a Toyota these days, I feel right at home.
The Highlander Hybrid had enough cubbies and cupholders to keep all my water bottles, coffee cups and gadgets from floating around the cabin. A feature I was crazy about was the second row's stowable center seat and console. The second row can be configured with a storage console in place of the slim center seat, plus there is a storage area for either piece underneath the front center console. Parents also can choose to leave a pathway to the third row.
I appreciated the second row's flexibility because it gave my 4-year-old an easy way to get to the third row. Her booster seat rarely fits in the second row with her two younger sisters' safety seats, so she often ends up in the third row with limited options on how to get her there. Usually in three-row SUVs I'm left to hurl her into the cargo area where she then climbs into the third row or she has to swing her long legs over the second row's head restraints to reach her seat, so the ability to remove the center seat and give her a place to fit through was much appreciated.
My family of five is used to compromising on legroom in three-row SUVs, so I was pleasantly surprised by the Highlander Hybrid's legroom. Thanks to the adjustable second row that moved forward and back, there was little whining since everyone was able to sit comfortably and adjust the legroom to their liking. Unfortunately what you gain in legroom for three rows of seats, you lose in cargo space.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair-Ample
The 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid has earned an overall safety rating of four stars out of five. It earned four stars in front and rollover crash tests and five stars in the side crash test. It hasn't been tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
There are two sets of lower Latch anchors in the 2013 Highlander Hybrid's second row. Both my forward- and rear-facing child-safety seats fit well and didn't take up the front passenger's legroom. However it was tough for me to install the safety seats since the Latch anchors were buried deep in the seat bight, where the back and bottom cushions meet.
The Highlander Hybrid has standard all-wheel drive, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes with brake assist, an electronic stability system with traction control, active front head restraints, a backup camera and seven airbags, including a driver's knee airbag and side curtains for all three rows.
Get more safety information about the 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid.