Great MPG and Comfortable, But Overpriced
May 1, 2018
I've owned the 2017 Highlander Hybrid for a year and have driven it 40,000 miles. While it's a very comfortable and remarkably efficient SUV, I don't believe its high price tag is justified.
First, the good:
- Obviously, as a hybrid vehicle, the Highlander gets phenomenal MPG for a 5,000 pound SUV. On average I get roughly 31 mpg in 50/50 city/highway driving. But, when I try to maximize fuel economy (by driving slowly in "Eco Mode" without the A/C on), I can get reach an incredible 35 mpg.
- The vehicle is exceptionally comfortable for both driver and passengers. The seats provide a good balance of support and cushion. I opted for the heated and cooled front seats. The cooling system pumps conditioned air through the seat vents, which is a nice benefit during the summer. The heated seats do not work well though...even at the highest setting, I can barely feel any heat.
- The battery/engine combo provides quick acceleration. However, there is a noticeable engine lag in pedal response...in other words, when you kick down the accelerator pedal, it takes a second or two before the engine responds.
- Toyota apparently put some effort into sound insulation for the Highlander...it's Lexus-like quiet.
- This SUV is loaded with automatic stability control features. I've driven it several times in the snow, and even when I purposefully try to fishtail or induce a skid, the system instantly kicks in and stabilizes the vehicle.
OK, now the not-so-good:
- If you drive the car conservatively and casually, the Highlander is a stable and safe vehicle. However, if you attempt any sort of spirited driving, it generally handles the road like a 1986 Yugo with an elephant tied to the roof. The electric steering provides no feel for the road, the SUV will slop around corners with significant roll, and the front-wheel drive induces severe oversteering if you accelerate aggressively through a corner (in other words, if you step on the gas through a corner, the car will yank hard to the inside). At highway speeds, the brakes are spongy and inconsistent (a typical characteristic of regenerative braking systems).
The added weight of the hybrid system (batteries + electric motors) clearly puts a strain on the handling traits of the vehicle. I test drove a non-hybrid highlander, and it handled noticeably better.
- The all-wheel drive system is very limited in its effectiveness. The rear wheels are driven by an independent 68 horsepower electric motor which only kicks in when the front wheels begin to slip, and quickly disengages after the front wheels regain traction. In other words, this is essentially a front-wheel drive car most of the time.
- For an SUV which costs almost $50,000, the overall quality of the interior is kinda cheap and unrefined. The interior looks and feels almost exactly like a Corolla, when it should more closely resemble a Lexus.
Some minor things to mention:
- The navigation system, while reliable, is outdated (it's the same system I had in my 2008 4 Runner).
- LED headlights are not available. Not a big deal, but you'd think a hybrid would offer LED lights.
- As is the case with all CVT transmissions, when you accelerate aggressively, the engine revs like it's about to explode.
In sum, the Highlander Hybrid is a phenomenally efficient and comfortable SUV. If you're looking for a safe and reliable family car, and don't care about sporty performance, you'll enjoy this car. But, for the price, you can find more refined SUVs.