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2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid REVIEW

Edmunds.com logo Edmunds.com 4/6/2017

Con: Luxury-grade pricing; eight-passenger layout only available on regular Highlander.

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Interior: While some hybrid vehicles may have unique interior flourishes to set them apart from their non-hybrid counterparts, the 2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid does not. Aside from the usual smattering of hybrid-specific gauges and information screens, the Hybrid is basically a Highlander Limited with a different powertrain. While this may be disappointing to some -- especially considering the Highlander Hybrid's significantly higher starting price -- the interior is nice enough to pass muster. Supple surfaces cover the dashboard with subtle stitching at the seams. The Infiniti QX60 Hybrid's cabin might look and feel more special, but Toyota's modest deficit here shouldn't be a deal-breaker.

Toyota has baked a number of handy storage features into the 2015 Highlander's interior. There's a unique built-in shelf on the dashboard, for instance, that can serve as a resting place for phones and other small personal effects. The shelf's short height, however, can make it hard to actually fit your hand in there to place or retrieve those items. Vastly more spacious is the storage box under the console armrest that's big enough for a large purse.

Operating the various electronics features has a very simple feel, but they are positioned far away from the driver. The 8-inch touchscreen provides crisp graphics, large "virtual" buttons and quickly accessed mode buttons around its perimeter. The navigation system is intuitive as well, while the audio system features the tried and true volume knob on the left and a tuning knob on the right.

Since the Hybrid only comes in Limited trim, it doesn't offer the three-person second-row bench that's standard on lesser non-hybrid Highlander models. The two captain's chairs are quite pleasant, however, and they slide farther forward than they used to, permitting easier access to the third row. Speaking of the way-back, adults will still find it cramped relative to some rivals, but kids will be fine, and the three-across seating in the third row bolsters the Highlander's credentials as a minivan substitute.

Even though the Highlander Hybrid's cargo capacity is diminished by its large battery pack, there's still considerable storage space inside, especially once you start folding the rear seats down. There is a usable 13.8 cubic feet of space behind the third row, expanding to 42.3 cubes with the third row folded, and a maximum 83.2 cubic feet of capacity with both rear rows folded.

Body: The 2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a three-row midsize crossover offered in Limited and Limited Platinum trims. Seven-passenger seating is standard, with a layout that includes two second-row captain's chairs and a 60/40-split third-row bench with three seats. The gas-only Highlander is reviewed separately.

Standard features include 19-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof, LED running lights, foglights, a flip-up rear hatch window, an adjustable-height power liftgate, a rear spoiler, keyless ignition and entry, ambient interior lighting, tri-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery (with synthetic SofTex vinyl for the third row), heated and ventilated front seats, an eight-way power driver seat (with power lumbar), a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, driver memory functions, a four-way power passenger seat, driver voice amplification for communicating with rear passengers ("Driver Easy Speak"), a second-row table between the captain's chairs and retractable second-row sunshades. Electronic features include a navigation system, a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert, rear parking sensors, a back-up camera, an 8-inch central touchscreen, smartphone app integration (Entune App Suite), Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and a 12-speaker JBL audio system with satellite radio, HD radio and iPod/USB connectivity.

Optional for the Limited is the Driver Technology package, which adds Toyota's Safety Connect telematics (stolen vehicle locater, roadside assistance, automatic collision notification), adaptive cruise control, a collision mitigation system with automatic braking, a lane departure warning system and automatic high-beam control headlights. A rear-seat Blu-ray entertainment system with a 9-inch display is offered as a stand-alone option.

The Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum (also known as the Platinum package) includes all those items plus a panoramic sunroof, a heated steering wheel and heated second-row seats.

Driving: On the road, the Highlander Hybrid definitely feels large, but it is still easy to drive on a daily basis. In city traffic, the 280-hp hybrid system provides decent pickup, and the V6/CVT combination gives it some real pep off the line. As with most hybrids, the regenerative braking system produces a characteristically odd pedal feel that may strike some drivers as a little touchy until they've acclimated.

It's worth noting that the Hybrid is around 350 pounds heavier than a comparable gas-only Toyota Highlander. Nonetheless, the Highlander Hybrid confidently handles the road within its predictably modest limits. The steering has a firm, reassuring feel as well, but it can be a bit heavy during slow-speed maneuvers.

Of course, what you'll use the 2015 Highlander Hybrid for most is ferrying passengers around in comfort, and that's where it truly shines. The cabin remains impressively quiet at speed, and bumps and ruts are generally shrugged off by the crossover's compliant suspension.

What’s New: The 2015 Toyota Highlander carries over unchanged.

The 2015 Highlander Hybrid is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 combined with multiple electric motors and a battery pack. Total output is rated at 280 horsepower. All-wheel drive is standard, as is a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Under normal conditions, the hybrid operates as a front-wheel-drive vehicle, but if wheel slippage is detected or serious acceleration demanded, the rear axle's electric motor kicks in for full traction and power.

During Edmunds testing, the Highlander Hybrid went from zero to 60 mph in just 7.9 seconds. That's a slightly quicker time than average for a crossover this size, let alone a hybrid version.

According to the EPA, the Highlander Hybrid returns 28 mpg combined (27 city/28 highway), which is about as good as it gets for a three-row crossover.

A properly equipped Highlander Hybrid can tow up to 3,500 pounds, or 1,500 fewer than the conventional Highlander V6.

Safety: The 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid comes standard with stability control, antilock disc brakes, hill-start assist, front-seat side airbags, a driver knee airbag, a front passenger seat-cushion airbag and full-length side curtain airbags.

A rearview camera and blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert and rear parking sensors are also standard, while the optional Driver Technology package adds a frontal collision mitigation system with automatic braking, lane-departure warning and Toyota's Safety Connect telematics (emergency assistance, stolen vehicle location and automatic collision notification).

During Edmunds braking testing, the Highlander Hybrid came to a stop from 60 mph in 127 feet, which is a few feet longer than average for the segment.

In government crash tests, the Highlander Hybrid earned five out of five stars for overall crash protection, including four stars for total frontal-impact safety and five stars for total side-impact safety.

In crash testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the non-hybrid Highlander received the highest possible rating of "Good" in the moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests. In the small-overlap frontal-offset test, it received the second-highest rating of "Acceptable." Its seat and head restraint design was rated "Good" for whiplash protection in rear impacts.

Pro: Impressive fuel economy; hushed and upscale interior; luxury-grade ride; seven-passenger seating; reassuring handling.

Edmunds Say: The 2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a satisfying three-row crossover SUV that gets an unbeatable 28 mpg in mixed driving, but the up-front price might be a bit tough to swallow.

Introduction: If you want a family-friendly vehicle that gets impressive mileage, the 2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is one of the best vehicles for the job. Just like its gas-only sibling, the Hybrid is easy and pleasant to drive. It's quick to accelerate, smooth-riding and one of the quietest vehicles we've ever tested on the highway. It also has a pretty roomy interior with seating for seven, high-quality materials and plenty of features. Of course, the added bonus for the Hybrid is the excellent EPA-estimated 28 mpg combined rating for fuel economy. The gas-only Highlander has just a 20-mpg combined estimate.

However, with that refinement and fuel efficiency comes a pretty hefty price tag. Toyota offers the Highlander Hybrid in just the top two trim levels: Limited and Limited Platinum. Those trim levels are well equipped to be sure, but even compared to the gas-only Highlander versions, you'll be paying a premium of several thousand dollars when new. The Highlander Hybrid even rivals many luxury brands for price.

Still, those able to stomach the cost will find the Highlander Hybrid worth it, which is essentially what we concluded in our Edmunds "A" rating of this Toyota. We also like it more than its closest rival, the Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid. The Pathfinder is less expensive, but it doesn't match the Highlander Hybrid for acceleration or general refinement. (The related Infiniti QX60 is priced closer to the Toyota and is also available with a hybrid powertrain and lots of luxury trimmings.) If seating for seven isn't a requirement, check out the Audi Q5 Hybrid or Lexus RX 450h. There's no doubt, though, that the 2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid offers the best overall combination of fuel efficiency, power, comfort and interior space in its class.

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