Toyota Highlander Hybrid Review: Why It Now Makes More Sense and Cents

by Venancio Guerra

Toyota wants to increase Highlander Hybrid sales from 10 to 20 percent of the SUV’s overall mix

Doubling sales is a daunting challenge, but we suspect Toyota will have no trouble achieving its targets with the new 2020 Highlander Hybrid. Reimagined on the new fourth-generation three-row SUV, the Highlander Hybrid cuts its cylinder count from six to four, and in the process transforms from a curiosity to a family machine with appeal to environmentalists as well as folks simply trying to save some money.

As with almost every hybrid available today, the 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid carries a price premium over the standard engine. Toyota has simplified the math: If you want the hybrid, it’s yours for $1,400 more on every FWD and AWD model on the LE, XLE, Limited, and Platinum trims. With “just” 243 combined-system horsepower on the new hybrid, it’s down 63 hp from the 2019 model. But here’s the thing about family-oriented three-row hybrid crossovers: Almost no one will care about that reduction in power.

Doubling sales is a daunting challenge, but we suspect Toyota will have no trouble achieving its targets with the new 2020 Highlander Hybrid. Reimagined on the new fourth-generation three-row SUV, the Highlander Hybrid cuts its cylinder count from six to four, and in the process transforms from a curiosity to a family machine with appeal to environmentalists as well as folks simply trying to save some money.

As with almost every hybrid available today, the 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid carries a price premium over the standard engine. Toyota has simplified the math: If you want the hybrid, it’s yours for $1,400 more on every FWD and AWD model on the LE, XLE, Limited, and Platinum trims. With “just” 243 combined-system horsepower on the new hybrid, it’s down 63 hp from the 2019 model. But here’s the thing about family-oriented three-row hybrid crossovers: Almost no one will care about that reduction in power.

As we mentioned in our review of the entire 2020 Toyota Highlander line—read it here—we’d also like to see the automaker do a better job gamifying the hybrid driving experience through an additional instrument cluster and infotainment screen display with more info about the current drive. Most folks will just drive the Highlander Hybrid like a normal car, and it was during such driving that we discovered the SUV’s most delightful surprise.

The Highlander Hybrids we drove featured brakes with excellent feel for a hybrid. Sometimes, hybrid cars and SUVs will stop abruptly at the end of the pedal’s travel, but that wasn’t the case with the Toyotas we drove. Brake-feel and a compromise in interior space used to be two of the primary reasons to avoid hybrids, but those excuses don’t apply to this Toyota. The hybrid features the same interior space as the V-6 model, and if you notice how high the floor is in the third row—or how little space is back there—that’s true of all 2020 Highlanders as well as a few of its competitors.

Toyota expects EPA-rated fuel economy to come in at 36/35 mpg city/highway for the 2020 Highlander LE hybrid in FWD and AWD forms, 36/35 mpg for FWD hybrids in higher trims, and 35/34 mpg for AWD hybrids in higher trims. That’s impressive for a nearly 200-inch SUV even before you consider the V-6’s 20-21/27-29 mpg fuel economy. Keeping in mind the hybrid’s $1,400 price premium, it won’t take many years to earn that money back. If your mileage comes anywhere close to those mid-30 estimates above, you’re also looking at a 600-mile driving range between visits to the gas station. Nice.

At the moment, the three-row hybrid space is barren. Nissan no longer sells a hybridized Pathfinder, Honda may one day sell a Pilot hybrid, and the Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in is much smaller than the Toyota. That leaves the Ford Explorer, which takes a performance-first approach with its V-6 engine, 318 combined-system hp, higher price, and lower fuel economy.

But you don’t need 300-plus horsepower, do you? If that describes you, try the 2020 Highlander Hybrid before you drive out in a Highlander V-6. Although we’d rather drive a Kia Telluride—MotorTrend’s 2020 SUV of the Year—than a six-cylinder Highlander, that excellent Kia lacks a hybrid option and only provides mid-pack fuel economy. With a price premium of only $1,400 and better fuel economy than before, the 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is worth a look.


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