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Fuel-sipping Toyota Highlander Hybrid makes impressive debut

Family-friendly midsized SUV is getting more than 27 mpg, so far

Published: June 18, 2014 09:00 AM

After a decidedly arduous search, we finally netted our 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid last month. And now, with a few hundred miles on the clock, it looks at least as impressive as the regular Highlander: A nearly ideal family SUV with lots of space, many thoughtful touches, and seating for seven. It also rides and handles well and delivers ample power. And, fuel economy looks impressive.

We haven’t taken our official metered measurements yet, but the as-indicated fuel economy is quite good for a vehicle of this size and ability. With a mix of roads, we’ve been averaging about 27 mpg so far, and more than 30 mpg on some 50-mile trips. That compares with the 20 mpg we averaged with our regular Highlander. In the Hybrid, a 3.5-liter V6 is paired with a CVT transmission and an electric drive motor good for a combined 280-hp, which is 10 more than the regular Highlander.

You’ll pay quite a premium to go green, as the hybrids all start out in the top Limited or Limited Platinum trim lines. While our midlevel regular Highlander XLE retailed at just under $39,000 and came well equipped, our Hybrid Limited Platinum stickered at almost $51,000. Besides the hybrid powertrain, the extra money bought a raft of high-tech safety gear our XLE lacked, a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats, 19-inch wheels, and a panoramic sunroof.

When you jump into the Hybrid and press the Power button, the first thing that happens is—nothing. The engine doesn’t fire up until you roll off, under near-silent electric power, and hit the gas pedal. Handling is decently responsive, with enough heft in the steering to breed a sense of confidence. The Hybrid’s brakes feel a little touchy—a function of the power-storing regenerative braking system—but you quickly adapt to that.

The infotainment controls are easy to manage, with large buttons and knobs flanking a big, clear touch screen. One nice feature is that you can browse music from your iPhone using Bluetooth, rather than needing a USB tethering cord. It’s nice to have full access to your music library via the vehicle’s audio system, and to get it wirelessly.

Though it’s still early, we can say that the Highlander Hybrid is shaping up to be an impressive vehicle: quiet, steady, comfortable, and easy to live with. The performance of a strong V6 combined with fuel economy typical of a four-cylinder sedan doesn’t hurt, either.

Gordon Hard

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