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The Toyota Highlander Hybrid Is the Greatest All-Around Car on the Market

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author photo by Doug DeMuro November 2016

What follows is not an advertisement for Toyota. It might seem like an advertisement for Toyota, but it isn't. Toyota doesn't pay me any money to do anything. In fact, it's quite the opposite: Each Friday, Toyota sends me a weekly email entitled "This Week's Toyota and Lexus News," which presumably includes stories like "Toyota Plants 87 Trees to Raise Money for Cats-Getting-Stuck-in-Trees Awareness." As you can imagine, I have never once opened this email. This is the extent of my contact with Toyota.

No, this is not an advertisement. This is one person professing his love for one car, sort of like how you might talk about how much you love the Mazda Miata, the Porsche 911, the Honda S2000 or the BMW M3. The only difference is that the car I love isn't an exotic car, a sports car or a performance car. It's the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, and I truly believe it's the greatest all-around car you can buy today.

Let's start in the obvious place: I'm talking about a hybrid vehicle, so it must get decent fuel economy, right? Wrong. The Highlander Hybrid gets better-than-decent fuel economy. The Highlander Hybrid gets great fuel economy. The Environmental Protection Agency rates this thing at 28 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving, which is the same figure as the 2016 Hyundai Elantra. For those of you who aren't up on your Hyundai game, that's the compact one that competes with the Honda Civic. And it gets the same gas mileage as a Toyota SUV.

And not just any Toyota SUV. The Highlander Hybrid's already-impressive gas-mileage number is even more amazing when you consider the fact that it can seat up to seven human beings. This is a 3-row SUV that gets the same gas mileage as a compact Hyundai. Just for comparison's sake, here are some other 3-row SUV combined city and highway gas-mileage numbers: Ford Explorer, 18 mpg. Chevy Traverse, 18 mpg. Honda Pilot, 22 mpg. Mazda CX-9, 23 mpg. Hyundai Santa Fe, 20 mpg. The Highlander Hybrid looks at those numbers and cackles like a child who just successfully convinced his parents to let him stay home sick from school, even though his only ailment is that he didn't do his homework.

So you're thinking, "OK, fine, it gets great mileage and carries a lot of people. That doesn't make it the best all-around car on the market!"

This is a reasonable thought. Except that I'm not done.

The Highlander Hybrid isn't just an ultra-efficient people mover. It also has every bit of the latest technology. Want your car to stop for you if it detects an impending collision? The Highlander Hybrid will do that. Want your cruise control to speed up and slow down based on traffic? The Highlander Hybrid will do that. Want your high beams to turn on and off automatically? The Highlander Hybrid will do that. Want to order movie tickets from your in-car infotainment system? The Highlander Hybrid will do that, too. I'm serious.

In other words, the Highlander Hybrid will do just about anything. Except, you're thinking, deliver great performance. Right? It's just a stupid, boring hybrid SUV, so it has all the technology, all the people-carrying abilities and all the fuel economy, and that makes it a decent all-around vehicle, but its performance must be a dud. Right?

WRONG!!!!

Unlike most hybrids, which run on approximately 87 horsepower and a driver's hopes, the Highlander Hybrid is inexplicably more powerful than a normal Toyota Highlander. I have no idea why Toyota did this, but they did, and the result is that the thing has 280 hp and scoots from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 7.7 seconds. And that's the latest model, which is a little bit on the porky side. The last-generation Highlander Hybrid, which was slightly smaller, did 0 to 60 in 7.2 seconds, and the original one -- which was smaller still and used the same engine -- did it in 6.9 seconds. Think about that for a second: a 7-passenger SUV that gets the same gas mileage as a Hyundai Elantra, has all the latest technology and does 0 to 60 in about the same time as a Subaru BRZ. Add in Toyota reliability, and you've got yourself the best all-around vehicle on the market.

Now, I admit the Highlander Hybrid doesn't handle like an exciting sports car, and it doesn't have the same luxury badge as a BMW or a Mercedes, so it doesn't check every single box in the desirability scale. But can you think of any one vehicle that checks so many boxes? The Mazda Miata, for instance, is fun to drive and gets good mileage, but it only seats two people, and it doesn't have the Highlander Hybrid's technology. The Mercedes-Benz GLS63 AMG seats seven and has sports-car performance -- but fuel economy is atrocious at 14 mpg combined, and it starts at $125,000 (to the Highlander Hybrid's $37,300).

I could go for days with these comparisons, but I won't. I'll simply leave you with this: The Highlander Hybrid is a great all-around car, and you should probably buy one. Toyota will use your money to plant 36 shrubs for Smartphone-Screen-Shattering Awareness. Then they'll send me an email about it.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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The Toyota Highlander Hybrid Is the Greatest All-Around Car on the Market - Autotrader