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2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader December 2014

For many families interested in a new crossover, the 2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid will seem like a dream come true. On one hand, it offers the practicality and equipment you'd expect from a traditional crossover: 3-row seating, plenty of room, convenient storage spots and a carlike ride. On the other hand, the Highlander Hybrid also offers something more: excellent gas mileage. Boasting a hybrid engine that somehow manages to offer both big power and excellent fuel economy, the Highlander Hybrid delivers nearly 30 miles per gallon in the city and on the highway -- numbers that tower above nearly all crossover rivals.

So what's the catch? Money of course. The Highlander Hybrid isn't cheap, with prices starting at an increasingly Lexus-like $48,500 with shipping. But that sum buys you just about everything most drivers will ever want from their family car. That is why the Highlander Hybrid remains a popular member of the Highlander family.

What's New for 2015?

Following its redesign last year, the Highlander Hybrid is unchanged for 2015.

What We Like

Standard 3-row seating; excellent fuel economy; improved interior; strong acceleration

What We Don't

Highly expensive for a midsize crossover

How Much?

$48,500-$51,000

Fuel Economy

The Highlander Hybrid offers one powertrain: a 3.5-liter hybrid V6 that makes 270 horsepower and 243 lb-ft of torque, mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive. Gas mileage is rated at 27 mpg city/28 mpg hwy.

Standard Features & Options

The 2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is offered with just two trim levels: Limited and Limited Platinum. While gas-powered Highlander models are available in less expensive LE and XLE guise, those trims aren't offered on the Hybrid.

The Highlander Hybrid Limited ($48,500) features 19-inch alloy wheels, a power sunroof, leather upholstery, tri-zone automatic climate control, a power liftgate, 3-row seating, keyless access with push-button starting, heated and ventilated front seats and dual power front seats. From a technology standpoint, the Limited trim features a navigation system, a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert, rear parking sensors, a backup camera, a 12-speaker JBL sound system and an 8-in central touchscreen with Toyota's Entune infotainment system.

The Limited Platinum ($51,000) adds even more luxury, featuring a panoramic sunroof, heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel.

Despite the long list of standard equipment, the Highlander Hybrid's options are plentiful. They include adaptive cruise control, a forward-collision warning system with automatic braking, automatic high beam control, a lane-departure warning system and a rear-seat entertainment system with a 9-in display screen.

Safety

The 2015 Highlander Hybrid comes standard with nearly every safety gadget on the market including side-curtain airbags, rear cross-traffic alert, traction control, a backup camera, a blind spot monitoring system and rear parking sensors. What isn't standard is optional, and available features include a lane-departure warning system, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control and a forward-collision warning system with automatic braking.

In government crash tests, the Highlander Hybrid received a perfect 5-star overall rating, with a 5-star score in frontal- and side-impact tests and a 4-star rollover rating. In tests conducted by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Highlander received a coveted Top Safety Pick+ designation after excellent performance in the agency's tests.

Behind the Wheel

The latest Highlander Hybrid feels a lot more worthy of its luxury-car pricing. That's mainly due to its all-new interior, which has been thoroughly reworked compared to the previous-generation. It offers improved surfaces, better design and an overall feel that's a lot more upscale than we'd expect from a Toyota.

In back, the second-row seats slide farther forward than before, making third-row access easier. It's still pretty cramped back there for adults, but the new 3-across bench means that you can carry an extra kid, if necessary.

From behind the wheel, you'll notice that the Highlander Hybrid accelerates just like the V6 -- except for a short delay when you push down the throttle due to the hybrid system. Hybrid models supposedly have higher horsepower than the standard Highlander, but you won't be able to feel them during normal driving. As a result, the Hybrid's only real benefit is its additional fuel economy and its impressive array of standard equipment.

On the road, the Highlander feels significantly wider than it used to, reminding us of the Ford Explorer. But it's surprisingly solid in corners, and has less body roll than we expected.

Other Cars to Consider

2015 Ford Explorer -- The Ford Explorer offers a roomy interior, 3-row seating and an optional 4-cylinder engine that returns a respectable 20 mpg city/28 mpg hwy. Those aren't Highlander Hybrid numbers -- but the Explorer is a lot cheaper.

2015 Lexus RX 450h -- Where we once would have recommended checking out a used RX 450h, we now recommend the Highlander Hybrid. That's because its pricing is now almost identical to the RX 450h, its "luxury" counterpart. One drawback: The Lexus only has 2-row seating.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid -- We're happy to see that another automaker has finally entered the hybrid crossover game -- and we're especially happy to see that it's Nissan. Though fuel economy can't quite reach Highlander Hybrid levels, pricing is far more affordable.

Used Audi Q7 TDI -- The diesel-powered Q7 TDI offers a lot of luxury and a high-end badge, along with 19 mpg city/28 mpg hwy. But it's pricey, so you'll want to look for a used one.

AutoTrader's Advice

Given its wide range of standard features, the Highlander Hybrid Limited seems like all the SUV we'd need -- or want. We wish there was a base model to keep down costs -- but since there isn't, this will have to do.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid: New Car Review - Autotrader