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2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid: New Car Review

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author photo by Autotrader February 2016

To many families who are interested in a new crossover, the 2016 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, lots of room for people and cargo and a carlike ride with convenient storage spots throughout the cabin.

On the other hand, the Highlander Hybrid also has 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 $48,700 with shipping. But that sum buys you just about everything that most drivers will ever want from their family car, and that's why the Highlander Hybrid remains a popular member of the Highlander family.

What's New for 2016?

The Highlander Hybrid is unchanged for the 2016 model year.

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?

$48,700-$51,300

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 2016 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 ($48,700) features 19-inch alloy wheels, a power sunroof, leather upholstery, tri-zone automatic climate control, a power lift gate, 3-row seating, keyless access with push-button starting, heated and ventilated front seats, dual power front seats, 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 ($51,300) 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 2016 Highlander Hybrid comes standard with nearly every safety gadget on the market, from side-curtain airbags and rear cross-traffic alert to traction control, a backup camera, a blind spot monitoring system and rear parking sensors. Optional features include a lane-departure warning system, automatic high-beam control, 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, the Highlander received a coveted Top Safety Pick+ due to its excellent performance.

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 from the previous-generation Highlander to offer improved surfaces, better design and an overall feel that's just a lot more upscale than we'd expect from a Toyota.

In back, the second-row seats slide forward farther than before, making third-row access appreciably easier. It's still pretty cramped back there for adults, but the new 3-across bench means 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 it has a short delay when you push down the throttle due to the hybrid system. Hybrid models supposedly have a few extra hp than the standard Highlander, but you won't be able to feel them under 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 did before, reminding us more of the Ford Explorer than a tall Camry wagon. But it's surprisingly solid in corners, taking a confident set with less body roll than we expected.

Other Cars to Consider

2016 Ford Explorer -- The Ford Explorer offers a roomy interior, 3-row seating and an optional 4-cylinder engine that returns a respectable 19 mpg city/28 mpg hwy. These aren't Highlander Hybrid numbers, but the Explorer is a lot cheaper.

2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel -- The diesel-powered Grand Cherokee is pricy, starting at around $43,000 with shipping. It also doesn't offer 3-row seating, but it touts 22 mpg city/30 mpg hwy, along with brawny styling and legendary off-road capabilities.

2016 Lexus RX 450h -- Where we once would've recommended checking out a used RX 450h, now we recommend a new one. That's because Highlander Hybrid pricing is now almost identical to the RX 450h, its luxury counterpart. One drawback is that the Lexus only has 2-row seating.

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 even more expensive than a Highlander Hybrid, so you may 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. 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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2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid: New Car Review - Autotrader