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2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader February 2018

If you're looking for a 3-row family SUV that also happens to be a hybrid, look no further than the 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. That's because you literally can't look any further: it's the only one available that isn't a pricier luxury model. Thankfully, this choice of one is at least a pretty good one.

Like the regular Highlander, the Hybrid is a well-rounded family vehicle that features three seating rows and an 8-passenger capacity, plenty of space for cargo, and convenient storage spots throughout its well-made cabin. It's also one of the smaller entries in the 3-row segment, which isn't ideal for third-row space, but does make for easier parking and maneuvering on tighter roads. Toyota's renowned reliability and standard accident avoidance tech are also big-time benefits.

Now, unlike the regular Highlander, the Hybrid achieves nearly 30 miles per gallon -- an advantage of 5 mpg. That's exceptional for this segment, but it comes at a literal price. That 5-mpg fuel economy difference only equates to an annual average savings of $250, versus the regular Highlander's gasoline-only V6. Given that the Hybrid costs about $2,000 more than a comparable gas-only model, it'll take you at least five years to pay back the price premium.

That argument can be applied to pretty much any hybrid, though, so it's not like the Highlander is as an exception to a rule. In fact, the Highlander's price premium is smaller than many other hybrids. So, there's certainly some calculations and cross-shopping with non-hybrids to do, but the Highlander Hybrid still makes a very strong case for itself.

What's New for 2018?

After significant updates were made last year, the 2018 Highlander Hybrid carries over unchanged. To know more about what changed last year, read 2016 vs. 2017 Toyota Highlander: What's the Difference?

What We Like

Standard accident avoidance tech; superior fuel economy; a just-right size in terms of interior space and exterior maneuverability; excellent reliability reputation

What We Don't

Will take a while to pay back hybrid price premium; third-row seat less roomy than those of rivals; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not available

How Much?

$36,700-$48,300

Fuel Economy

As its name implies, this Highlander model features a hybrid powertrain consisting of a 3.5-liter V6 engine paired to a trio of electric motors. One is tasked with driving the rear wheels and thus provides standard all-wheel drive. Total system output is 306 horsepower. The Environmental Protection Agency rates fuel economy at 29 mpg in the city, 27 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg combined.

Standard Features & Options

The 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid can be had in LE, XLE, Limited and Limited Platinum trim levels.

Standard equipment on the base LE ($36,700) includes 18-inch alloy wheels, forward-collision and automatic braking, lane-departure warning and intervention, adaptive cruise control, a windshield wiper de-icer, proximity entry and keyless start, a backup camera, tri-zone automatic climate control, a height-adjustable driver seat, a 6.1-in Toyota Entune touchscreen, Bluetooth, five USB ports and a 6-speaker sound system.

The XLE ($41,700) gains a height-adjustable power tailgate, a flip-up rear window, a sunroof, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning systems, second-row sunshades, leather upholstery, heated power front seats, satellite and HD radios, a navigation system and an 8.1-in Entune touchscreen.

The Limited ($45,200) gains 19-in wheels, LED running/accent lighting, rear parking sensors, ventilated front seats, driver memory settings, second-row captain's chairs (reduces seating capacity to seven) and a 12-speaker sound system.

The Limited Platinum ($48,300) upgrades the sunroof to panoramic status, and adds front parking sensors, an upgraded 360-degree parking camera, automatic wipers and a heated steering wheel. The XLE and Limited trims can be equipped with a rear-seat entertainment system that features a single 9-in display.

Safety

No other 3-row crossover can top the 2018 Highlander Hybrid's standard safety equipment. Besides the usual allotment of antilock brakes, stability control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and a rearview camera, it boasts a driver knee airbag, a front passenger under-cushion airbag, forward-collision warning, automatic braking and lane-departure warning and keeping. The XLE trim and above includes blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning systems.

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 high marks in all pertinent crashworthiness, crash-prevention and headlight categories.

Behind the Wheel

The 2018 Highlander Hybrid boasts a high-quality and versatile cabin that also looks pretty good. We appreciate the ample and clever storage solutions up front, including a dash-spanning shelf and a cavernous center console bin. The Highlander's technology is also worthy of praise for its functionality, with simple and quick-to-respond touchscreens, but it's lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is an unfortunate omission. Most competitors come standard with them on most trim levels.

In back, the second-row seats slide and recline generously, which makes third-row access reasonably easy. It's still pretty cramped back in row three, so those with bigger/older kids might need to consider something else. On the upside, its 3-across third-row bench means you can carry an extra (small) kid, if necessary.

Another upside is that the Highlander Hybrid's smaller size also makes it a bit more maneuverable. Indeed, with its more manageable dimensions, tall seating position and decent sightlines, it's pretty easy to park. You should also find that the Highlander strikes a pretty good balance between comfort and driving response.

As for its Hybrid-ness, the revised V6 engine provides stronger acceleration than most would expect from a hybrid of any sort. Sure, the Hybrid weighs more than its gas-only sibling, but 306 hp is still 306 hp and you get the added bonus of the electric motor's buttery smooth, instantaneous torque. Like other hybrids, though, you will need to deal with some droning caused by the electronically controlled continuously variable transmission, as well as a slightly odd brake pedal feel. It may not be for everyone.

 Other Cars to Consider

2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid -- A minivan! Yuck! OK, give us and the Pacifica a chance, as this is really the only other hybrid people hauler available. It'll also outdo the Highlander's interior space and fuel economy -- it's actually a plug-in hybrid that can go 33 miles on electricity alone and boasts an EPA fuel economy rating of 84 MPGe.

2018 Honda Pilot -- OK, so it's not a hybrid, but the Honda Pilot is the Highlander's closest competitors in all other key areas, including interior quality, fuel economy and pricing. It has a more spacious interior, though, without sacrificing maneuverability.

2018 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid -- This is going to be more expensive than the Highlander, but as it's too new to realistically be a used choice, it's also your only real alternative for a hybrid 3-row SUV. It has even less third-row space than the Highlander, but it has a much nicer cabin and sharper driving dynamics.

Used Lexus RX 450h -- If you don't really need the Highlander's 3-row space and can't pony up for the MDX, the RX 450h is your best hybrid SUV bet that still maintains the superior reliability that Toyota/Lexus offer. It'll cost more, so you'll probably need to consider a used model.

Autotrader's Advice

Now that it has a full range of trim levels, the Highlander Hybrid is much easier to recommend. The base LE is actually very well equipped, but we think you'll find the XLE's extra features (leather, heated power seats, power liftgate, sunshades) to be well worth the extra cost.

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2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid: New Car Review - Autotrader