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2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Review


The 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a midsize three-row crossover SUV. It’s intended for families who need the practicality of a roomy SUV and want the efficiency of a hybrid. The Highlander succeeds at combining the best of both worlds. Your family will love the comfortable interior and the smooth ride while mom and dad will appreciate the modern safety features and outstanding fuel economy.

The Toyota Highlander Hybrid doesn’t have many direct competitors (a couple include the hybrid variants of the Kia Sorento and Ford Explorer), but it’s safe to say it’s a class leader. Let’s take a closer look at this efficient SUV and see if it’s right for you and your family.

What’s New for 2021?

The Highlander was just fully redesigned for 2020, but already gets some nice updates for 2021. The standard safety tech suite has been upgraded to Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+, which adds left-turn intersection support, partially autonomous emergency steering, and enhancements to lane-departure warning, lane tracing, and adaptive cruise control. Also, LED projector headlights are now standard. See the 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid models for sale near you

What We Like

  • Super efficient
  • Smooth, comfortable ride
  • Generous standard safety tech
  • High-quality interior

What We Don’t

  • Cramped third-row seats
  • A little pricey

How Much?

$38,510 to 50,415

Fuel Economy

The EPA rates the front-wheel-drive 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid at 36 mpg city/35 highway/36 combined. Those are excellent numbers for a midsize three-row SUV. If you get an LE or XLE model with AWD, efficiency takes a slight hit down to 35 city/35 highway/35 combined mpg. Upgrade to Limited or Platinum with AWD and highway mpg dips to 34, which is still impressive.

Powering the Highlander Hybrid is a 2.5-liter inline-four engine mated to an electric motor. This is not a plug-in hybrid and cannot run on electricity alone. Instead, it runs on gas and gets excellent fuel economy all the time without the driver needing to worry about electric range or plugging in the car. The Highlander Hybrid makes a total output of 243 horsepower, which is plenty for family-hauling duty. Every Highlander Hybrid uses a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which contributes to the great fuel economy.

Standard Features & Options

The 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is available in four trims; LE, XLE, Limited, and Platinum. All four trims come standard with front-wheel drive and are available with all-wheel drive. For the LE and XLE models, AWD is a $1,600 option. Adding AWD to the Limited and Platinum models costs $1,950.

The base LE model comes standard with seating for up to 8. Every other Highlander Hybrid comes standard with second-row captain’s chairs, but swapping for a second-row bench seat is a no-cost option.

LE ($38,410) is well-appointed for a base model. Standard equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels, 8 seats, a height-adjustable power liftgate, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, LED headlights, LED fog lights, Smart Key system with push-button start, three-zone automatic climate control, 5 USB ports, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, and an 8-inch infotainment system with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Amazon Alexa.

The Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ system comes standard on every 2021 Highlander Hybrid. This system includes forward collision mitigation with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, lane-departure warning with steering assistance, lane-tracing assist, automatic high-beams, road sign recognition, left-turn intersection support, and partially autonomous emergency steering.

XLE ($41,210) adds a few more creature comforts to this SUV. Features include a power moonroof, roof rails, an auto-dimming mirror, wireless charging, a universal garage door opener, SofTex faux leather first- and second-row seats, heated front seats, a power-adjustable front passenger seat, power lumbar support for the driver’s seat, second-row sunshades, and a 7-inch color multi-information display. Navigation is a $1,040 option on the XLE.

Limited ($45,165) turns up the luxury of the Highlander Hybrid. Premium features include 20-inch wheels, a hands-free power liftgate, leather first- and second-row seats, heated and ventilated front seats, navigation, JBL 11-speaker premium audio, puddle lights and turn signals in the mirrors, LED daytime running lights, high-output LED fog lights, and 2 120V outlets. For the Limited model, you can add a 12.3-inch infotainment system with a bird’s eye view camera with perimeter scan and curb view for $1,050.

Platinum ($48,365) reaches the height of luxury for the Highlander Hybrid. This loaded SUV has a 12.3-inch infotainment system with navigation and a bird’s eye view camera, a panoramic power moonroof, adaptive front lighting, heated second-row captain’s chairs, and a 10-inch color head-up display.

Safety

The 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid earned a five-star overall safety rating from the NHTSA and the IIHS awarded it with a Top Safety Pick+ rating. The IIHS gave it the top “Good” rating in all crashworthiness categories.

Not only is it a top performer in crash-testing, but it also comes standard with the Toyota Safety Sense 2.5 safety tech suite. This includes forward collision mitigation with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, lane-departure warning with steering assistance, lane-tracing assist, automatic high-beams, road sign recognition, left turn intersection support, and partially autonomous emergency steering.

Behind the Wheel

Driving the 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a smooth, quiet, and comfortable affair. Whether it’s a short errand, a long road trip, or anything in-between, it’s a pleasure to be in the comfortable and well-appointed interior of this SUV. The first two rows of seats offer plenty of room for adults, but the third row of seats is best left for children.

The efficient hybrid drivetrain contributes to the quietness of the cabin. It doesn’t have as much power or maximum towing capacity as the V6 in the non-hybrid Highlander (reviewed separately), but power is sufficient and the fuel economy is excellent. The CVT transmission can be a bit droney at times, but that’s a small price to pay for a midsize family SUV that gets 36 mpg.

Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is optional. AWD is nice to have when the roads get nasty if you live in a snowy climate. It can send up to 50 percent of the torque to the rear wheels if it detects that they need extra traction.

Other Cars to Consider

2021 Toyota Sienna — The Toyota Sienna is all-new for 2021 and now comes exclusively as a hybrid. If you’re not too cool for a minivan, the Sienna is more family-friendly than the Highlander with a roomier third row and the convenience of sliding doors. The two Toyotas share the same hybrid powertrain and achieve almost identical fuel economy ratings.

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid — All-new for 2021, the Kia Sorento Hybrid is technically in the same class as the Highlander Hybrid as a midsize three-row SUV, but the Sorento is smaller than the Highlander which means less interior space. However, the Sorento Hybrid is slightly more efficient.

2021 Ford Explorer Hybrid — The three-row Ford Explorer Hybrid is not as efficient as the Highlander Hybrid, but it uses a V6 rather than an inline-four. That translates to quite a bit more horsepower and a towing capacity of up to 5,000 lbs.

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid — The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is a plug-in hybrid minivan that competes in a similar price range as the Highlander Hybrid. This Chrysler has an all-electric range of up to 32 miles but is less efficient than the Highlander Hybrid after the electric battery dies.

Used Tesla Model X — Early examples of the Tesla Model X can be had under the $50,000 mark, which puts it in the same price range as a new Highlander Hybrid in the upper trims. This all-electric SUV is available with three-row seating while offering thrilling performance, sleek tech features, and at least 238 miles of range depending on the trim.

Used Lexus RX 450h L — Starting in 2018, the Lexus RX hybrid became available as a long-wheelbase three-row SUV. Full disclosure; the third row is very tight, but if you could use some extra seats for occasional use, this luxury crossover is efficient, reliable, and very comfortable in the first two rows.

Used Acura MDX Sport Hybrid — Midsize hybrid luxury SUVs are often expensive, but the Acura MDX Sport Hybrid is one that you can find on the used market for a reasonable price. With three rows of seats, standard all-wheel drive, and 321 hp, there’s a lot to love about this premium hybrid crossover.

Autotrader’s Advice

The 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a great midsize three-row SUV. It has a couple of weaknesses like a tight third row (like many crossovers in this class) and relatively high pricing that competes with some luxury SUVs in the upper trims. Other than that, it’s a very efficient and well-rounded hybrid SUV that does just about everything well.

Since it’s pretty generous with standard equipment like Toyota Safety Sense 2.5, tri-zone automatic climate control, and a great infotainment system, the base LE trim is the best value for most shoppers. The upper trims get pretty fancy, but they also get expensive making for a questionable value proposition, especially if your goal is to save money on gas. Find a Toyota Highlander Hybrid for sale

Eric Brandt
Eric Brandt is an author specializing in Oversteer content, new car reviews, and finding the best car, truck, and SUV deals each month. Born and raised in Wisconsin, Eric can often be found exploring the north woods on his 1983 Honda Gold Wing when the weather allows it. Father of four, husband of one, and unapologetic minivan enthusiast. Eric mastered driving stick by having a 3-cylinder Chevy... Read More about Eric Brandt

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