- 2022 Toyota Highlander Hybrid ($38,735 – $48,690)
- Best Resale Value Brand for 2019: Toyota – Kelley Blue Book
- Top Safety Pick + — Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
- 5-Star Overall Safety Rating – NHTSA
- Pro: The 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid has a sophisticated design and a fuel-sipping hybrid powertrain.
- Con: While the Highlander Hybrid can seat up to eight passengers, its third row is cramped. It’s engine can also be noisy at times.
Considering Americans love their SUVs, there’s no segment more competitive than the three-row SUV category. This slot in the automotive landscape features rivals like the Honda Pilot, Kia Telluride, and the Hyundai Palisade. And while those entrants have formidable strengths of their own, the 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid outsmarts them all with its fuel-efficient powertrain. Unless you count the Ford Explorer Hybrid, but the Highlander gets better fuel efficiency than that car too.
I spent a week in the Highlander Hybrid and I can report that it’s a sensible and efficient three-row SUV that works whether you’re single or have a large family.
Which 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid trim is best for you?
The 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is currently available in four different trim levels: LE, XLE, Limited, and Platinum. My tester for the week was a Limited trim level in “Opulent Amber,” which looks black in person and in pictures.
Trust me, in the right sunlight, there’s an amber hue, which is also quite opulent. But if you don’t like amber colors, then you’ll be happy to know that there are seven other exterior colors to choose from.
The Toyota Highlander Hybrid looks classy and stylish for an SUV
I have to imagine that it’s hard to make an SUV look good, but Toyota did a great job with the Highlander. The three-row SUV was restyled for the 2020 model year and with it came a new look inside and out. On the outside, the Highlander has broad features like a bulging hood and flared fenders.
There’s even an arching bulge that that sweeps from the front wheel to the rear fender area. It adds some character and ties in nicely with the angular rear-end of the car. Overall, it’s a much more eye-pleasing look over the Honda Pilot and Ford Explorer.
The Highlander Hybrid’s interior is supple and spacious
Step inside the Toyota Highlander Hybrid and you’ll be treated to a plush interior filled with leather and soft-touch materials. At least you will be if you opt for the Limited and Platinum trim levels as the lower trims come with either cloth or a SofTex interior. Seating materials aside, the Highlander Hybrid offers a spacious cabin with plenty of room for the front-seat occupants.
There’s an eight-inch infotainment screen that sits in the center of the dash, however, I found that it was a long reach to get to it from either seat. Otherwise, the two seats up front provided plenty of comfort during short stints and long drives. The Highlander is able to fit up to eight passengers and the rear-seat occupants, including the middle seat, won’t have any issues with head or legroom.
That being said, anyone that has to sit in the third row might feel cramped. At 5-feet, 8-inches tall, I had a hard time sitting back there without the second-row seat pushed forward. If anything save that row for small kids or smaller adults.
The Toyota Highlander Hybrid has a lot of features to offer
As you can imagine, the 2021 Highlander Hybrid can be loaded up with all of the features that you and your family could need. According to Kelley Blue Book, the most notable standard features include LED head and taillights, blind-spot monitors, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, tri-zone auto climate control, an eight-inch infotainment screen, Android Auto/Apple Carplay, and a backup camera.
Stepping up to the XLE trim level will give you more convenient features like heated front seats, a moonroof, and a wireless phone charger. The Limited trim lengthens the feature list with 20-inch wheels, ventilated front seats, a hands-free power tailgate, leather seats, and a premium JBL sound system.
Lastly, the Platinum trim level throws in everything but the kitchen sink, which includes adaptive headlights, a 12.3-inch infotainment system, a 10-inch head-up display, a bird’s eye view camera, and the Driver Easy Speak system, which allows the driver to talk to the third-row occupants over the car’s speakers.
The Highlander Hybrid is comfortable when cruising and spritely when driven spiritedly
On the road, the 2021 Highlander Hybrid feels comfortable at normal and highway speeds. The cabin is quiet and it’s hard to even detect too much wind noise, however, on rough pavement, the 20-inch tires can get a little loud. The car’s cabin noise averaged around 75 decibels on my meter. For reference, nearly every Lexus vehicle averaged around 70 to 72 at the same speed and stretch of highway.
When I drove the Highlander through my usual canyon road test route, it handled surprisingly well for its size. In “sport” mode, the car’s steering and throttle become more responsive, making it actually pretty fun to drive on twisty roads. Although, not too many Highlander owners would likely do that. But of course, it’s good to know that you can pitch into a turn without any worries of losing control.
The Highlander’s hybrid powertrain is efficient, but it’s a little loud
Under the hood, the Highlander Hybrid sports a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that’s mated to an electric motor. The setup is known as a “series hybrid” in which the engine not only powers the front wheels when more power is needed, but it also acts as a generator for the battery when it needs more juice.
As such, it’s not uncommon to hear the engine rev up while at a complete stop, although it is a little weird. The four-cylinder engine also revs up and gets loud under hard acceleration. So if you need more power, then you may want to opt for the Highlander V6 version instead.
Regardless, the Highlander Hybrid puts out a combined power rating of 243 hp and it routes it through a CVT and to the front wheels. If you need more traction, then an all-wheel-drive setup is available as well. As for the car’s fuel economy, the EPA rates it at 35 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. In my real-world testing of mixed driving situations at a mile-high elevation, I achieved an average of 35 mpg for the week.
The Toyota Highlander Hybrid comes with a plethora of safety features
When it comes to safety, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid has you covered. Every Highlander comes with eight airbags and a comprehensive suite of safety features via Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.5+ system. This suite of features includes stability control, adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert, lane-steering assist, and pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection. The higher trim levels also get the front and rear parking assist with automatic braking.
The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t cost too much to maintain
Toyota has always been known for making reliable vehicles and the Highlander Hybrid is no different. According to Car Edge, it could cost a Highlander owner an average of $1,720 for maintenance during the first five years of ownership. Consumer Reports also gave the Highlander Hybrid a 4 out of 5 on its reliability scale, so you can bet that this hybrid SUV will last for years.
For some reassurance, the 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is covered by the brand’s basic 3-year/36,000-mile warranty as well as its 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty. Additionally, the Highlander Hybrid’s battery has its own 10-year/150,000-mile warranty and the hybrid system itself is covered by an 8-year/100,000-mile warranty.
The 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a comfortable three-row SUV with a lot to offer
While the 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is up against a lot of stiff competition in the three-row SUV segment, it struts its stuff well with its fuel-efficiency and comfort. The Highlander’s spacious cabin is welcoming and its powertrain returns better fuel economy than its rivals from Honda, Kia, and Ford. Anyone in the market for a large SUV that can fit their family and spend more time on the road between gas stations than most other SUVs would be remiss if they didn’t have the Highlander Hybrid on their car shopping shortlists.
MotorBiscuit gives the 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid an expert rating of 7.4 out of 10
The editors at MotorBiscuit gave the 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid an overall rating of 7.4 out of 10. The Highlander Hybrid’s sophisticated styling, spacious interior, and superb fuel economy make it a standout in the segment. That being said, buyers won’t mind the great value they’re getting with its reasonable price structure either.