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Whether you have a family of five or just need a lot of cargo room, the 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a great choice. Aside from the brand’s renowned reputation for reliability, you can count on the Highlander Hybrid to be comfortable and efficient on long drives. I found this out first-hand during a recent 300-mile roundtrip in the Highlander, but it came with a couple of drawbacks.

The 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid sitting in a forest setting.
2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid | Joe Santos

There isn’t an uncomfortable seat in the 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid unless it’s in the third row

A front interior shot of the 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid | Joe Santos

The 2021 Highlander Hybrid is capable of seating up to eight passengers. The front row is really spacious as the driver and passenger have plenty of shoulder and hip room to get comfortable. The seats are also well-bolstered and the 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat contoured to my body very nicely. My only complaint is that the spaciousness is partly due to the dashboard being positioned far from the front seats, which makes reaching for the infotainment system a stretch for both occupants.

In the rear seats, there’s plenty of leg and headroom for all three passengers in the second row. Yes, even the middle seat has some room, mainly because there’s a flat floor and flat seat bottom, which doesn’t hinder the middle passenger’s space. However, the third row should only be used by children or really small adults.

I’m only 5-feet, 8-inches tall and I had a rough time sitting back there without some major second-row seat adjustments. The second-row bench slides fore and aft, which helps, but fitting someone my size in the third-row would make it uncomfortable for other passengers in the row ahead.

Power and fuel economy are great for a three-row SUV

An engine shot of the 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid | Joe Santos

Normally, having a three-row SUV means that you have to sacrifice fuel efficiency in the name of power. For example, some of the Highlander’s competitors like the Honda Pilot and Chevy Traverse come with V6 engines, which are great for pulling stuff and passing cars, but not that great when it comes to fuel economy. The Highlander Hybrid goes against this ethos with its 243-hp hybrid powertrain that consists of an electric motor and a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine.

According to the EPA, that fuel-sipping setup is good for 35 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway, in addition to 35 mpg in combined driving. During my time with the Highlander Hybrid, I was able to put those figures to the test and they passed. I achieved an average of 35 mpg in mixed driving situations, which is stellar considering I’m also at a mile-high elevation.

The setup isn’t perfect, though, as I found the powertrain to be noisy under hard acceleration when passing on the highway. It also gets noisy when the battery is low because the engine acts as a generator to charge it. It’s a weird sensation sitting at a stoplight and listening to the engine growl as it charges the battery. It feels like you’re pressing on the gas pedal while stopped.

The Highlander Hybrid is the trim to get if you value your time on the road

A picture of the rear seat in the 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid in black.
2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid | Joe Santos

Considering I only had to top off the gas tank once during my whole week with the Highlander Hybrid, I would say that it gets a pass as an effective hybrid three-row SUV. In fact, although there is a V6 version of the Highlander, if you don’t need the extra power, then I would suggest checking out the hybrid model instead.

If you would rather spend more time on the road in between gas station fill-ups, whether you’re on a long road trip or simply commuting, the 2021 Highlander Hybrid could be for you, even if you don’t have a family of five.


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