The Toyota Highlander Hybrid was revamped for the 2020 model year and with its revisions came a less-powerful powertrain, but bolder styling and a comfortable ride. And while the thought of buying a hybrid three-row SUV might sound foreign to some shoppers, we have spent time with the Toyota Highlander Hybrid and it has proven that there can be a good case for a fuel-sipping people hauler. And although it comes at a higher price than its gas-only stablemates, is it worth it to step up to the hybrid version of the Highlander?
The 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid gets really good gas mileage
For the new model year, Toyota nixed the previous hybrid powertrain that consisted of a 3.5-liter V6 engine paired to an electric motor for a combined output of 306 horsepower. What you will find under the hood of the 2020 Highlander Hybrid is a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine mated to an electric motor, which in unison makes 243 horsepower. Yes, that’s 63 less horsepower than the outgoing model but, chances are, you won’t even notice.
While the Highlander Hybrid is down on horsepower, it’s up on fuel economy. The previous iteration garnered 29 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway, while the new one is able to achieve up to 36 mpg in the city and 35 on the highway. That’s a pretty huge increase considering the size of the car, and from our perspective, it’s worth the decrease in power.
It’s not about the way the Highlander Hybrid looks, it’s how it feels
The beauty of the Highlander Hybrid goes beyond its sculpted and broader exterior styling and its elegant interior touches. Slip into the driver’s seat or any seat for that matter, and you’ll be surprised that there’s any difference between it and it’s Lexus 450h cousin. Although, just don’t touch the faux wood trim on the doors and dashboard, because they’re the fakest we have felt in a while. Trim aside, the soft-touch materials and handy storage compartments in the dash, door panels, and center console are sure to be welcomed features for any budding family looking for an extra sprinkle of luxury in their SUV.
Driving the Toyota Highlander Hybrid
During the time that we have spent with the Toyota Highlander Hybrid thus far, we have been nothing short of surprised as just how well it drives. Upon initial acceleration, the SUV is whisper-quiet as the electric motor propels the car forward effortlessly. And when you step on the throttle, even more, the gasoline engine does kick on to the tune of a droning growl but we didn’t find it to be too loud or intrusive.
That being said, the Highlander Hybrid has plenty of power when going up steep hills and feels very sophisticated when driving around town. The steering effort is really light, so you don’t really feel like you’re driving a hefty three-row SUV, the visibility is outstanding, and the brakes have a surprisingly normal feel, as most hybrid brakes have a more aggressive feel. Also, we found that suspension was soft and compliant, as you would expect from a Toyota, but it did sound loud when going over speedbumps with abrupt haste. It is a Toyota, after all, not a Lexus.
Is it worth it to buy the Highlander Hybrid over its gas counterpart?
Truth be told, we haven’t driven a gas-only Toyota Highlander yet, however, if we base our comparison on stats and pricing alone, we would say that the hybrid model is worth getting. Motortrend pointed out that stepping up to the hybrid trim levels in the LE, XLE, Limited, and Platinum trim levels adds around $1,400 to the bottom line and considering that you get quiet motor operation and a nice bump in gas mileage (the base V6 is rated at 21 city/29 highway), it’s definitely worth it.