Skip to main content

Not long ago, driving a three-row SUV meant resigning oneself to a life of atrocious fuel economy. However, technology and engineering advancements now mean that third-row SUVs like the 2023 Toyota Highlander Hybrid are catching up with some of the most efficient vehicles on the road. It’s a tight race at the top of the segment – but the Highlander Hybrid narrowly misses the most efficient third-row SUV spot to a Korean rival. 

The Toyota Highlander Hybrid is the second most efficient third-row SUV 

The front end of the 2023 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, which ranks second among the most efficient third-row SUVs of 2023.
2023 Toyota Highlander Hybrid | Toyota

According to U.S. News and World Report, the 2023 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is today’s second most efficient three-row SUV. 

U.S. News and World Report compiled a complete list of the most efficient new SUVs and crossovers of 2023. The list focuses only on models with internal combustion engines or traditional hybrid systems. Electric SUVs and plug-in hybrid SUVs are not included in the rankings.

Missing out on the top spot doesn’t mean the Highlander Hybrid is inefficient, though. U.S. News and World Report says the three-row Toyota crossover can manage up to 36 mpg combined. That’s quite a feat for such a large SUV. 

That efficient performance comes from a powertrain using a four-cylinder internal combustion engine and two electric motors. With 243 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque on tap, the Highlander Hybrid also has good power. 

While the 2023 Highlander Hybrid is impressive, it still narrowly misses the top spot among efficient third-row SUVs. 

What’s the most efficient midsize SUV?

A red 2023 Kia Sorento sits amid a green forest. It's the most efficient none-electric, non-plug-in midsize SUV of 2023.
2023 Kia Sorento Hybrid | Kia

The most efficient third-row SUV of 2023, according to U.S. News and World Report, is the Kia Sorento Hybrid. 

Per the report, the 2023 Kia Sorento Hybrid can achieve up to 37 mpg combined – just slightly ahead of the Toyota Highlander Hybrid. 

The Sorento Hybrid has a couple of notable advantages over other efficient third-row SUVs. For one, it has a turbocharger for extra thrust when needed. It also has a traditional six-speed automatic transmission instead of the sleepy CVTs in other hybrid SUVs. 

Here are the top ten most efficient SUVs of 2023 according to U.S. News and World Report:

  1. Kia Sportage Hybrid
  2. Lexus UX Hybrid
  3. Honda CR-V Hybrid
  4. Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
  5. Lexus NX Hybrid
  6. Toyota Venza
  7. Hyundai Tucson Hybrid
  8. Kia Sorento Hybrid
  9. Toyota Highlander Hybrid
  10. Lexus RX350h

Is the 2023 Kia Sorento Hybrid better than the 2023 Toyota Highlander Hybrid?

The 2023 Sorento offers slightly better-combined fuel efficiency than the Highlander Hybrid – but the Toyota may offer a better overall package. 

While the performance difference between the two models is marginal, the cargo capacity difference is significant. The 2023 Sorento Hybrid offers 75.5 cubic feet of cargo space with its rear seats folded down. That’s not bad – but it trails behind the Highlander Hybrid’s 84.3 cubic feet of total cargo capacity. 

Picking the Highlander Hybrid is a reasonable tradeoff between efficiency and utility. You gain much more in passenger and cargo space by giving up one mpg of efficiency. 

Ultimately, determining the better of the two efficient third-row SUVs depends on the individual priorities of each driver. 


The Most Reliable Midsize SUV Isn’t a Honda or Ford