Thursday, November 21, 2019

7 Seats, Best-in-Class Fuel Economy

A few years ago, Smarticd reviewed the and reported it received the EPA’s best-in-class fuel economy rating for a seven-passenger SUV. Interestingly, even though the fuel economy numbers between the 2014 and 2018 Highlander Hybrid have not changed much, it retains the crown for being the most fuel-sipping of this large breed of family haulers.


The all-wheel-drive (AWD) Toyota Highlander Hybrid is powered by Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system, consisting of a 3.5-liter, 24-valve double overhead cam (DOHC) gasoline-powered V6 engine combined with the front 123-kW and rear 50-kW electric motors. There is a total system 306 horsepower running through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).

2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Outstanding in its field of seven-passenger SUVs

The Dynamic Torque Control AWD system electronically adjusts from the normal front-wheel drive mode to all-wheel drive. This activates the rear wheels when there is heavy acceleration or tire slippage is detected, as in driving on ice and snow. Through multiple sensors, it actively measures speed, steering angle and other factors to govern the torque distribution to the rear wheels. When the steering wheel is turned and when accelerating, the Highlander Hybrid automatically shifts into AWD to prevent wheel slippage. I tried under rainy conditions to feel the transition from front-wheel drive to all-wheel drive, but it was far too seamless.

To maximize fuel economy, Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive automatically switches between the electric drive mode, combined electric motor and gasoline engine, and gasoline-only engine power. The transitions are smooth and can be monitored by viewing the dash gauges. Fuel economy for the 2018 Highlander Hybrid is rated at 29-mpg city/27 highway/28 combined. Running on regular unleaded, I drove 255 mostly highway miles and averaged 27.1 mpg. With the 17.1 gallon tank my driving distance could have been 460 miles.

The nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery is charged through the regenerative charging system, which converts kinetic energy into electric energy and stores it in the battery when applying the brakes or coasting. This process can be viewed on a dash gauge, where you can watch the power flow into and out of the battery and engine.

Driving Experience: On the Road

The Highlander Hybrid is easy to drive, with a smooth ride that was unaffected by Southern California’s grooved concrete freeways. In our 2014 Highlander Hybrid review we noted at times on the highway it would begin to float when the road undulations and rhythm were just right. This was not the case with the 2018 version, so it appears Toyota’s engineers have been busy.

The steering was a bit on the light side. If it were stiffer, it would not compromise any of the ride attributes and would lead to more road feedback and feel. The Highlander Hybrid accelerates smoothly, with some good oomph thanks to the combination of the V6 and twin electric motors.

2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Most of the Highlander chrome comes up front

The Limited Platinum AWD trim level comes standard with 19-inch Chromtec wheels. These very attractive wheels had a machine-cafe alloy gunmetal grey finish and were mounted with 245/55R all-season tires. Traction was good, but hard or spirited cornering revealed understeer and body lean. Not having any low gears, the Highlander Hybrid is not considered a true off-road SUV. However, it does have eight inches of ground clearance with hill start assist just in case you get stuck off the pavement.

Stopping comes from Toyota’s Electronically Controlled Brake System (ECB) that incorporates regenerative control and power-assisted, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD). The stops were straight and consistent, but the brakes at first were touchy and grabby, and I could feel the regenerative system strongly, so it took some experimentation to get used to the brakes.

When driving a hybrid, I like to select the option of EV mode, especially around town, forcing the car to run solely on electric power. The Highlander Hybrid has this option, but the driving range in pure electric mode is short. Plus, when in EV mode, only the slightest accelerator pedal pressure kicked-in the gasoline engine. Being able to hold the car in electric mode for a longer distance and at higher speeds would be a nice feature to add.

Driving Experience: Exterior

The Highlander Hybrid features smooth surfaces with soft lines and edges. The curved nose includes wrap-around LED projector-beam headlights. The smoked-chrome accents around the headlights are a nice touch. The roofline, which is near-flat, has chrome rails and had a panoramic power moonroof. It ends with a spoiler over the rear hatch window, which flips up. There are very few chrome bits and pieces; what is there is found on the large front grille, accenting the side windows and on the rear lower fascia. Be sure to look for the blue on the front and rear Toyota logo badges, which signifies this Highlander is electrified.

Driving Experience: Interior

Smarticd was driving the Limited Platinum trim level, which nicely lived up to its name. If you can imagine an interior feature or treatment that should be on a car, then it is there. The Highlander Hybrid has seven seats, (the non-hybrid models can seat eight). The power 12-way adjustable driver seat, with memory and lumbar, was heated and ventilated. The front heated and ventilated passenger seat is four-way adjustable. The second row are Captain’s Chairs (no second row bench seat is available in the hybrid) and the third row is a 60/40 folding and reclining bench seat. The second row passengers also get integrated side window shades, climate controls and folding armrests with cup holders.

2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Plenty of room–and tech–in front

The Highlander Hybrid infotainment comes through Toyota’s Entune system with its App Suite, which includes voice command navigation through an 8.0-inch high resolution touch-screen. Excellent sound comes from the premium JBL audio system with 12 speakers to deliver SiriusXM/FM/CD/HDAM with MP3 playback capability. The AM/FM is a cache radio, which is a nice feature, and the SiriusXM service is included for the first 90 days. There is an auxiliary audio jack, USB port with iPod connectivity, music streaming via Bluetooth wireless technology and hands-free phone capability.

The cockpit design is driver friendly, except for one big concern. When I was comfortably sitting in the driver seat I was unable, at 5’ 9”, to reach the channel knob on the far right side of the radio, without leaning forward and to the right. I had a 6’ 1” friend try it and had the same result. This obviously is a design issue that Toyota should remedy as anytime the driver does not have both hands on the steering wheel is a bad thing. To compound this, is not being able to change one radio

2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Maybe too much room–reaching the center stack controls is an issue

station at a time using the steering wheel mounted controls. The way it is now, toggling the switch gets the next, up or down the dial, preset station. You can hold the switch down firmly, which takes you through the channels one at a time, but at a fast speed. So fast that it pretty much eliminates going from Sirius 18 (The Beatles) to 19 (Elvis) without having to reach for the channel knob and taking your hand off the steering wheel. Toyota is smart, they will figure this out.

Otherwise, the gauges, including the hybrid management system, are in easy sight and the controls are in easy reach, including those for the tri-zone automatic temperature system. The heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel contains audio telephone and voice controls. The roll-top center console has a lower area that is huge and can swallow-up pretty much anything you want to store away to be out of sight for security reasons.

Convenience and Safety

Convenience and safety features on our Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum included an adjustable power lift gate with a rear wiper, cargo-area cargo tie-down hooks, a very handy in-dash shelf that had an opening for charging cables to pass through, reading lights front and rear, power windows with front auto up and down, power door locks, five USB ports, two 12V power outlets, folding heated power side mirrors with puddle lamps, multiple cup holders and an auto-dimming Homelink equipped rearview mirror.

2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

The middle seats in the Hybrid continue the luxury & tech theme

Another very unique and handy feature was activated by a dash-mounted button, left of the steering wheel—the Bird’s Eye View camera with Perimeter Scan. By pushing the button, the scan gives a top down 360º look at anything that may be in the Highlander’s surrounding area. You will come to rely on this nifty feature.

The Highlander Hybrid is well-equipped with active and passive safety features including eight air bags, a tire pressure monitoring system, collapsible steering column, anti-theft alarm and engine immobilizer, rear view camera, blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, and the previously mentioned four-wheel disc brakes with ABS.

Pricing and Warranties

The 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum AWD has a MSRP of $48,280. Smarticd’s total price, including the $224 carpet floor and cargo mats came to $48,504. Pricing excludes the $995 delivery and fee.

The 2018 Highlander Hybrid comes with these warranties:

  • Powertrain Five years/60,000 miles
  • Comprehensive Three years/36,000 miles
  • Corrosion Perforation Five years/Unlimited miles
  • Complimentary Maintenance Two years/25,000 miles
  • Hybrid-related Component Coverage Eight years/100,000 miles

Observations: 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum AWD

The 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is the most fuel efficient of the seven-passenger SUVs. With a redesign that took place in 2017 and carries-over to 2018, the Highlander is more contemporary and in line with the fierce SUV competition. The interior is very comfortable, especially for long trips and outings. The carrying capacity makes for ease of luggage hauling on those long trips.

2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

The Highlander Hybrid continues to lead its class in fuel economy

If your family has grown to the point where a vehicle of this size your needs, then by all means visit your Toyota dealership and have them walk you through all the features and options. Make sure to ask for a Toyota factory-trained specialist, who will explain the hybrid technology in detail.

Whatever you end up buying, Happy Driving!

In order to give you the best perspective on the many vehicles available, Smarticd has a variety of contributors. When possible, we will offer you multiple perspectives on a given vehicle. This comes under SRO-Second Road Test Opinion. We hope you’ll enjoy these diverse views–some are just below—and let us know what you think in comments below or at [email protected].

Road Test: (Steve’s view)

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Smarticd is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at [email protected].

John Faulkner is Road Test Editor at Smarticd. He has more than 30 years’ experience branding, launching and marketing automobiles. He has worked with General Motors (all Divisions), Chrysler (Dodge, Jeep, Eagle), Ford and Lincoln-Mercury, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Toyota on consumer events and sales training programs. His interest in automobiles is broad and deep, beginning as a child riding in the back seat of his parent’s 1950 Studebaker. He is a journalist member of the Motor Press Guild.

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