Here's the SUV I want for my birthday

Toyota made it practically perfect

I very seldom have any qualms about Toyota, but this 2016 Highlander Hybrid takes that confidence to a higher level.

The whole week I had the Highlander Hybrid, from the very minute I got into it the first time to the last day when I begged the agency to give me another week or forever (unsuccessfully), I wanted it. The Highlander Hybrid has style and grace, this Limited-Platinum model a high level of luxury, the power of the combined V6 gas engine and the electric motor is awesome, the vehicle is extremely quiet, quite comfortable, highly versatile, and it has many very smart elements.

It ain’t cheap, as they say — $51,385 as equipped – but that didn’t bother me at all. Every vehicle these days is expensive, even the lowest priced ones, so the real question is: Is it worth it? When I think about the competition, when I think about the feel of the Highlander, I can only answer, “Yes, indeed.”

Highlander is offered in many trims, with the base model, the LE, featuring a 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine with 185 hp, front-wheel-drive and a base price of $29,990. For a little more money you can move up to a gasoline V6, 3.5-liter, featuring 270 hp, and of course you pay extra for AWD, third-row seating, and whatever other packages that are available for add-on. I didn’t drive those.

This 2016 Highlander Hybrid, the Limited-Platinum V6 AWD version, carries a base price of $50,485, according to the sticker provided, and the only thing they added on was $900 for the “delivery processing and handling fee.” There is not much else they could add here unless it came with a driver.

The Hybrid here takes the same 3.5-L V6 and couple it with an electric motor, and together the package is rated at 280 hp. Now, everyone seems to think that with a hybrid system what you get is more gas mileage – and here that is true to an extent. The gas-only V6 carries an EPA fuel economy rating of 19 mpg city/25 mpg highway, and this hybrid is EPA rated at 27 mpg city/28 mpg highway.

That’s impressive, at least around the city, but Toyota is smart here in that what you really get with the hybrid package is a boost of power. Electric motors tend to spark extra torque, so off the line they are much quicker, and this model was quite quick. As I said, I didn’t drive the gas-only version so I have no direct comparison here, but I have driven both gas and hybrid in other Toyota vehicles and found the hybrids offered quite a bit of extra performance, particularly in city driving.

The Highlander, which has been produced since 2000, is based on the very popular Camry platform, and because of that this is a SUV that offers a very car-like ride; the line’s 4Runner is based on a pickup truck platform and, while very nice, is a much more rugged feeling vehicle. If you want to off-road, get the 4Runner, but if you want to maneuver just about anything on regular roads in style, the Highlander is the way to go. This 2016 version is the third model year in the vehicle’s 3rd Generation of production designs.

Other vehicles in this class – Jeep Grand Cherokee, GMC Yukon, even Toyota’s own luxury line Lexus – are either bulkier or more expensive, or some, like the Hyundai and Kia SUVs, while very nice and less expensive, don’t offer the luxury that you find here. This Highland Hybrid rides as well as any vehicle I have ever driven. Recently, I gushed over the new Infiniti QX 50 – I loved it for many of the same reasons – but it is a smaller vehicle, so once again, personal preference comes into play. The Highlander is a mid-sized SUV, and for my money there is nothing in the category that stacks up as well.

This decked-out test-drive Highlander Hybrid has all the luxury you could ask for – leather, wood accents, a huge moon roof, heated/cooled front and second-row seats, third-row seating, power everything, a wonderful JBL sound system, Bluetooth and all the modern apps, power lift gate – pretty much anything you can think of, and it is all very nice.

The Platinum Package, which here is included in the price, adds in all the modern safety stuff that I love: pre-collision system with dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert, automatic high beams, blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, and rain sensing wipers. You will want for nothing – except maybe for rear-seat entertainment, which is offered as an option.

But there are a couple of things I found extra cool. First, the second row seating (for two) features captain’s chairs, which are very comfortable and roomy, and quite unusual in a second row. Ah, but having this configuration allows for a walk-through to the third row, so there’s none of that awkward seat folding to accommodate the extra passengers. I will temper my enthusiasm just a bit to point out that the third-row seating is a bit cramped for large people, but it would be great for kids (plus it power folds, which is nice).

Then there’s a cell phone shelf with an easy and out-of-the-way pass through for the cord and nearby USB port, so you can recharge your phone, use it with ease with the Bluetooth, and it has its own convenient place so it isn’t in the cup holder and the wires aren’t all over the place.

I also loved the extra-large, panoramic moon roof that is easy to operate, lets the air in on the front half, and offers an ocean of light throughout the cabin.

The only thing I could find that I didn’t like was that the heated steering wheel – and I needed it on the frigid mornings during my test drive – only seemed to heat up on the sides, and not on the top of the wheel or the very bottom. Hmmmm???   

This Highland Hybrid is an impressive, handsome vehicle, inside and out, and I know from personal experience that it will stay that way for years and years to come.

As I said, I want one real bad. Hey honey – I’ve got a birthday coming up…


Categories: Industry Trends, Transportation