3.5L V6 VVT-i + HSD
390 L min / 1198 L third row down / 2356L max
If you hate the idea of a mini van and have a 7 or more passenger requirement, there are a few SUVs out there capable of satisfying your needs. If you also happen to want a hybrid though, there are not so many. Toyota’s proposition comes in the name of the Highlander Hybrid, a larger body alternative to the Rav4 available with the Hybrid Synergy Drive system (HSD).
The 2015 Highlander comes with a choice between a hybrid and non-hybrid, both of which come with a V6 motor, while the non-hybrid can be bought without AWD. The non-hybrid FWD base LE model starts at $31,975 while the LE AWD is $34,475. The Hybrid models start at $44,415 (LE), our test vehicle XLE E-CVT comes in at $46,480 ( non-Hybrid XLE AWD is $40,595 ) while the top of the line HYBRID LIMITED is $52,990.
The standard gear in the mid-grade trim level is impressive, to say the least. Without being too fancy, it manages to pack all the essential features that are needed to satisfy and justify the price tag. Leather seats, sunroof, triple zone climate control, heated front seats, cruise control, power tailgate, trip computer, 8″ touch screen display with navigation and ECO data display, rear-view-camera, stability control, sequential gearbox mode, EV-mode, ECO mode, automatic HID lights and a very descent sound system with USB and Bluetooth capability, also voice control in natural speech.
Looking at it, this latest generation Highlander leaves you with the feeling that Toyota actually put some effort in designing this; it looks pretty darn good. The sharp front end, thick silver roof bars, massive alloy wheels and dynamic rear hatch compose a very appealing shape that looks very well put together.
Larger and heavier for 2015, the Highlander is still under 5m long, making it relatively easy to manoeuvre, while at the same time, it offers up to 8-passenger seating. If you opt out of the richest trim level, you get a middle bench that reclines and slides, capable of seating three adults with extreme ease. The third row is also capable of welcoming three adults but with much less convenience. Access to the third row is easy enough thanks to the “slide and recline” one motion second row seats, unfortunately, a function that cannot be done with a baby seat installed. Behind the third row of seats, there is descent cargo space left, although not the biggest in the class at 390 L. Fold the third row flat and you’ll enjoy a mind-blowing 1,198 L of space, while folding the second row flat is how you reach the maximum cargo capacity of 2,356 L. For the record, towing capacity is 1,587kg (3500lbs).
The cabin is very well made, fit and finish are above class average and the design is rather appealing to my eyes. The dashboard is a very fluid, a modern design with a shelf type slot for your every day items which is very practical especially for paperwork. Soft to the touch materials have been used for certain parts which makes the cabin look upmarket when compared to the Rav4, which is the way it should be. There are plenty of storage compartments for your drinks and gadgets as well, worth mentioning is the humongous storage compartment underneath the centre armrest.
The hybrid synergy system works brilliantly with the 3.5L V6 VVT-i engine and the eCVT transmission. Maximum combined power is 280 HP but the way the power is delivered is the most impressive part. With the ECO mode on, the gas engine is mostly interested in producing electric power for the electric motor that generally moves you about. Under heavy acceleration, a pleasant V6 engine note reaches your ears and pulling power becomes enough to reach 100km/h in 8.5″. Performance with a heavy foot is swift and packs a firm push on your back, but the way to properly drive this big all-wheeler is gently. That is the only way you can appreciate the acoustically reinforced cabin and the efficient hybrid drivetrain. During our week of testing, our – mostly city driving – average was 12.2lt/100km; not too bad considering the weight and power.
On the road, the Highlander is a very relaxing SUV to drive. The quietness of the cabin and the cushioning from the suspension make a very comfortable ride no matter if you are stuck in traffic or cruising on the highway. In deep snow, the all-wheel-drive system works very well, but in the past the rear motor had a few overheating issues when the rear had to work over time. Hopefully those have been addressed. The steering is light but not loose, the seat is plush and the driving position is a good in-between car and truck. Visibility is a bit compromised by the thick A-pillars but the rear view camera and big mirrors assist when you try to look backwards.
Driving dynamics are not neglected at all, and despite the platform being immediately related to the Camry, the Highlander is actually nice to drive (and so is the Camry!). It does feel big but not enormous, the steering is direct and the good throttle response and linear brake pedal add to the positive aspects of the drive. Through corners the body roll doesn’t really affect the way it turns, and most of the time it returns an adequate amount of feedback as per how close to its grip limits you are. At the limit, it will understeer progressively and only respond to easing off the throttle. Maybe not the most fun handling, but definitely appropriate for the occasion.
In a segment that Hybrids are not widely available, the 2015 Highlander takes our pick hands down. It is the refinement, space and comfort combined with great value that leaves us with no other choice than to love it.
Tailgate Window Access
Not very exciting to drive